Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

London Quantified Self group is born!

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cross-posted from QuantifiedSelf blog

Finally and thanks to the enthusiasm and to-do attitude of Dennis Harscoat, last Thursday was the launch of QS London group, organised by myself and Dennis.

What I saw at the meeting was nothing short of mind-blowing. We had three presentations, first by Dennis Harscoat talking about Quantter, then by Kiel Gilleade about body blogging his heart rate, followed by Jon Cousins explaining Moodscope. Each was pioneering in their own way and I felt I was watching something powerful that will continue grow in force.

Dennis’s motivation behind Quantter is the desire to help people to do something regularly, with constant improvement, following the 10,000 hour rule. The sooner, the better!

Kiel’s constant heart rate monitoring with added spice of being published in a twitter stream, opens up possibilities for understanding one’s body, for better and probably different kinds of diagnosis. He’s also an example of how it impacts our behaviour when its made public both from the participant’s perspective and their followers, which is probably the most intriguing area of self-tracking, at least for now.

Jon’s Moodscope is, among other things, evidence of how powerful and beneficial our friends can be. Plotting moods and sharing them with selected friends has helped Jon manage a serious and at times debilitating mental states. Now he wants to make it possible for others to do the same and I believe he’s well on the way there.

Thanks to all who helped to make such a meeting possible and we hope to organise the next QS London group meeting within a few months.

As this event was hosted by VRM Hub, the venue was GfK NOP, which kindly provided a meeting room and refreshments. VRM Hub is a regular meeting of people working on and interested in VRM – Vendor Relationship Management and there is a natural overlap between QS, self-tracking/personal informatics and VRM. As we already had a regular venue available, it made sense, philophically and practically, to have the new QS London group launch at VRM Hub monthly meeting. Our challenge for the QS London group will remain to find a more or less regular venue that fits the show & tell format – a quiet environment and ideally a projector.

Here is how I see the landscape, when thinking about all three and trying to explain it at the meeting:

VRM_QS_personalinformatics

My interest in personal informatics is related to the Mine! project and the way people collect and manage their personal data online. Mine! is being designed as an open source application/utility helping the individual user to capture, manage and share data on his own terms. It is intended to serve as infrastructure to various functionality and analysis applied to user’s data.

My focus in self-tracking and personal informatics is at the level of the individual. I don’t track much consistently, usually my exercise, walking and calories but nothing on the level of Kiel or Dennis or Jon. Apart from a natural interest in personal informatics and self-tracking as a new kind of literacy, I am very concerned about the privacy, data storage and individual focus of all this as I recognise how huge and potentially powerful it can be.

VRM Hub July meeting

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The sign up page is up. This month we are doing a summer version of VRM Hub evening and will be meeting at Henry J. Beans‘ beer garden in the King’s Road, Chelsea at 6pm onwards.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

VRM Hub London

crossposted from VRM Hub

Aroxo – say what you’ll pay.. and get higher price offer

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A couple of weeks ago I signed up for Aroxo, which is a new site for matching buyers and sellers. One description says it’s like eBay but for both, the seller and the buyer. I liked the sound of that so I tested it by creating a request for a camera – an upgrade of my existing one – Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40.

panasonic-lumix-dmc-fx40-digital-camera1.jpg

I set the price at lower than best retail price as found at Google because I wanted to a) test the system and b) was prepared to settle for less than perfect packaging etc. A few days later I got an ‘offer’.

lumix_aroxo_offer.png

I was suprised to see that Aroxo thought £209 plus p&p was a match to my £170. Fair enough, as I can negotiate the offer, and so in preparation I googled the camera and found out that £209 plus p&p is nowhere near the lowest price around, let alone an offer I can’t refuse. What I didn’t expect to find is that the seller made an offer on Aroxo that was higher than the price offered on their site!

lumix_ukdigital.png

So I contacted the seller:

