When consumers become media for themselves

I was talking recently with Edi Immonen of Glome about the idea behind it: turning users into publishers. He used the word “media,” but I’m going with “publishers” for now, because that’s the word used in this graphic (one of many like it — all amazing and excellent) from LUMA partners:

That’s the marketer’s view. But how about yours, as the consumer over there on the right. In fact it’s actually more like this:

Because all you do is consume. You have no direct influence on all that intermediary stuff; so it just presses down on you.

But what if you become the publisher — a form of producer, and not just of consumer? Then the system, simplified, would look like this:

This is in alignment with what Tim Berners-Lee designed the Web to look like in the first place, but in in a commercial setting. (Remember that Sir Tim was then working in high energy physics at CERN, looking for ways to share and edit documents across the Internet as it existed at the turn of the ’90s.) It is also what blogging, as originally conceived, also did. If this blog were commercial (which it is not, on purpose), that would be me (or us) on the right.

Now, if we, as publishers, look at our data, or of our personal space — our state as a medium — as a platform for selling and buying stuff, including services, a whole new horizon opens up.

What Edi and his colleagues at Glome envision is a way for you, as a medium, to sell your space (however you chose to define that word) to:

  1. brands with which you already have a relationship;
  2. brands in which you have an interest; or
  3. brands in which you might have an interest.

From the traditional marketing perspective, #3 makes you “qualified lead,” for which the brand should be willing to pay. But that’s a far too reduced view of what you really are, or might be, to that brand.

Think of this marketplace frame from a CRM+VRM perspective. Between those two rectangles, inside the black two-pointed arrow, are cycles of buying and owning, of use and re-use, of live interactions and of long periods of idle time where neither is paying much attention to the other. Lots of stuff can go on within the boundaries of that two-way arrow.

What Glome proposes here is not zero-basing the marketplace, but instead to re-start our thinking, and our work, atop three well-understood existing roles: brand, publisher (or medium) and marketplace. The main re-characterization is of the individual, who is now a publisher or a medium, and not just a consumer.

Obviously much can get disintermediated here, including all the stuff between the marketer and the publisher in the graphic up top.

But much new intermediation is now possible, especially if the individual has a personal cloud through which one (or one’s fourth party) can program interactions, for the individual, among API-based services (in the manner of IFTTT, or using KRL) and the “Internet of things”. (For developers, I believe Singly fits in here too.)

So we are looking here at a whole new market for information and relationships, within the larger marketplace of everything else. This isn’t complicated, really. It’s actually what markets looked like in the first place:

This is the context we meant by “Markets are conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto.

LUMAscapes (such as the top one above) brilliantly depict the ecosystems of marketing as they have evolved so far, down different branches of discipline. The tree from which they branch, however, is the old advertising and direct marketing one, now operating inside the Internet . (“Big data” and analytics in marketing are hardly new. They were what direct mail was all about long before it evolved into direct marketing and then spread into online advertising.)

So this is a shout-to —

— as well as all the VRM developers in the world (and it seems there are more every day).

The last graphic above is our new frame. It helps that it’s also the oldest frame.

I also look forward to the day when Terence Kawaja and his colleagues at LUMA partners draw up VRM+CRM and other new ecosystems that are bound to evolve, once enough of us get our heads out of the old marketing frame and into the oldest marketplace one. So this is a shout-out to them too. 🙂


  1. Don Marti

    I see an information asymmetry. All of those services are feeding information toward the “marketer” side, and creating a powerful disincentive for the “consumer” side to participate.

    As adtech gets more and more sophisticated in matching finely-tracked users to inexpensively-sourced content, it’s starting to look more and more like the spam business.

    IMHO it’s rational for user responses to adtech to be similar to user responses to spam. More here:


    • Doc Searls

      Thanks, Don.

      Everybody else (especially marketing folk) read what Don’s saying here carefully. While you’re at it, read his whole series on business: http://zgp.org/~dmarti/business/ . If you feel defensive about it, you’re not reeding it deeply enough.

  2. eviction movers NY

    They were what direct mail was all about long before it evolved into direct marketing and then spread into online advertising.

  3. Jim Bursch

    This characterizes VRM as a publishing platform, like a WordPress that not only publishes blog posts, but also intentions, assertions, needs, wants.

  4. Edi Immonen

    Thank you Doc – it’s not what we say about ourselves, it’s what others think about us.

    With users as publishers this becomes a B2B business where the user talks with the same language as the other businesses. Conversation is possible and the rules are already there.

    I like to think of all these amazing tools now used to spy on you to actually work for you. To enrich your profile. Tracking becomes a service that work for you – something worth paying for. Businesses do not want to be evil, they just need to find a better way to make money.

  5. Doc Searls

    Thanks, Edi. In my rush I forgot to include that point in the post. Good one.

  6. Doc Searls

    Jim, VRM is a broad category with many possible characterizations. From the beginning of the VRM development movement we’ve been conscious of the need to get B2B-grade respect from the Bs of the world. That’s the pivot we’re talking about here. 90° counter-clockwise from the second graphic down from the top.

  7. Nitin Bawsay

    Very well explained Doc! Probably, and Edi can confirm, the idea of the conversation was what he discussed with me way back on 2009 🙂

    Thanks Edi for such a wonderful idea.

  8. Edi Immonen

    Thanks Nitin. Yup, the idea has been cooking since 2007 but it has gone a long way since then. Many discussions with many people who have helped me understand different aspects and needs.

    Now it’s time to go from idea to reality. I can say that our solutions looks very good – soon we’ll let the testers loose and get real feedback.

  9. Nitin Bawsay

    All the very best Edi!

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