Month: April 2011

IIW dev job: ListenLog

Craig Burton has a nice tutorial on developing VRM applications, using ListenLog as both an example and a challenge for next week at IIW.

ListenLog is the brainchild of Keith Hopper and the collaborative result of efforts by folks from NPR, PRX and other public radio institutions, as well as the Berkman Center and volunteers from the VRM community. It’s a form of self-tracking (see The Quantified Self for more on what that’s about), and also part of a larger effort that includes EmanciPay.

You’ll already find it on the Public Radio Player for iPhone, which is free and a great app. If you’re using an iPhone, download it, then go (as the tutorial says) to the settings and turn on logging. What you’ll have is your own growing pile of personal data, that you control. (No, it’s not yet in your all-purpose personal data store, locker or vault, but that’s another step and we can talk about that too. It is, for sure, in your Personal Data Ecosystem.)

Here’s where the tutorial pauses, for now:

to be done

One of our jobs next week is fulfilling those needs. This is light-duty hacking of the sort we can do around a table in one afternoon. (For those of us who can hack. Alas, the only code I know is Morse.)

Here’s where moving forward on this will lead:

  1. Better knowledge for listeners about what they actually value.
  2. Necessary groundwork for EmanciPay, which is a new listener-driven business model for public radio — and for everything else thats available for free but worth more than that.
  3. More money for public radio (because the old models won’t go away).
  4. More money for every business that produces free goods that are worth more than that. (For example music, newspapers, magazines, blogs and so on.)
  5. Experience and modeling for other similar projects.

Should be fun work.

Bonus thought: This might also work as something that ties in with the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge. (Keith will be there, I think.) Hey, let’s connect the two. Should be fun. Just tweeted this as well.

Personal leverage for personal data

VRM is starting to snowball. You can see it in the Twitter scroll there on the right, and in Twitter searches for #VRM. Gaining velocity lately is personal data. To look down that vector, I’ll connect several links.

The first is Show Us the Data. (It’s Ours, After All), by Richard H. Thaler in the . The gist:

The collection and dissemination of this information raises a host of privacy issues, of course, and the bipartisan team of Senators John Kerry and John McCain has proposed what it is calling the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights to deal with many of them. Protecting our privacy is important, but the senators’ approach doesn’t tackle a broader issue: It doesn’t include the right to access data about ourselves. Not only should our data be secure; it should also be available for us to use for our own purposes. After all, it is our data.

Here is a guiding principle: If a business collects data on consumers electronically, it should provide them with a version of that data that is easy to download and export to another Web site. Think of it this way: you have lent the company your data, and you’d like a copy for your own use.

This month in Britain, the government announced an initiative along these lines called “mydata.” (I was an adviser on this project.) Although British law already requires companies to provide consumers with usage information, this program is aimed at providing the data in a computer-friendly way. The government is working with several leading banks, credit card issuers, mobile calling providers and retailers to get things started.

Here’s the long-form .pdf on mydata. What’s most important about it, especially for U.S. domestic purposes, is that its case is not just for protective legislation to keep customers safe from abuse by big bad companies, but for empowering customers in the marketplace. (When you dig into his work you see that this is Thaler’s case as well.) In this respect, mydata is a very VRM-ish move. But then, the U.K. government has been pro-VRM for awhile now. (Somewhere around here I have a link to a speech by a U.K. official that names VRM specifically. If it shows up, I’ll put it here.)

The good people at Ctrl-SHIFT, a U.K. company that’s highly active in the VRM movement, explains the mydata initiative:

The announcement is a first on two fronts:

1) Its ‘mydata’ programme encourages companies to release data they hold about individuals back to them, so that they can use this data for their own purposes. This is the first major Government initiative, globally, towards a changed personal data consensus: personal data is a personal asset, and individuals should have the right and ability to manage and use this asset to pursue their own goals.

2) The Government programme is also the first official recognition that there is a market for decision-making services (or ‘choice tools’ in Government parlance) that operates independently of existing markets for products and services – the market for what we call Personal Information Management Services (PIMS).

Want to know more?

Do you want to join your peers in debating this initiative and related issues? If so, then join our new Explorers Club on May 12 (in central London). It’s got a packed agenda including slots on both the Government’s new mydata initiative and on PIMS.