Date: 18/05/2009
Subject: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40

I guess, thank you for your response though puzzled about something. UK Digital’s price (which seems to be you judging from your email: sales@ukdigitalcameras.co.uk) price on their site is £205. So why is your ‘offer’ to me higher at £209?
http://www.ukdigital.co.uk/panasonic-lumix-dmc-fx40-camera.htm

Also, FYI Amazon sells it for £204.99 free delivery.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Panasonic-Lumix-FX40-Digital-Camera/dp/B001T0H062/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1242650694&sr=8-1

More importantly, I am interested in buying the camera for well below the quoted price. I am testing Aroxo’s ability to connect me with sellers who need to move stock at discounted price and/or have unboxed cameras (but still new). I am not interested in Aroxo as another ‘marketing’ channel for sellers who offer prices higher than on their sites.

Caveat emptor is still valid. And Google is still your (shopping) friend. :)

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I received a reply from the seller:

Date: 18/05/2009
Subject: Re:Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40
Click to view Offer
Hi Adriana,

Yes we are UK Digital Cameras, (but the link you gave was to another company UK Digital). We are also at £204.99 plus delivery on our site: http://www.ukdigitalcameras.co.uk/__4_prod3_asp2_1_i4_53661_126_Panasonic_Lumix_FX40_Black8.html

The price on our website has dropped since we sent the offer – hence the difference. Feel free to send me a negotiation and see what happens!

Also – let me know if you want a quote from me about Aroxo on your blog post.

Cheers,

Andrew

So I stand corrected and kudos for willingness to engage i.e. quote for my blog post. Will negotiate and update the post if anything interesting happens.

Enabling vs Providing

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Talking to Doc earlier this week, I tried to explain my unease with various interpretations of VRM that come thick and fast as the concepts gain traction by identifying the fundamental problem.*

It is the assumption that “the individual needs to be provided for” that I see everywhere other than on the social (or live) web where the demand side can, and often does, supply itself, where users can and often do become creators, where the audiences have become distributors, and intermediaries of all kinds are melting away from decentralised networks and direct connections. Alas, even on the web, it’s not all P2P roses – my online existence is scattered across many platforms, Google, WordPress, Flickr, Dopplr, Twitter, and many more.

Most VRM approaches or implementations I have seen involve a third party as a provider. I believe we first need to focus on changing the relationships between individuals and companies or institutions. First comes redressing the balance – manually, as it were – by helping individuals relate to companies in ways that change companies’ behaviour.

Most of all, I want to avoid using technology to address a non-technology problem, using automation or aggregation for the aspects of relationships which should be processed by a human mind. I want to avoid jumping straight into ‘industrial’ processing of data treasures found on the customer side. We need a more balanced relationships with vendors and institutions, with different tools and possibly rules of interaction. Then we can look at ways to rationalise the technology and processes that help us create and maintain those relationships.

The most common solutions for providing individuals with online services are based around centralised databases or platforms. They are suspect on security and privacy grounds even though they may be created by a trustworthy party. So, any framework or structure provided by a third party that is meant to provide a place for individuals to create, gather, manage and share data as well as allowing a degree of aggregation, connectivity, will have to have in-built checks and balances as it may ultimately expose individuals to potential data-mining (whether the more private among us like it or not!). The challenge is to separate the data storage provider and a services/application provider. If I let someone store or back up my data – reluctantly admitting it may still be necessary for now – I would want them to store my data only, and not push or even provide any other apps based on that data. I should then be able to choose and apply whatever application I want, to my data, at my convenience.

Jason Scott of ASCII has a juicy way of putting this:

This is about your data. This is about your work. This is about you using your time so that you make things and work on things and you trust a location to do “the rest” and guess what, here is what we have learned:

  • If you lose your shit, the technogeeks will not help you. They will giggle at you and make fun of your not understanding the fundamental principles and engineering of client-server models. This is kind of like firemen sitting around giggling at you because you weren’t aware of the inherent lightning-strike danger of improperly bonded CSST.
  • Since the dawn of time, companies have hired people whose entire job is to tell you everything is all right and you can completely trust them and the company is as stable as a rock, and to do so until they, themselves are fired because the company is out of business.
  • You are going to have to sit down and ask yourself some very tough questions because the time where you could get away without asking very tough questions with regard to your online presence and data are gone.

