inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #26 of 60: Greg Broiles (gbroiles) Tue 21 Aug 12 13:56
I just purchased the audio version of the book but haven't listened to
it yet. So perhaps what I'm saying is already well-covered.

It occurs to me that a lot of the focus of this discussion seems to be
on the selling side of a relationship - but a lot of what's important
to me is not just the selling, but the actual nuts & bolts of the
ongoing business relationship.

My life as a customer would be improved if it was easier for me to
automate interactions with many vendors in a standard fashion - maybe
I've changed addresses, or got a new payment card, and want to notify
my vendors to make those updates to their system. My life as a vendor
would be improved if it was easy for my clients to tell me that they've

My life as a customer would be improved if I could have
invoices/statements delivered to me "paperlessly", but not as fragile
HTML e-mails that won't be readable in 6 months because the
graphics/CSS elements will have disappeared from the web, and also not
as hidden files on someone else's website hidden behind
username/password credentials that will be deleted as soon as I stop
doing business with that company (if not sooner). I'd be delighted if I
could be "paperless" and that meant giving my vendors write-only
access to a vendor-specific folder on Dropbox, and they could drop PDF
statements/invoices in there. Until I can have that, they can continue
to spend a few dollars every month mailing me paper, and I'll continue
spending a few minutes every month scanning that paper and putting it
on Dropbox. 

I think there may be a lot of opportunities where customers/clients
could get finer-grained control of their side of relationships, without
significantly limiting what vendors can do with their systems. It's
just not realistic to expect that vendors will voluntarily give me
control over the internal records they keep about me, any more than I'm
going to let my clients tell me what I can record in my CRM system to
make my business run smoothly. 
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #27 of 60: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 21 Aug 12 14:35
Doc, since you've written the book, what's taken place and what has
changed regarding VRM?
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #28 of 60: Rohan Clarke (jonl) Tue 21 Aug 12 17:50
Submitted by Rohan Clarke:


We are developing a VRM model based on 'vendor pays / free to
customers' with the efficiency gains to vendors far outweighing the

One challenge with this approach is that the argument can be made that
our real 'customers' are the vendors - the implication being that the
model is fundamentally conflicted. We see the issue but do not agree it
is material. Given you have commented elsewhere on the ability for 4th
parties to charge the vendor, I'd appreciate your thoughts on this

inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #29 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Wed 22 Aug 12 10:32
Greg, you're nailing many of the reasons we started ProjectVRM in
2006, and one of the reasons (at least for me) that we wrote The
Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999. The "business end" of business for
customers is their end, not the seller's. Countless business problems
can only be solved fully if customers are in control of exactly the
stuff you talk about -- and then some.

Ted, the book was finished (except for a few small edits) late last
year. Since then there have been three major changes. First, many more
developers have showed up, either because they gravitated toward VRM,
or discovered that VRM is a good label for what they were already
working on. Second, all the most active VRM developers have made big
strides forward. Third, as the book predicted, "social" is starting to
look post-peak as a meme, and general distate for surveillance and
privacy loss has become more widespread. Yet it's still early. On
Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation curves
<> VRM is still at
the far left end. But it is definitely moving fast to the right.

Rohan, I must confess that I have doubts about the 'vendor pays / free
to consumers' model (we need a shorter name for that, so for now let's
call it VP/F2C -- and I say "consumers" rather than "customers,"
because the vendors are your paying customers while users consume the
service... hope I have that right). It's not so much that the model is
fundamentally conflicted in the first place, but that it becomes
conflicted as soon as the interests of the consumers and the customers
are at odds.

Every business in which the consumers and customers are different
populations has the same problem. Commercial broadcasting has always
had it. I once worked with the #1 radio station in a market -- one the
listeners loved, and which totally kicked butt in the ratings. But the
owner decided that more money could be made from advertisers with a
different format, so they flipped the switch, abandoning a base of half
a million loving listeners, in an instant. (The same thing happened
with classical KDFC in the Bay Area last year.)

