Customertech Will Turn the Online Marketplace Into a Marvel-Like Universe in Which All of Us are Enhanced


We’ve been thinking too small.

Specifically, we’ve been thinking about data as if it ought to be something big, when it’s just bits.

Your life in the networked world is no more about data than your body is about cells.

What matters most to us online is agency, not data. Agency is the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power (Merriam-Webster).

Nearly all the world’s martech and adtech assumes we have no more agency in the marketplace than marketing provides us, which is kind of the way ranchers look at cattle. That’s why bad marketers assume, without irony, that it’s their sole responsibility to provide us with an “experience” on our “journey” down what they call a “funnel.”

What can we do as humans online that isn’t a grace of Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google?

Marshall McLuhan says every new technology is “an extension of ourselves.” Another of his tenets is “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Thus Customertech—tools for customers—will inevitably enlarge our agency and change us in the process.

For example, with customertech, we can—

Compared to what we have in the offline world, these are superpowers. When customertech gives us these superpowers, the marketplace will become a Marvel-like universe filled with enhanced individuals. Trust me: this will be just as good for business as it will be for each of us.

We can’t get there if all we’re thinking about is data.

By the way, I made this same case to Mozilla in December 2015, on the last day I consulted the company that year. I did it through a talk called Giving Users Superpowers at an all-hands event called Mozlando. I don’t normally use slides, but this time I did, leveraging the very slides Mozilla keynoters showed earlier, which I shot with my phone from the audience. Download the slide deck here, and be sure to view it with the speaker’s notes showing. The advice I give in it is still good.

BTW, a big HT to @SeanBohan for the Superpowers angle, starting with the title (which he gave me) for the Mozlando talk.




  1. Michael Elling

    I believe all transactions (of which “communication” is a subset) involves some level of risk. What your 2015 slideshare and this article is missing is a discussion of risk and balance in these transactions. Think about it, email puts almost all the risk on one party, namely the receiving side. Likewise the internet is mostly 1 sided.

    Associated with risk are terms like trust and debt. It’s all about the uncertainty of what happens next. Humans prefer to minimize risk through conventions and protocols, but we all know that change and advancement comes about by those who assume risk; often running counter to those conventions. It’s a delicate balance, but when achieved results in something we call “progress”.

    As we establish the new generation of protocols for sustainable and generative digital networked ecosystems we need to be mindful of risk and balance. The way that is achieved is through systems of incentives and disincentives that are provided via price signals. These signals result from settlement systems (yet to be built) that recognize 3 important laws: metcalfe (network effects), moore (processing) and zipf/pareto (power laws). All exist in the analog/physical world, but are heightened by our new digital reality.

    We need to model our sustainable digital network ecosystems after those networks found in nature. One of the best is the human body; a complex web of ~80 interconnected networks. Contained in that body is our capacity for thinking and projecting our thoughts along infinite planes. That’s what separates us from the rest of the analog world. So we need to go back to basics as we model this new digital reality. It’s not 1 sided and just about data.


  2. David Mackey

    I strongly agree with your statement “What matters most to us online is agency, not data.”. It’s very easy to get sucked into the trap of using technology as a device to create fear in people who do not understand how it works. On the other hand, Customertech can be viewed as a positive path that technology innovation must follow in order to achieve a Marvel-like universe with enhanced personal agency.

    I’d also like to suggest the following edit to your statement about marketers … “That’s why [BAD] marketers assume, without irony, that it’s their sole responsibility to provide us with an “experience” on our “journey” down what they call a “funnel.””. Just as it’s easy to vilify technology, some marketers also get a bad name just because they work very hard to meet customers’ needs. Good marketers understand that customers are real people. Good marketers respect the agency of their customers. Good marketers understand that using Customertech will give them an opportunity to build better relationships with their customers, and they will be appropriately rewarded.

  3. Doc Searls

    Thanks, Michael. I submit to your wisdom, as you know, on subjects you know a helluva lot more about than I do. And I look forward to discussing them soon over a beer as well. 🙂

    David, good edit. I just made your change to the text of the post. I also did the same in the later version of this post that I put up over at Medium.

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