And his advice further into the wonderful rant is even juicier:

  • Insult, berate and make fun of any company that offers you something like a “sharing” site that makes you push stuff in that you can’t make copies out of or which you can’t export stuff out of. They will burble about technology issues. They are fucking lying. They might go off further about business models. They are fucking stupid. Make fun of these people, and their shitty little Cloud Cities running on low-grade cooking fat and dreams. They will die and they will take your stuff into the hole. Don’t let them.

…but is no less sound for it!

Please, let’s have more of enabling and less of mere providing.

* as described in the paper A VRM journey.

cross-posted from VRM Hub

VRM Hub Open Space

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Another in the series of VRM Hub events, an open space event is planned for 30th March, registration opened here.

Here is the page for the event itself.

See you there!

February VRM Hub meeting

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The next VRM Hub meeting is on Thursday 26th February, 6-9pm at the same venue as the last month – GfK NOP building in Southwark, Room 15, 9th floor, Ludgate House, 245 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 9UL (map).

The topic will be further discussion of VRM – ideas, concepts, definitions, explanations etc, – a follow up on the game playing at the January session. Those who didn’t take part, do not fear, we have detailed notes on the results of January Game Playing.

Sign up here.

VRM journey

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For those who follow my VRM escapades, I have tried to capture what VRM is about and why I am working on it. So here is my paper (and manifesto) A VRM journey.

Loosely speaking, apart from my consolidate position on VRM, this is what it’s about (as summed up by my friend Carrie):

  1. ‘Social media’ is limited and people are outgrowing it
  2. There is demand from growing number of people for more control over their online ’stuff’
  3. There are benefits to users and ‘vendors’ for re-working the current imbalanced relationship
  4. Some tools are being developed to make that a reality
  5. It will be a hard slog but there is a call to arms for users to even out the balance; the most open vendors will also benefit – bringing more certainty to their future in this uncertain economic climate

Here is the PDF version for those who prefer a non-web format.

It’s the context, stupid

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Doc Searls was asked about the last three paragraphs of this post by Daniel Goleman in connection with VRM.

The singular force that can drive this transformation of every manmade thing for the better is neither government fiat nor the standard tactics of environmentalists, but rather radical transparency in the marketplace. If we as buyers can know the actual ecological impacts of the stuff we buy at the point of purchase, and can compare those impacts to competing products, we can make better choices. The means for such radical transparency has already launched. Software innovations now allow any of us to access a vast database about the hidden harms in whatever we are about to buy, and to do this where it matters most, at the point of purchase. As we stand in the aisle of a store, we can know which brand has the fewest chemicals of concern, or the better carbon footprint. In the Beta version of such software, you click your cell phone’s camera on a product’s bar code, and get an instant readout of how this brand compares to competitors on any of hundreds of environmental, health, or social impacts. In a planned software upgrade, that same comparison would go on automatically with whatever you buy on your credit card, and suggestions for better purchases next time you shop would routinely come your way by email.

Such transparency software converts shopping into a vote, letting us target manufacturing processes and product ingredients we want to avoid, and rewarding smarter alternatives. As enough of us apply these decision rules, market share will shift, giving companies powerful, direct data on what shoppers want — and want to avoid — in their products.

Creating a market force that continually leverages ongoing upgrades throughout the supply chain could open the door to immense business opportunities over the next several decades. We need to reinvent industry, starting with the most basic platforms in industrial chemistry and manufacturing design. And that would change every thing

The article seems to imply that the data is out there in a form or format provided via some centralised source. My immediate reaction was that is not how the social web or the Live Web works: a) data is generated by anyone and everyone and b) it’s messy and the context emergent.

Technology and tools should serve us better and help us, as individuals, to filter and structure that information. Somehow, even in the best case scenario, I don’t see everything on tap from a unified source. Or digested, which is an uncomfortable implication that leaps out of the piece at me.