Google and Facebook have the same problem today. That problem is
accountability. To whom are you most accountable? How? And why? And who
will you screw when times get tough and somebody has to lose?

If somebody pays for a service, they expect that service to be
accountable to them. If they get it for free, then not so much. In
fact, it is reasonable to assume, especially on today's commercial Web,
that any "free" commercial service has other costs, many unseen. For
example, unwanted surveillance and lost privacy.

In your business, you are likely to know by name, and serve with
maximized responsibility, your customers: the vendors. You are likely
to not know by name, and to serve with minimized responsibility, your
consumers. Your lawyers will also construct one-sided terms of service
that maximize liability to consumers and minimize it to your company.
Far more even-handed and equitable terms, including assurances of
performance, will be granted to your actual customers. 

Ever try to get Google on the phone? Or Facebook? Those are the
biggest and most successful models for VP/F2C.

That said, there are plenty of VRM services coming along that have
VP/F2C as the business model. At this early stage we welcome all
comers, but my bet is against the success of that model in the long
run, especially if the model is supported by advertising (a topic I
visit on at some length in the book).

Have you looked at a freemium option? I think that's a good way to get
rolling in many cases. 
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #30 of 60: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 22 Aug 12 11:00
Freemium -- basic for free, upgrades for fee -- is a great model that
seems to me to have arisen from the free sample concept, but is very
attractive when it allows an ongoing community interaction between
people who use/participate for free and those who are paying for an
upgraded service level.  In many cases when I support the service or
community I appreciate the virtual badges that often come with the step
up from the free level.  (I have a "pro" icon on my Flickr account at for example).  It has occurred to me
that in some situations I might want to have the choice to show that
I'm paying or not, and that option is not always given to me.  

I'd like to see that be a choice in such situations.  To use a
different example, I go to Starbucks now and then (particularly in
airports) but I would not want them to make me wear a Starbucks tee
shirt after I got an espresso. There are not many logos I want to
"wear" online or off, though I will be a customer happily.

There's another opportunity for consumer choice.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #31 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Wed 22 Aug 12 19:58
Thanks, Gail.

I have a Flickr pro account too. And, as with my paid account with
Google Checkout (which now Google Wallet), it gives me no sense of
actual accountable connection with the company. Like Google,
Flickr/Yahoo makes most of its money from advertising, not from
individual customers. I worry about that, since I have a high degree of
exposure and dependence on Flickr, through 50,000 or so photographs,
many highly annotated there. I visit that concern here:
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #32 of 60: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Wed 22 Aug 12 20:44
It doesn't help that flickr calls their paid account "Pro" while
explicitly prohibiting professional use.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #33 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 22 Aug 12 21:19
Doc, could you say a bit about the idea of the commons, and more
specifically, the formation of a Customer Commons?
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #34 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Thu 23 Aug 12 04:35
Jef, I'm not familiar with that rule. Many professional photographers
show off their work on Flickr, and a Flickr arrangement with Getty
images allows one's work, should one wish, to be sold through Getty. I
should add that over the years I've taken in a few hundred dollars from
those wishing to pay me for a shot here or there. This has all been
voluntary. I don't require payment for anything. And, to its credit,
Flickr does have an API which, I am told, allows the user to copy off
every shot in their collection, metadata and all. Still, I would gladly
pay much more than I do for truly professional-grade service from
Flickr, and I am sure I am not alone.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #35 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Thu 23 Aug 12 04:53
Jon, the term "commons" for several recent decades was most commonly a
noun modified by the adjective "tragic," thanks to Garrett Hardin's
"Tragedy of the Commons," an essay published in Science in 1968. This
Wikipedia article does a good job of summarizing his case and criticism
of it: . More
recently Creative Commons ( has established
a less contentious meaning: that of a simple shared resource from
which an interested group -- in this case artists -- can extract
something useful to them, at no cost to anybody. For Creative Commons
that something is a license, or a set of licenses, for marking a work
with simple signs representing its permitted uses.

