Month: July 2011


Agency, by its original meaning, is the ability to act independently, and with one’s own will. It derives from the Latin agere, which means to do. More recently it has come to mean a person or company acting on our behalf: an agent. A fiduciary is a step beyond: one we hold in trust, either ethically or legally, or both. It derives from fiduci, the Latin word for trust.

To have agency one must be independent and sovereign. We have that in some contexts, but not in the marketplace, and not in our relationship to governments, or even to our school systems. Ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution, individual independence and sovereignty has been severely reduced. If you don’t believe that, think about how much choice you really have, the next time you click “accept” to an agreement that isn’t, from a company that sets all the terms, one of which is reserving the right to change those terms whenever it pleases. Also bear in mind that this has been so normative, so pro forma, for so long, that we take this ubiquitous and unavoidable form of utter subordination as a fact as binding as gravity—even though it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, in the Internet Age.

Moxy Tongue (aka @NZN) puts all this on the table with VRM Hopes. It’s a long and thoughtful post, and in it Moxy issues a challenge to VRooMers:

If we want to change the structure of power in this world, we must begin by changing the structure of work. A 1st party customer is systemically motivated in a circular process to function as a W2 worker-customer. Our public schools enforce this model. Our government policies enforce this model. Real world needs enforce this model.

There should not be a time in the life of a Human being when they cede their personal power to a corporate shell without personal accountability remaining intact. The negative consequences of this current structural flaw are real and pervasive across the whole of our species existence as a socio-economic organism.

We must confront the nature of socio-economics. Freedom is not the highest ideal in a socio-economic Universe. Ownership trumps freedom everyday, in a million different ways. For Human babies to be born and structured as anything other than OWNER_ENTREPRENEUR by default, is a direct afront on the freedom and liberty of Individual Human beings. In this digital dataverse that is now taking shape and taking over the whole of our socio-economic model, we can not afford to misappropriate power, defined within the IDENTITY of every Individual life, any longer. We are introducing our young to a forced model of data-enslavement that is unsustainable. This can not remain a high-minded conversation. Humans make slaves of themselves all too easily. Leadership is required to create change and to protect the integrity of what it means to be an Individual Human.

I call on the VRM community to confront these ideas directly, to put a priority on addressing the base structure of socio-economic participation so that we can move towards a healhty and fruitful market relationship between 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th parties and the services they enable. It will be impossible to fix the structural flaws inherent in market transactions without first addressing the strucutral flaws found in your personal IDENTITY and its correlated activities.

You must be an OWNER_ENTREPRENEUR by default in this world. Your IDENTITY must be SOVEREIGN by design, meaning that its point of origin must be accurately conveyed administratively. And the power that you give to the “We the People” construct must deploy this sovereignty from its inception through the same willful act afforded the founders of this nation via a sovereign signatory.

On that foundation… a VRM future is possible. And no other.

While I have been involved in countless digital identity workshops, conferences and development efforts for more than ten years, I have tried with VRM to move both development and conversation outside the identity sphere. Three reasons:

  1. To make sure VRM is not understood as a suburb or a subset of identity.
  2. Because I believe some kinds of VRM development will obviate some of the problems we’ve experienced with (or addressed through) identity development. For example, by working out agreement terms that the individual asserts.
  3. Because I don’t think we need to solve identity problems as a precondition for solving VRM ones (partly because I also believe that, if we do, we may end up waiting forever).

Reading Moxy’s piece, I find myself wondering if sovereignty and identity are the same thing. Not sure if he’s saying that, but it seems so. Even if it is, I’m not sure solving identity issues first is the only way to go, even if that’s where we end up. In any case, my mind isn’t made up about it.

I do agree with Moxy that we acquiescence to a kind of slavery, and I laid out much of my thinking about that in A sense of bewronging, to which Moxy links in his piece. And Moxy is right that this problem extends even to our schools.

As for leadership on this front, I believe what we need is code. As Craig Burton puts it, “Code talks, and talk walks.” Code is the means to our ends. We need inventions that mother the necessities of independence, sovereignty and agency — both personal and fiduciary. Without code, we’re just talking. That’s why, from my own leadership position with ProjectVRM, I’ve pushed development first.

Of course we should keep talking in the meantime, but we also need to keep writing the code. Many of us have indeed been doing that, and I expect we’ll start seeing some dramatic results, over the next few months.

Meanwhile, I invite more responses to Moxy’s challenge.


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Working for you

As more native VRM tools come into the hands of individuals, what happens to the whole supply chain? Or, put another way, what happens to supply in general when there are more and better ways of expressing demand?

I was talking a couple days ago about that with Michael Stolarczyk, one of the world’s leading authorities on supply chains and logistics, when he brought TaskRabbit up. He pointed to this piece in Wired, and it got me thinking about fourth parties.

Right after that conversation I had lunch with Jose B. Alvarez of Harvard Business School, and a former CEO of Stop & Shop/Giant-Landover. One of the points he made was this: “The original purpose of a merchant was to serve as an agent for the customer.”

In other words, second parties (vendors) were also what we’ve been calling fourth parties. That is, agents for the customer.

I think this is where Cluetrain was going in the first place with “Markets are conversations.” In Customer Loyalty Programs That Work, in Working Knowledge (also from Harvard Business School, and published that same day), Maggie Starvish probes Jose’s work on loyalty programs, and concludes with these paragraphs:

“We’re at a place where technologies allow for retailers to have two-way, back-and-forth interactions with customers,” says Alvarez. “With smartphones, you have location-based information, so you can communicate with customers where they actually are.”

Successful loyalty schemes require advanced technology—and age-old techniques. “It’s about going back to the basic roots and origins of retailing,” says Alvarez. “Talk to the customer, listen, find out what they want, and get it for them.”

VRM tools are ones that are the customer’s first, serving individuals as independent actors in the marketplace. In that sense neither TaskRabbit nor current loyalty schemes qualify as pure VRM tools. But the movements here are very friendly toward VRM, and I believe will welcome (or help toward) the emergence of pure VRM tools. Those would be ones, for example, with which the customer arrives with their own means and devices for saying “Hi. Listen. Here’s what I’m looking for.” If real conversation follows — even if it’s between digital agents for both sides — our goal with VRM will be met.

Link roundup

The hot edge of VRM right now is in South Africa, where TrustFabric (@TrustFabric, also mention ed in the prior post) is answering that country’s approach to personal privacy concerns with TrustFabric Connect. Let’s help them out. Note also that they’re helping the rest of us by making their code free (GPL v2) and therefore also open source.

Also on the move is getable, based here in Boston, which has a personal RFP approach. Evan Pritchard points to it here. Commenters to that post correctly point out that Buyosphere and Zaarly are also in the space, though coming at it from different angles. Let’s help all them out too.

Jeremiah Owyang puts VRM squarely in the center of his radar with VRM Systems Put Power in Hands of Buyers –Disrupting Sellers.

Just ran across Sparksheet‘s Freeing the Customer with VRM Part I and Making Business More Human, a pair of interviews from last Fall. Haven’t changed my mind about anything since. (I also get a few seconds at the 3:09 point in the Future of Facebook trailer. Venessa Meimis and friends also give me the final word there, starting at 4:06.)

The older B2B meaning of VRM may start blurring with the newer C2B one, if we follow the thrust of Laura Cecere’s Spice it up? post at Supply Chain Shaman.

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