For example, assessing environmental or health impact of anything is subject to years, decades even, of debate, controversy, lobbying, vested interest, political play… and so it seems to me that the only way I can get information clear enough for making decisions is to ’subscribe’ to a particular view via sources promoting it. Of course, I can get a more balanced take on everything these days by finding alternative views somewhere on the web but I am not sure I want to stand in the supermarket, trying to follow a potentially heated and complicated online debate about the impact of the washing liquid I am about to put in my basket. Can technology speed up and simplify this process to the point where it becomes practical, without losing context for delibration in the process? That is one of the questions I ask myself whenever I come across yet another tool to help us search, compare, aggregate or match information online.

That said, information about nutrients and other non-controversial data of interest to me is easy enough to provide and sadly, this is where most vendors do fall short of what’s possible with existing technology. The operative word here is non-controversial, which is the trojan horse of any implementation of such resource(s). I mean that even what is meant to be gathering of ‘encyclopedic’ knowledge can be controversial at times. Trying to do that with live streams of information means that the checks and balances must reside in the context, not the source itself.

At the more fundamental level, the web and information technology made data cheap. It is the context to data that got expensive, in time and social interactions. On the web the best context costs you time spent browsing and researching and/or time spent cultivating a quality network to supply you with context as you need it. Here I elaborate:

The web has removed physical limitations on space. Data was expensive to create, store and move around and now it is not. This made room for context, which is becoming at least as important as the data. In fact, it is what make data and information the skeleton, giving shape to the flesh and skin but it is no longer the whole body and finish. The important thing is that context can be provided only by a human mind. It cannot be automated – when creating or absorbing it.

Update: The Guardian advert making similar point with regard to media and interpretations of ‘facts’ one sees.




It comes down to whether you prefer context to be provided by:

  1. automated algorithms a la Google and the thousands aggreation sites,
  2. trusted sources including vendors, manufacturers, even third parties and intermediaries, or
  3. your network of friends aka social network

The answer is obvious.

It depends! We use all three at different points in our information gathering, sharing and exchange and transactions. The challenge for VRM is to understand advantages and disadvantages of all three and encourage development of tools that give me, the individual user or customers, the best of all three.

My bet is on no.3. I want to help individuals to capture both data and context on their own terms. This will give rise to another layer of knowledge that serves both the individual and his network. For example, I want to collect data about my shopping, with my own comments and with sources of information useful to me. I want to have pictures of products I have bought, links to reviews by others and my own, comments by friends in my network, record of interactions with the vendors and third parties etc etc. I want it in a place I can further analyse it and share it based on my privacy requirements.

With time, all this can become a source of better understanding of my own behaviour and preferences, and, with practice, a better negotiating position in future transactions. In other words, I will be the most authoritative source of my own history, with data, information and knowledge about me.

And that might change everything.

Young Girl-Old Woman illusion
Young Girl-Old Woman Illusion


Bonus link: TED talk Chris Jones Picturing excess

CRM, CMR or VRM

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The acronym galore notwithstanding, the indefatiguable David Tebbutt has come across CMR (customer managed relationships):

twitter_tebbo_cmr.png

My immediate reaction was, hey, that’s a better way of naming something that is meant to give control to a customer. CMR started from the same position as VRM, which is flipping CRM:

Who invented the term “Customer Relationship Management” or “CRM”? Who cares I hear you mutter in response. Well for those of you who think you invented the term it probably matters. For those of you trying to make CRM work you might like to get hold of and strangle them!!

I second that motion!

Just imagine if all the marketing spend that went into getting CRM onto the board’s agenda had gone into CMR instead. For those of you who believe in neurolinguistics (i.e. something along the lines of “the words you use show what you are thinking”) using the term CMR would mean that the board actually thought the customer was in control, that the customer managed the relationship.

But what is Customer Managed Relationship? CRM Today article explains:

CMR is three things:

  1. An ability to rethink, to reshape your organisation and its knowledge so that it is at the disposal of your customers
  2. Internet enabled management tools which customers use to get what they want
  3. An ability to react to the information being generated and used by customers in order to increase profitability

So far, so good. And the benefits?