The original idea for Customer Commons was to play the same role for
individuals, respecting permitted use of their data. That purpose
persists, although Customer Commons is now conceived more broadly as an
organization of customers, representing the interests of customers.
The organization is still brand new, and I encourage those interested
to get involved and make it what they like.

Those interested in a deeper look at the idea of the commons itself
should grab a copy of Lewis Hyde's book Common as Air. Or any of Lewis'
other books, starting with The Gift, for which he was granted a
MacArthur prize. Brilliant stuff.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #36 of 60: Rob Myers (robmyers) Thu 23 Aug 12 05:07
IMO the Wikipedia article makes clear that Hardin at best didn't know
what he was talking about. Elinor Ostrom is the name that comes up more
now when talking about the commons, although I haven't read her work.

The real historical threat to commons is enclosure by the gentry,
which in this scenario would mean Amazon and Facebook-style corporate
data silos. Commons are managed by peers, and Amazon and Facebook
aren't my peers. That said, goods from the commons can be taken to
market, so perhaps ironically the customers of (rather than in) this
commons will be its would-be gentry. :-)
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #37 of 60: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Thu 23 Aug 12 09:49
From flickr's Community Guidelines,

* Don't use Flickr to sell.
  If we find you engaging in commercial activity, we will warn you or delete
  your account. Some examples include selling products, services, or yourself
  through your photostream or in a group, using your account solely as a
  product catalog, or linking to commercial sites in your photostream. If you
  engage in commercial activity elsewhere on the internets or in the real
  world, youre still welcome on Flickr - in fact, weve even set up some best
  practices especially for you.

And yes, professional photographers have been kicked off flickr based
on this clause.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #38 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Fri 24 Aug 12 03:09
Rob, Ostrom and Hyde are (to me at least) the brightest lights on the
commons topic. In The Intention Economy I devote a chapter to what I've
learned from both, especially Hyde. It's not far off from what you

Jef, Flickr certainly has the right to forbid commercial activity. But
they could also see opportunity there as well, thinking like eBay
instead of like Google. Alas, with a Googler now in charge of the
company, I don't see a reason to bet on a change there.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #39 of 60: Rob Myers (robmyers) Fri 24 Aug 12 04:48
Gah another book I am going to have to buy because of Inkwell! ;-)
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #40 of 60: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Fri 24 Aug 12 09:40
I don't dispute that they can ban commercial activity if they want
to, although it's super foolish.  I just enjoy pointing out the
irony of calling their paid accounts "Pro" while banning professional
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #41 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 24 Aug 12 12:14
How are Project VRM and the Customer Commons related, and how are they
organized? Do either or both have a roadmap or plan for development?
Or are they growing/evolving more organically?
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #42 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Sun 26 Aug 12 15:46
ProjectVRM ( is a development and research
project (in that order) that I started six years ago at the Berkman
Center, when I became a fellow there. (
(The fellowship ended in 2010, but I still run the project.) Its
purpose is to foster development of VRM tools and services. This it has
done, and continues to do, very well. Research is next. That's the
roadmap. Along the way what matters most is the work, not the
organization, which consists of a wiki, a list (of about 500 members) a
blog, and gatherings, most frequently at the Internet Identity
Workshop (IIW), an un-conference that happens twice a year at the
Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
( We're going on the 15th of those in
October. I'm one of the three instigators. The other two are Phil
Windley ( and Kaliya Hamlin
( If you're interested in VRM
development, or would like to become involved with it, IIW is a fun way
to get started.