They also have a briefing paper on the topic.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we’ve been  focused more on prophylaxis than empowerment, at least at the federal level. This is a problem with our obsession with privacy as an issue in itself. Focus on privacy alone, and conversation inevitably veers toward policy. What new laws and regulations do we need to protect ourselves? we ask. That may be a good question, but it ignores answers that are already coming from the marketplace — answers that see today’s privacy problems as secondary effects of market dysfunction, and which pursue opportunities that marginalize and obsolete today’s privacy-threatening business practices.

Rex Hammock deals with this in his post, VRM: I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours, which begins with a response to the same NYTimes piece:

…the examples of initiatives the writer points to may lead the reader to believe that government-led initiatives are the best route to take. That may be the best route one day, if companies don’t, themselves, join in the types of initiatives Project VRM is trying to foster.

However, it is important to recognize there are lots of startups, non-profits, academic and open source / grassroots (note: where I’ll place my bets) and even big-company initiatives in this arena, as well. It is also important to note that this issue is not something that sprang forth last week: For as long as I can remember, there have been those who embrace the internet, but who believe relationships (and identity) should belong to the users and buyers, not just hosts and sellers.

I will be writing more on this topic in the future. I just wanted to post this to alert people that the next big thing is not going to be about what others are doing to collect your data and lock you into their data-protectorates. The next big thing is going to be about you having better ways to access and use the relationships and data that belong to you, in ways that recognizes that markets are conversations — not plantations.

That last link is mine, pointing to an earlier post that unpacks the agricultural metaphor behind Rex’s point.

In vrm, fourth party and the empowered consumer, Gam Das gives a terrific example of VRM’s potential for radically improving the way markets work:

What appears to be missing is a service where vendors (manufacturers and retailers) are able to locate individuals looking for products that they might supply. Service Magic and Elance allow seekers to find providers in the Service space, yet nothing really exists yet in the consumer-product space.

vrm and the fourth party

The Fourth Party is a concept that has emerged from the VRM movement – it proposes a fourth party that acts on behalf of the Customer in the same way that a Third Party acts on behalf of the Vendor. If the Vendors are the hotel chains, airlines and car rental companies, then the third parties are ExpediaOrbitz andTravelocity and a fourth party might be the “agent” that negotiates with the travel aggregators to find the best deal.

The advantages to the customer of a four party system are huge and easily understandable. Booking my recent trip to Las Vegas involved a large number of parameters (flight times, airline options, hotel locations and star ratings, car rental companies and car sizes and above all the price parameters) – booking the trip took 3 hours and ended up with a deal for flight and hotel from Expedia and car from Hotwire. If there had been a service to whom I could have sent all the parameters and have them take care of it, then I would have paid for that and they would have probably got me a better deal if they do it all the time.

But wait… I remember a service like that from when I was a child, I think we called it a ‘Travel Agent’. But didn’t they become extinct a few years ago? Perhaps it’s time for them to re-emerge, but not only booking travel, but also handling all sorts of complex requirements, particularly bundles of goods and services. If enough people were able to publish their requests for things and there was a fee involved in finding a solution, a human outsource agent model is likely to emerge – something like the Dedicated Assistant service.

The fourth party also gets around the problem faced by Aggregators (such asKelkoo and Nextag) – to ensure that the consumer is presented with all the offers available. With a fourth party, their value will be to ensure this.

the future state

Once this starts to scale and requests are in millions and billions, then eventually the dedicated assistants will need to be augmented with more automated service that respond faster and are perhaps able to bid at auctions or take advantage of limited time / quantity deals, then my belief is that we will see Agent Technology doing our bidding online. I’ll be watching this space closely for many reasons.

Fourth parties are just one of the many VRM topics being tee’d up for IIW in Mountain View next week. It’s also one of the reasons why for the first time we’re inviting investors along with developers, journalists and other usual suspects. (The Ctrl-SHIFT people and Gam will be there, by the way, as will I.)

By the way, I wish I had involved myself in the ‘s this week (hard to do everything while writing a book), because (one of those potential IIW topics, above) would have been a great candidate for the new business model contest. (It got through two rounds of the Knight News Challenge, for whatever that’s worth.) In any case, I highly recommend reading for the event. Here’s an idea to keep in mind: Once customers start driving the music industry bus, that industry will be much bigger than it ever was when the labels drove the thing.

And to loop back to the topic of this post, note the collection of entities in the Personal Data Ecosystem, which will also be well-represented at IIW next week.

Patient-driven health care

VRM has been a cause in health care far longer than the term Vendor Relationship Management has been around. (For ProjectVRM, that’s been since late ’06.) And, as a category within VRM, health care could not be larger, more personal, or more contentious. Just yesterday Paul Krugman posted a column titled Patients are not consumers. Can’t get much more VRM than that.

