During the Industrial Age, the power asymmetry between vendor and customer got so steep that vendors got to talking about customers as if the latter were cattle or slaves. Customers became “targets” that vendors “captured,” “acquired,” “locked in” and “managed.” As the Information Age dawned, however, customers gradually became more independent. So, midway into the second decade of the new millennium, customers were no longer the ones being managed. Nor, however, were vendors. Instead, relationship itself was managed by both parties.

We’re not there yet. How far we still have to go became extra obvious during IIW last week. As always, much was shared and much progress was made. But uneven distributions of futures were also apparent in abundance. Rather than review any of that, I’ll let Phil Windley get that started, with IIW Wrap-Up: Moving Past Login…Sort Of, and The Future of Internet Identity: Data Access and Modeling. Of special interest in the midst of that second post is this paragraph:

I believe that access to data, ever more personalized, is a trend that will shape our world—online and off—for the coming decade and lead to changes more profound and comprehensive that anything we’ve seen yet. This is the idea behind David Siegel’s book Pull (read my blog post on the Power of Pullor listen to the podcast for more). David’s book paints a compelling picture that is breath taking in its scale and scope; there is no aspect of our lives that won’t be impacted by these changes. I think it’s impossible to overstate their importance.

I’ve been loving David’s book even before it hit the streets, and not just because he gives generous props to VRM in it. I love it because David sees demand working to help supply — on the individual level. Our demand, as individuals, has native power that does not show up only in aggregate sums. Each of us differs not only in our wants and needs, but in our abilities to satisfy them, with the help of sellers. In the past we borrowed those abilities from vendors offering the same things to many. In the future we’ll contribute those abilities to common cause. That common cause is an improved marketplace.

Markets are where demand and supply meet. In both literal and virtual ways, they are common ground. They also don’t exist in vacuums. They are built.

In the Industrial Age, they were built mostly by sellers. At the heights of that age, they defined the “free market” as “your choice of silo” or “your choice of captor.” To a high degree that’s still the case. Just look at your “agreement” with a mobile phone carrier for evidence of that “freedom” at work. Also at your choice of other “agreements”.

Captors will persist, but they’ll have ever-improving competition from companies that find free customers more valuable than captive ones. Pull provides helpful advice to companies that would rather be in the latter group.

Pull’s subtitle is “The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business.” SemanticWeb.org‘s first paragraph begins this way:

The Semantic Web is the extension of the World Wide Web that enables people to share content beyond the boundaries of applications and websites. It has been described in rather different ways: as a utopic vision, as a web of data, or merely as a natural paradigm shift in our daily use of the Web.

It is the brainbaby of  Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Web itself. It is also not the only approach to the problems it works to solve and the world it works to make. Another is XDI, which is the brainbaby of Drummond Reed and other good friends. They are not the same, though they do some of the same things. Both also do things the other does not, friends in both camps tell me.

My favorite session at IIW was one in which work (which I’m leading) on an RDF-based implementation of EmanciPay was attended via Skype by the four project administrators (one of whom is a Google Summer of Code student and two of whom are students at MIT’s CSAIL, where one of those two is advised by Sir Tim himself), plus Drummond Reed, Phil Windley, Paul Trevithick, Trent Adams and _____ (I have his name around here somewhere) of the Mozilla Foundation, which is relevant because EmanciPay will appear first as a browser plug-in, starting with FireFox. That the parties involved compete in some ways matters less than the common ground they all require, and are helping build out. Around the table there was openness and generosity from all corners.

The biggest markets are not the ones you keep to yourself. They’re the ones you build for everybody.

And when you’re building public markets you need to pay special attention to the public spaces and places: the streets and public plazas, the adjoining ports and transport systems, and the geology beneath all of it.

Among Kim Cameron’s Seven Laws of Identity, #6 is Pluralism of Operators and Technologies. It matters that Kim wrote this as an architect at Microsoft, which found out the hard way that no one company can rule the marketplace.

What I suggest, as we move forward from our separate positions, from our separate yet overlapping technologies, is that the frontier in the market’s public spaces is relationship.

Even the most shallow and temporary relationships are entities that exist between parties, not just within either party. This between space is the frontier that matters most right now.

That frontier is legal as well as technical. The challenge, however, is not to “get legal” in the usual sense. It’s to drive future law, and norms, with code and practice. That is, with what we make and what we do with it, quite aside from whatever standing law might require — or seem to require.

We’ve had enough of getting legal already. Think about that every time you click on some vendor’s “accept” button after not reading their terms of service or privacy policies. What you’re doing is going inside that vendor’s silo.

The agreements we need are less formal and more binding than those things, which lawyers call contracts of adhesion. You don’t click on an “accept” button when you go into a restaurant or a bike shop, even though the legal contexts of your actions are plentiful. That’s because you and the owners of the store have a middle ground. You understand each other as free and independent beings, not as captor and captive.

This makes for an interesting frontier, and a lot to talk about before and during our upcoming gatherings.