Customer Commons ( was created earlier this
year to gather customers around VRM development and VRM issues. Its
mission is to "create a world of liberated, powerful and respected
customers." It is described as "a non-profit for customers who are
tired of just complaining about the 'powers that be' and want to
contribute to making tools for the rest of us." Its immodest intention
is to enroll "the 100%." In other words, all customers. There is less a
roadmap than a frontier and several trails toward settling it: helping
(and crowd-funding) VRM development; sharing ideas and development
work through The Customers Journal; events and some other things.
Customer Commons is also a highly active topic at IIW.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #43 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Sun 26 Aug 12 15:49
I should add that a number of the people involved with ProjectVRM
(starting with me) are also involved with Customer Commons. But
Customer Commons also has lots of new blood as well, which is as it
should be. Customer Commons, when it succeeds, should be huge.
ProjectVRM will never be bigger than it is now, and will likely go away
once VRM is fully established as a category.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #44 of 60: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 27 Aug 12 06:36
Doc, can you tell us about your next book, The Giant Zero; how is that
going, what will it cover, when will it be out?
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #45 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Tue 28 Aug 12 05:24
I've got lots of material for The Giant Zero, and a lot of
leverage-able writing, as well as a number of potential collaborators.
But I won't start putting it together, I'm guessing, until about a year
from now. That may change, but at the moment I'm focusing on The
Intention Economy and some new work I'll be doing around journalism at
NYU. Can't provide details on the latter yet. Stay tuned. :-)
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #46 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 28 Aug 12 05:47
_The Intention Economy_ is written as a prompt for more conversation
about the subject - you ask questions, and make it clear that you don't
have all the answers (though you do cover a lot of ground, say a lot
about how the Internet works and how it's transformed markets and
eocnomies).  What is your vision for next steps? Project VRM was an
instigator of many tech developments that may become companies and
applications. Similarly, are you hoping the book will inspire new
streams of thought and action? Perhaps a body of related work authored
by others?
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #47 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Tue 28 Aug 12 18:22
The next step for ProjectVRM will be research. A lot TBD there, but it
will start in the next year. There are lots of next steps for VRM
companies and development projects. I'm looking forward to seeing
progress shared at the next IIW <http://internetidentityworkshop> in
October. I have speaking gigs coming up in Amsterdam, Toronto, London,
Dallas and other places, plus a online webinars and such. Interested to
see how those go as well. 

For example, I'm curious to see how VRM work matches up not only with
CRM but with CXPs -- customer experience professionals. They overlap to
a degree with CRM, but are a different discipline. They're looking at
customers gaining more control over their own experiences and wondering
how that changes what CXP is all about.

And yes, I am hoping that the book inspires fresh thought and action,
and I'd love to see others pick up the that thinking, my own and that
of others, and run with it.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #48 of 60: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 29 Aug 12 04:43
What are some specific examples of VRM-ish applications currently in
development? What makes them VRM?
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #49 of 60: Doc Searls (doc-searls) Thu 30 Aug 12 09:06
All the work around DNT -- Do Not Track -- are VRM in the sense that
they give individuals both independence and means for engaging. As I
said early on, this is very early stuff, but it is VRM. Examples:

Personal data stores, aka lockers, vaults, systems, clouds, etc., also
meet the VRM definition. Examples:
Then there's intentcasting:

Those are all from the ProjectVRM development wiki page...
... which is far from complete. 

None of these apps and projects are yet killer. But something will
kill, soon enough.
inkwell.vue.451 : Doc Searls - The Intention Economy
permalink #50 of 60: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 2 Sep 12 22:51
Probably you've already written about this but it hasn't come up yet
here: it seems to me that providing a common UI for buying things from
multiple vendors is what a retail store does. Instead of always going
to farmer's market, sometimes we shop at a grocery store that buys food
from many farmers. Walmart provides a standard UI for buying products
from thousands of manufacturers, many in foreign countries. Ebay and
Amazon provide a standard UI for buying things from millions of small
online shops. Apple, Amazon, Google, and so on are all competing to be
the best UI for buying recorded music from any musician.

Besides providing the UI, large retailers also do a valuable service
for their retail customers by bargaining down their suppliers and
setting quality standards. They use leverage that individual customers
could never have, as John Kenneth Galbraith's pointed out when a wrote
about "countervailing power".

Of course, the retailers themselves have their own interests, and how
much they actually serve their customers varies - generally it's not as
much as they claim. But the best ones could credibly claim that the
serve their customers well and that you could simplify your life by
always buying through them  - so why aren't they VRM vendors already?


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