Lately I’ve been urged to front-burner health care as a VRM topic, and I’m obliging here by recommending it as a topic for IIW#12, coming up the first week of May. The top urgers have been , Jon Lebkowsky and “.

Brian has been active on the ProjectVRM list, and his latest occupation — CTO of the — follows several years of involvement with and the Alembic Foundation, both at the forefront of patient-driven health care. Here’s a talk Brian gave last summer at OSCON, and some more stuff about Alembic.

Jon has been organizing meetups and conference calls on VRM and health care, as well as taking a lead role on behalf of the topic on the ProjectVRM list. ProjectVRM and e-Patients is a good sample. This slide deck also deals with the issues.

Adrian writes HealthURL, takes the VRM position in his postings on The Health Care Blog, and has been active in our workshops at Harvard., hosted by the This post, for example, has five helpful links (and lots more where those came from):

The debate between provider-centeredand patient-centered health information exchange is still very much with us. Recent progress with the Direct ProjectBlue Buttonand Kaiser’s donation of terminology suggest a trend toward simplicity and open-source collaboration as essential catalysts for health information exchange.

Dave recently gave an outstanding talk at TEDx in the Netherlands. (Pull quote: “patient is not a third-person word.”) Dave’s blogroll is also a trove, so I’m dropping it right in here:

Dave and I got on each other’s radar several years ago after he picked up on my Patient as a Platform post. Everything I wrote there still stands. What’s changed is my own hope for some progress on this whole front. In the past I avoided health care as a VRM topic, for two reasons: 1) I saw other people carrying the ball very well, and 2) I wanted to see results in my lifetime. Thanks to work by people like the four mentioned here, I have hope for that.

Just got an email from Dave, with these additional notes:

The monster-size issue in healthcare is that we’re pre-Copernican-shift.

The establishment completely doesn’t get it:

  • Feb 2011 conference session at HIMSS, describing the shift as if it were new:
    • HIMSS is the huge health IT association – 30,000 members attend the conference.
    • But here is a 2007 book that cites the shift, and Microsoft cited it often when HealthVault launched in late 2008 / early 2009.

Our pre-Copernican status makes it really hard to pick up your marbles and switch vendors. Your marbles, of course, is your carcass plus your records about it.

(Another factor is the relationship with a trusted physician, who often has relatively little mobility.)

Liberating our records:

I mentioned the Blue Button “download my data” initiative, which is the first truly disruptive effort to liberate our data. I say “disruptive” in the Christensen sense – it gets the data out of the hands of the currently dominant party (the suppliers – docs and hospitals) so innovators can pounce on it and find things to do with it.

At the Markle Foundation meeting last May where Blue Button was conceived, one question from the establishment was “Do people really want this?” The latest stats from the VA say yes. An email from Rachel Lansford, special assistant to VA CTO Peter Levin:

We measure unique registrants and the number of download requests they’ve made. We do collect these stats from beginning of Blue Button in August 2010.

Here are the latest stats as of April 16, 2011:

  • Unique total registrants for VA’s Blue Button: 218,142 (8/29/10-4/16/11)
  • Download requests: 473,510 (8/29/10-4/16/11)

n  PDF downloads: 40,858 (03/19/11-04/16/11) (new feature in March release)

VA is just one Federal partner offering Blue Button. DoD, who recently updated their [Blue Button dataset] to include lab results, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services offer the Blue Button to their beneficiaries too. The total unique registrants for Federal-wide is about 300,000 users.

(She says August; it was announced publicly in October.) 300,000 users in 6-8 months? I’d say some people are interested. And note that there are multiple downloads (473k downloads, by 218k unique users.)

Just the start

Mind you, downloading a blue button dataset is just the beginning, because it’s far from a comprehensive medical history. But it’s a start – the first start – at liberating a large dataset. As I said in a talk in DC last June, to innovators, data is fuel. And I expect this is the start of a new ecosystem.

As a trivial first example, see the TEDMED talk by Wired editor Thomas Goetz on redesigning medical data:, and this fabulous Wired article from November:

Today’s norm is totally not patient-centered: rows of stupid, unhighlighted data, with no call to action, no nothing. It’s easy to miss anything important, and disempowering to all (including the busy physician). The redesigns Goetz showed in the video (e.g. around 11:15) and in the Wired article use ordinary good design to draw attention to what you need to know.

