Month: February 2010

Bowling a data strike

In 3 Tech Themes for the Next Decade, Tim Beyers bowls a VRM strike in The Motley Fool. Or maybe a spare, if we count one pin still standing, but sure to fall after the other two. Specifically…

1. Computing will become ever more distributed. This refers to cloud computing, but also to the idea that processing power, storage, memory, and even code can be spread across multiple networks and multiple geographic areas, yet still deliver value. One company I saw, 80legs, has software that crawls the Web with the help of tens of thousands of computers that donate CPU power when they’re idle. Talk about rebellious.

2. Raw data will become actionable data. All sorts of companies are talking about aggregating, slicing, analyzing, and compiling data from the dozens of social media sources out there, Twitter included. Talk centered on “activity streams” that express everything we’re doing online. Maybe that’s candy for the digital voyeurs among us, but I’m not sure there’s much value in publishing such streams. Regardless, it seems clear that we’ll see more data organized socially — perhaps like what Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) proposes with its new social network, Buzz.

3. More customer control. Doc Searls, a co-author of the 1999 landmark book and website The Cluetrain Manifesto, put it best to me in a conversation on the first night of Defrag. “I want to get to the point where demand leads supply.” He wants customers, not vendors, to take control.

The standing pin is in point #2. What we want is for people to control data personally, not just socially. Having “social” data may help you think you can paint a better target on a customer’s back; but it doesn’t make you any more friendly to the customer. And it won’t win you individual hearts and minds either. Improving a pain in the ass doesn’t make it a kiss.

If demand leads supply, as Tim and I agree about in point #3, customers need to be the points of integration for their own data, and the points of origination for what gets done with it. When that happens, pin #2 gets knocked down by #3.

The means are not yet here, but they will be. And once they are, there will be many new places for Motley Fool readers to place their bets.

CRM & VRM, Figure & Ground

Antagonyms, Social Circles and Chattering about VRM is a deep and helpful piece by Cliff Gerrish on his blog. He starts by visiting and (words that carry dual and opposing meanings) and how context tilts perception and meaning toward one side or another. By example he suggests that Google’s problems with were (at least in part) a result of internal perspective and experience (“Google launched Buzz as a consumer product, but tested it as an enterprise product”). From there he suggests that CRM and VRM also require that we consider perspective and reciprocity:

Meanwhile, introduces Chatter to the enterprise and rolls it out at no extra charge to all employees on the internal network. And while it will start inside the enterprise, Chatter will quickly expand to the boundaries and begin to cross over. From a business perspective, it’ll be used to turbo-charge collaboration and create real-time communication for project teams and business units. But very quickly you’ll see friends sending messages to each other about meeting up for lunch, and a public-personal communications channel will be opened within the enterprise. And the circles will connect and widen from there.

Here are a couple more Contranyms:

clip (attach to) – clip (cut off from)

cleave (to cut apart) – cleave (to seal together) calls itself the leader in Customer Relationship Management and Cloud Computing. Chatter may just be the communication medium that ultimately contains both CRM and its opposite number, VRM. Vendor Relationship Management is a reaction to the data toolsets belonging to the enterprise and not to the individual customer.

In a narrow sense, VRM is the reciprocal — the customer side — of CRM (or Customer Relationship Management). VRM tools provide customers with the means to bear their side of the relationship burden. They relieve CRM of the perceived need to “capture,” “acquire,” “lock in,” “manage,” and otherwise employ the language and thinking of slave-owners when dealing with customers. With VRM operating on the customer’s side, CRM systems will no longer be alone in trying to improve the ways companies relate to customers. Customers will be also be involved, as fully empowered participants, rather than as captive followers.

If you were to think about what kind of infrastructure you’d want to run VRM on, would be ideal. To run the mirror image of CRM, you need the same set of services and scale. The individual Chatter account could be the doorway to a set of VRM services. I can already see developers using the platform to populate a VRM app store.

Some corporations will attempt to maximize the business value of each individual worker, stripping out all the extraneous human factors. will be erected to keep the outside from the inside, the personal from the business, and the public from the private. But when you put messaging and communications tools into the hands of people they will find ways to talk to each other— about work, life, play, the project, and the joke they just heard at the water cooler.