If executed well CMR generates three major benefits over CRM:

  1. It is easier to implement because the customer is doing the complex stuff
  2. It creates lock in since customers having invested their data with you will not move easily
  3. It allows you to move faster than your competitor since you are in a trusted relationship with your customer

This seems at least halfway to what VRM is trying to achieve. The benefits are spelled out only from the vendor side, given the audience of the article not surprising and there are examples of how a customer would benefit from having his tax done via a CMR system. It also gets the ‘why not outsource data management to customers’ bit right, again from the company perspective.

The catch is in the benefit no. 2:

“It creates lock in since customers having invested their data with you will not move easily.”

One of the VRM principles is that a free customer is more valuable than a captive one (scroll down to the bottom of the page. Alas, Project VRM site is down so can’t link directly. Will remedy as soon as back up again). So it seems that CMR hasn’t really moved from lock-in as the holy grail of customer management and retention. Be that as it may, so far, I’d give CMR from vendor perspective 8 out of 10, from customer perspective 5 out of 10, for the insistence on customers owning their data:

… customers should own their own information including their profile, transaction history, and any inferred information such as marital history and even behavior.

Two further issues leap out.

  • It’s all on vendors’ side and as a customer I am not meant to be independent of them.
  • There is no incentive for companies to implement and change the balance of power. They may want the benefit of data management and its complexity ‘outsourced’ to the customer but giving up any control goes against most companies instincts and systems.

The first is where CMR differs VRM at the first glance already, the second is often raised about VRM as a criticism.

And now for the vision:

I’m now living in a CMR world. I have tools with which to manage the big picture of my finances. I get best offers all the time. If service levels are not good I get to know before I buy by asking other customers of the companies concerned. These financial services companies are now wholesalers or manufacturers or advisors. The whole clearing system is a subset of this system. Banks do not do that anymore. Of course I need some cash sometimes but that’s getting rarer because my PFA (personal financial assistant – Laura) can’t track it for me, so I have to enter stuff manually. That will never die out though since lots of people still want anonymity for many things. Financial service always was an oxymoron!

I must say, this sounds awfully like most of the VRM ideas I hear from people hanging around the project, namely, various matching services, automation or aggregation, platforms for customers communicating with other customers, clearlng systems etc. They usually set off my lock-in detectors fast but this gets my warning alarm blaring full blast:

The system networks all the relevant knowledge, process and contact I need. It is regulated and government backed. For the moment government owned. They’ve made more money out of online tax collection and the equity value they have in than the national lottery and the G3 licenses put together.

The hardest part they had to play was to persuade all the vested interests to set up the new system and to select smart, sharp operators who could build and operate such a scaled up system in the new technologies.

Apart from the glaring ‘government-owned’ issue, there is another major problem I have with this approach, and with many other VRM implementations. It is the assumption, explict or implicit, that the individual-customer-user has to be provided for. And that this can or should be done by a third party service, system or platform. And that in order for us as individuals to be able to do anything sensible and useful with our data, or in order to be secure, or private or whatever else we might want, we have to turn to the ’supply side’. And finally, among those subscribing VRM vision, the assumption that solutions will come from the vendor side or that vendors will have to be sold on this first, in order to reach users and make VRM happen.

I see this assumption not only around CMR or VRM but everywhere other than the social or live web. It is a place where the demand side can and often is supplying itself, where ‘users’ can and often become ‘creators’, audience have become distributors, and intermediaries are melting away in decentralised networks and direct connections of all kinds. Alas, even on the web, it’s not all P2P roses. My online existence gets scattered across many platforms, google, wordpress, flickr, dopplr, twitter, and many more.

fractured_identity_sml.jpg

I have reached the limits of usefulness for apps that give me nice functionality but take away my ability to manage data across my entire ‘identity’. As I said elsewhere, the collection of tools should be clustered around the user, not around platforms or applications. It all starts with the individual. And as an individual user, I want a range of applications to manage my data, metadata, identity etc so I, and hopefully other similarly motivated users, can get on with learning how to control and manage our ‘identity’.