The only reason we’re all not getting this kind of result today is because we’re pre-Copernican shift. The people at the center of the universe today don’t mind getting what they’re getting, and the rest of us.

Please let me know other links and sources I should put on this list.




Prepping for IIW

IIWCode talks, talk walksCraig Burton just said in a phone conversation about IIW #12, which is coming up in Mountain View in the first week of May: the week after next. I like the spirit of that statement. Lots of VRM and related development efforts will be present there. Same goes for lots of APIs, and opportunities to improve them and hook them together. So we should see some good hacking done there and shown off as well.

Toward the API side of that, Craig points us to Punctuated Equilibrium, Celestial Navigation, and APIs, a slide deck by Sam Ramji (@sramji), Dan Jacobson (@daniel_jacobson) and Michael Hart (@michaelhart). Sam and Michael are both at Apigee . Michael worked on the Netflix API. And Dan came to Netflix after doing great work on NPR’s excellent API.  Sam gave a great talk along the same lines a few weeks back at Kynetx’ Impact 2011 conference. (Photos start here. My own slides are here.) I hope one or more of those guys can come down, show off what they’re doing and help us out.

I know there will be other newcomers to IIW, though I don’t want to say who yet. (Let’s let that be a pleasant surprise.) What I know is that they’ll bring work they’re doing, and expect to contribute and not just to hang out and talk about stuff. Obviously, we need to talk. In fact, IIW is home to more productive talking than I’ve ever heard at any other conference of any kind, thanks to its open space-sytle format, and Kaliya Hamlin‘s expert facilitation. (Speaking of which, here’s Kaliya’s post about possible IIW topics.)

IIW has been focused on identity for the duration (that’s been its middle name). Identity is still a big issue — maybe bigger than ever — but the contexts have been changing, especially around a core VRM concern: growing independence and capacity for action and interaction by individuals, especially in respect to data we each either gather for ourselves or share with others. This is what the Personal Data Ecosystem (of which VRM plays a role) is all about. On deck at IIW will be many approaches, technologies, protocols and other other developments toward personal data control and sharing. To visit a few, check the last two links.

Craig suggests that the growing connections between individuals and institutions (corporate or otherwise), especially through APIs, constitutes a new form of infrastructure. And, like me, he thinks that infrastructure itself needs to be visited as a topic, since we’ll be making more and more of it ourselves, and in cooperation with others. So, that’s a topic too.

Personally, I think we’re at the end of the Web 2.0 era and at the start of something less numeral and far more profound. Louis Gray calls it the Third Wave of the Web: one that’s uniquely personal. I agree. From the corporate side, this looks like personalization. But that’s not enough. In fact, personalization without personal independence is just more of the same, but with a smaller bull’s eye. We need to be the same independent, sovereign, autonomous human beings on the Net that we are in the physical world. I wrote about the problem with the current (mostly corporate and silo’d) social media matrix in A Sense of Bewronging.

What I say there, and have said many times before, is that we’re nearing the end of a bubble period, especially around “social” you-name-it, and its defaulted business model: advertising. I spoke about this a bit at the IAB (Internet Advertising Board) Annual Leadership meeting in Palm Springs, on February 28. The show’s theme was “The People vs. Data”, and I was joined in conversation on stage with John Battelle (at his invitation, good man). The title of the meeting (with >1000 attending, and in the room) was “Data, Privacy and Control — Unpacking the Role of the Consumer in the Media and Marketing Ecosystem.” John and I had some interesting back-and-forths on our blogs (see here), and carried the same exchange forward in front of many hundreds of folks in the very hot online advertising business. A short video hunk of the conversation is here on YouTube. I have other notes, which I’ll put up after I get back from my current trip. Meanwhile, many open tabs need to be closed, so here is a rundown, in no particular order:

I’ll add more later in two new posts, one about a VRM vertical, the other about a VRM horizontal. The vertical is health care. The horizontal is legal (because it cuts across everything). I suppose identity does too, but we just covered that.

Volunteer some below as well.

Fourth parties and VRM

One of my oldest jokes (from back when I used to write them) was “With the two party system you can clean up one while you’re having the other.” Well, I kind of raised the ante with VRM and the Four Party System, almost exactly two years ago. The idea was to label a category of service that would work mostly for customers.