I’ll need to study Salesforce’s services before I venture opinions about how well they apply on the VRM side. But in the meantime I do think there is an especially appropriate optical illusion for illustrating CRM/VRM reciprocity: the :


As Wikipedia currently puts it,

Rubin’s vase (sometimes known as the Rubin face or the Figure-ground vase) is a famous set of cognitive developed around 1915 by the . They were first introduced at large in Rubin’s two-volume work, the Danish-language Synsoplevede Figurer (“Visual Figures”), which was very well-received; Rubin included a number of examples, like a Maltese cross figure in black and white, but the one that became the most famous was his vase example, perhaps because the Maltese cross one could also be easily interpreted as a black and white beachball.

One can then state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as and the other as , the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.

Says Rubin (in Synsoplevede Figurer, 1915),

One can then state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as and the other as , the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.

Over the next century Rubin’s vase illusion has more commonly been illustrated with a wine glass between two faces (perhaps because we’re drinking more and arranging flowers less):

I think this imagery does a better job of illustrating the figure-ground distinctions of CRM and VRM. I suggest that CRM sees the wine glass (from which they might drink from the wealth of well-managed relationships with customers), while VRM sees two faces that represent one-to-one interactions between equals.

After CRM and VRM come to be working well together, vendors and customers will still have their own tilted perspectives — one’s figure will be the other’s ground — but both will be fully present.

As of today that’s not the case. CRM is a multi-$billion industry, while VRM is just getting started. Perhaps, by thinking about CRM from a VRM perspective (and vice versa), we can build out tools and solutions better, and faster.


The following excerpts a recent Project VRM Conversation on Geocasting — the ability to share your location data with the world, how you could optionally share it, and how it could be abused.

A thread on privacy developed as often happens in these discussions about the ongoing digitization of our thoughts, movements, and actions. Continue reading

MyCubi: a Personal RFP Play

John Federico (@gadgetboy) writes this in MyCubi: A Local Auction Marketplace for Services in Your Neighborhood:

MyCubi (pronounced “My Cubee”)wants to make local marketplaces more efficient by bringing buyers and service providers together.

Service providers visiting MyCubi are encourage to create a Cubi – a free web page that enables businesses to market, trade and communicate with potential customers in their local market.Visitors to MyCubi that are looking for services can post a Cubi Call – a free RFP that let’s service providers bid against each other for the project.

All of these buy and sell requests are placed on a map, so you know not with whom you’re doing business but where they’re located.

This is the start of a marketplace of intentions or what some call Vendor Relationship Management, albeti a simple version of it. No longer do you need to narrow your search for a provider based on referrals and recommendations. Sure, you’ll still want to get those, but you can simultaneously post to MyCubi and have local companies compete for your business.

And it’s not just Business-to-Business – consumers can use MyCubi, too. For instance, there are numerous entries in MyCubi for babysitters. Why not landscapers, house painters and dog walkers?

While it will certainly improve as more providers and buyers join the platform, you can start using MyCubi right now – there are no geographical restrictions.

Of course, the big question has yet to be answered: how does MyCubi make money? No idea, yet. The service is currently free for buyers and providers.

Anybody checked it out? Be curious to see how it goes.


Graham Sadd (@grahamsadd) in VRM Trust Matters: publishes the second half of Doc Searls predictions and emerging forms of VRM but I couldn’t resist adding a few to his list.

As a long term advocate of VRM (or SRM as I used to call it back in the last century) I fully agree with Doc and the ProjectVRM core principle of ‘user-driven’. However we at PAOGA prefer ‘user’ to ‘customer’ in this context as we provide secure VRM tools and services extending beyond the ‘Vendor Relationship’ to enhance individuals participation in their relationships as a citizen, patient, employee, client, student, et al. Let’s call it XRM.

Whilst Doc provides a number of examples whereby VRM can provide significant mutual benefits to both buyer and seller, I think there are a few more worthy of mention.

The full text of that interview is at How VRM helps CRM.

In Accepting Payments on the Real-Time Web Damon Cortesi (@dacort) visits issues we face from the user/customer’s side with EmanciPay:

Here’s the thing – I build products. Lots of them. And I want to charge for them. I don’t want to have to drive tens of thousands of uniques per month before ads even start to think about paying out. I’m tired of visiting websites and having ads about people’s ugly teeth be the first thing I see. Dave McClure had an interesting, if curse-word-infused, post on the future of subscriptions. The basic gist is that startups have focused on growth and advertising-based revenue models in the past decade and that now we are heading more towards a subscription and transaction-based model.

His spot-on rant is ridiculously close to what I almost ended up posting this morning, and I’m glad I didn’t, as I haven’t quite earned the the respect to swear online like that yet. But here’s how it looks from the ground floor as a developer on a 2-person team that is trying to avoid the CPM/CPC model and instead focus on building useful products that people want to pay for. A crazy concept, I know!