Individuals with independent tools, networked and informed, will be able to capture and manage information about themselves and about vendors. Once people can do that – manage their data, relationships, identities, purchase histories, their records, locations and god knows what – then more cool things will start to happen. And it will be those cool things that will ultimately determine the direction vendors should be looking.

To sum up, the article on CMR hits a few of the targets VRM is aiming at too. It calls for giving greater control to customers over their data as well as proposes that businesses arrange themselves better around customer needs. In order to achieve this laudable goal, it looks to businesses for solutions and implementation, assuming third party providers, intermediaries and closed proprietary platforms to build the CMR world. There is nothing about individuals’ sovereignty over data rather than access to it, no room for user-driven tools, only managed on my user’s behalf or user-centric at best, or user’s privacy and security policy.

One of the fundamental building blocks of VRM is the ability of individual users to take charge of their data instead of managing them via a platform and ‘trading’ that data for the functionality that the platform might provide. Once I have it in my hands, I can manage, analyse and whatever else I wish to do with them, applying various functionality directly*. And share and interact with others in ways richer than platforms currently allow. It might be messier to start with but closer to human affairs in its complexity. And that is a Good Thing.

I want to be able to connect and create relationships without lock-ins (other than the ones that some relationships bring with them naturally :) ). I don’t believe I will be able to do that unless the tools are built around me, for me and eventually by me. Blogging took off when people could set up a page and start publishing in a way previously available only to geeks with HTML skillz. Today I can do more things with my blog than just publish – tag, add videos, plug-in more functionality etc. with the underlying technology invisible to me now. So I want tools and applications that will help me do all that for transactions as well as relationships. Eventually.

—–
* My contribution to this aim is the Mine! project set up to equip individuals with tools to take charge of their data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge), arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) them according to their needs and preferences and share them on their own terms whilst connected and networked on the web.

January VRM Hub meeting

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In the last two years I have discovered that the idea of VRM appeals to most on an instinctive level. People respond in different ways and with different ideas and interpretations of what VRM means and how to go about making it happen. This means people get involved, which is good. It also means people bring their more or less complete understanding, which is sometimes challenging.

I thought it would be useful to spend some time exploring what VRM means to each of us. So I decided to dedicate the January VRM Hub meeting to discovering together the various aspects of what VRM means to people who rally behind it. It might help us explain it better to others, and collaborate more effectively together on how to make it happen.

We are going to take a playful approach to this and many thanks to
Johnnie Moore
for agreeing to facilitate/run the game, and to GfK NOP for providing the venue. Johnnie works with all sorts of companies on collaboration and is going to use one of two of his favourite games to help us explore ideas together. He warns there’s a serious risk of having a few laughs and some danger of unexpected learning.

Sign up here, as usual.

Reminder: VRM Hub Christmas drinks will be on 15th December at Crosskeys pub in Chelsea.

VRM Hub London

VRM Hub November evening meeting

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Our next meeting is on Thursday 27th November, 6-9pm at the same venue as the last month – GfK NOP building in Southwark, Room 15, 9th floor, Ludgate House, 245 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 9UL (map).

Our speaker for this session will be, Nick Buckley, who kindly arranged the venue for VRM Hub until next February. He will talk about what the shift in balance of power between vendors and customers might mean for Market Research and where this might lead to real change rather than incrementally “adaptive adoption” of VRM. As always, I’ll encourage Nick to come at this from his personal perspective as a market research expert but also as someone who has observed the web and its impact on individuals.

I don’t have a link for Nick who is in the process of setting up a blog to continue to share his insight with the world. Good stuff. :)

Look forward to seeing you there, sign up here.

Faust 2.0

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This made me laugh outloud. It flips the helplessness I feel as a user/customer/individual facing a legal boiler plate when dealing with companies, organisation and institutions. Time to do a flip of our own

Devil and EULA

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