Since then fourth party has started to come into use, for example in this post by . Naturally, folks in standing industries, such as banking, have wondered if they might either be fourth parties, or might offer fourth party services. So, questions about meanings and distinctions come up. For example, does (or should) fourth party change the meaning of third party, which is the most commonly used phrase of the four, at least on the Web:

  1. ” = 7,400,000 results
  2. = 1,100,000 results
  3. = 115,000,000 results
  4. = 496,000 results

Of course, those include results for political parties and other kinds of entities that have nothing to do with business. But you see some of the story here. Third party is a familiar term, at least in business.

In fact there is no single or simple meaning for third party. Wikipedia has seventeen different entries for third party, including eight in business. In the tech world, third party most commonly modifies application or developer, and in general augments or accessorizes a platform. The top tech result for #3 above is Twitter tells third party devs to stop making Twitter client apps. And lately online advertisers (or some of them) are tarring the third party label a bit. For example, the Wall Street Journal’s “” series explores secretive and intrusive tracking of users. One sample sentence: “The most intrusive monitoring comes from what are known in the business as ‘third party’ tracking files.” They also call the sites “first parties.”

West’s Ecyclopedia of Law (), says this:

A generic legal term for any individual who does not have a direct connection with a legal transaction but who might be affected by it.

third-party beneficiary is an individual for whose benefit a contract is created even though that person is a stranger to both the agreement and the consideration. Such an individual can usually bring suit to enforce the contract or promise made for his or her benefit.

third-party action is another name for the procedural device of , which is used in a civil action by a defendant who wants to bring a third party into a lawsuit because that party will ultimately be liable for all, or part of, the damages that may be awarded to the plaintiff.

So it gets complicated. But we can make it simple by saying a third party in general has no loyalty to either of the first two parties, even if it is commonly associated more with sellers than with buyers.

When the fourth party idea came to me in the first place, I was thinking about voice. That is, first party would be like the first person voice (I, me, mine, ours), while second party would be like the second person singular voice (you, yours), and third party would be like the third person singular voice (he, she, it, them, theirs). I thought fourth party would be defined most clearly as “a third party for the customer.”

What matters most is coming to, and guiding, understandings of fourth parties and what they do, and what makes them distinctive, as customers (in their first party role) gain more tools, independence and power in the marketplace.

Toward that end I posted something on the ProjectVRM list this morning. posted Fourth parties are agents. Third parties aren’t necessarily in response. It’s a long and thoughtful piece, based on his own work in and around the topic over the last several years. In it he corrects some of what I said in my email to the list, and I’m cool with that. His bottom lines:

In every platform, there are third parties who create apps that run on the platform. Microsoft built Windows, but Adobe built Photoshop. Apple built the iPhone, but Skype built Skype.  For platforms to be successful, they necessarily bring in 3rd party developers to build on top of the platform. These developers aren’t necessarily working on behalf of the platform provider, and it would be a miscarriage of alignment to claim that they are. They are out for themselves, usually by providing unique value to the end user. Some new widget that makes live better.

This becomes even more true when you are dealing with open platforms, or what I called Level 4 Platforms (building on Marc Andreeson’s The 3 Platforms You Meet on the Internet). In open platforms, you actually have 3rd parties helping contribute to the code base of the platform itself.  Netscape adds tables to HTML. Microsoft adds the <marquee> tag.  But here, it is even crazier to imagine that these 3rd parties are acting on behalf of the platform party… because there really isn’t a platform party. Nobody owns the Internet.

I think the right way to think about 4th Parties is that they have a fiduciary responsibility to the 1st party and 3rd parties may or may not.

Fourth Parties answer to the 1st party.

3rd Parties may not answer to anyone.

Platforms themselves are also changing. In many cases what matters most about them is not the floor they put under whole environments (which they might be said to “own” in some but not all cases), but the connections they make outward through APIs. For example, provides a handy Web service API for building apps. Is it a platform? Or is it something that requires another metaphor? I’m not sure.

Twilio is pitched mostly to companies, but as a user I can build on Twilio as well. In fact, I can build stuff that uses lots of APIs.

And what happens when we each have our own APIs — that is, when we have our own platforms (or tool boxes, or whatever) for all kinds of VRM stuff? Such as, for sending personal RFPs out to trusted second, third and fourth parties? Or, when our trusted fourth parties do the sending for us (or just saying to second and third parties, “yeah, this person is for real and can be trusted”). The sky is wide open on this stuff. It’s about connecting and relating now. Not just capturing and milking.

By the way, we’ll be talking about this and much more at the next IIW. Joe will be there, along with many other VRM developers. Come influence us — and your own future as a self-empowered customer in the open marketplace.

© 2023 ProjectVRM

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