Then he reviews, at length, a number of company offerings, and concludes,

Since the weekend, I’ve been contacted by a number of other subscription billing companies. Of the couple I checked out (Vindicia and Aria Systems), their websites were primarily marketing fluff – white papers, best practice guides and webinars. In order to actually determine their feasibility, I had to fill in a form and have a sales person contact me. This may work for larger corporations, but we’re a startup. Putting up a sales gateway in front of your documentation makes it pretty damn difficult to evaluate the efficacy of your solution. When we’re building products in a matter of hours or days, your 9-5, Monday-Friday attitude is simply not going to be compatible with our workflow. But maybe we’re not your target audience.

All that being said, there’s hope. Spreedly, Recurly, and Chargify are all brand new and all appear to both be listening and care about their  current and potential customers. I don’t doubt that they’ll all get to where I want them to be in the near future, but they’re not quite there yet.

Perhaps useful to other folks is this spreadsheet where we tracked different recurring billing solutions against our requirements. I’d love to hear other people’s experiences with these, or other payment solutions.

Nicolas Shriver:

I like the VRM concept. The Vendor Relationship Management is somehow a reverse CRM. A customer exposes his needs for a product, and the brand gets in contact with him to provide the accurate information, via social media or its website. This is the reason why community management is getting so huge.

John Cass:

I’m reading Paul Greenberg’s CRM and the speed of light, just getting into the second chapter where he discusses various CRM related terms. Including VRM, Doc Searls’ baby, the idea of vendor relationship management, customers manage their data and relationships instead of companies managing customer data. Companies provide customers with the tools to manage their data. Google Health would be an example of VRM. Paul and I discussed VRM back in 2008. I think it will be a hot topic in the years to come. Glad Paul included the term in the book, and I picked up some extra points from Paul’s more detailed research. Really enjoying the book.

Paul’s blog is here. And here’s the book at Amazon.

Paul Madsen:

With appropriate #micro-syntax, could #plancast serve as a #VRM RFI/RFP platform, ie ‘plan to buy’?

The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce points to Loyalty Marketing: The Nature and Scope of CRM and VRM Systems. Reading the promo text, I’m not sure the speaker is talking about our kind of VRM or another one, but I’m curious to know.

Dennis Howlett, in Rationalizing the E2.0, SCRM, social business discussion:

A constructive next step?

It’s always easy to throw brickbats but on this occasion I’d prefer to add something I hope is fresh into the conversation while representing a challenge. In doing so, I am asking people to think beyond their silos of expertise in an effort to articulate the strategic intent that seems implied but is never quite said.

Doc Searls has long talked about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) as a socially constructed way of looking at the vendor-customer relationship. It’s kind of the inverse of CRM but with the same philosophical grounding.

The last time we discussed this, more than a year ago, he acknowledged that making VRM work in anything other than relatively simple supply chain situations was likely to prove tough. Yet real customer service means having some reach into the supply chain. Even now Doc acknowledges that many of the tools don’t exist to make the VRM dream a reality. But maybe there’s a way where E2.0/SCRM thinkers can see where their ideas start to disintegrate and use the conversation Doc has going to make this more relevant to the real world. At the same time, maybe think also about how Sig’s BRP impacts the broad sweep of E2.0/SCRM.

Finally, when thinking about E2.0/SCRM, pay attention to the way in which organizational change occurs in the context of nuanced cultures. Don’t be constrained by one or other theory simply because it makes for an attractive sounding buzz phrase. Without that, much of what passes for this new way of thinking will be lost.

It’s early days. I’m sure it is happening. Somewhere. I’d just like to see it.

For additional context there I’ll point to Enterprise 2.0 (the subject for which E2.0 is an abbreviation), the excellent new book by my colleague Andrew McAfee.

Robin Wilton in Paying for Privacy:

The older reason is that “point” privacy protection products can usually do little or nothing about the elephant in the room… the vested and mostly-invisible commercial interests behind online advertising are so huge, so entrenched and so opaque to the user that it is all but impossible to change the balance of power between the ‘data subject’ and the ‘data gatherer’. As an example, look at the difficulty some very bright people have had with turning VRM from concept into reality. (VRM, or “Vendor Relationship Management” was coined as a flip-side to “Customer Relationship Management” – CRM – … the idea being that my interests would be better served if I took control of my data and used it as the leverage to change vendors’ behaviour). The idea, the principles and the technology might all be fine, but those factors are not enough to convince/persuade/force vendors to do things your way instead of theirs.


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