r/pics May II

The Intention Economy

I recently finished reading Doc Searl’s “The Intention Economy” and have no qualms at all in suggesting that anyone, with any interest as to what the next 15 years might bring, should read it.

The book is a comprehensive overview of VRM or vendor relationship marketing. For all that that sounds like yet another scheme to empower business, which it is, it proposes to do so by balancing the playing field and empowering not the vendor, but the customer, to the betterment of all involved.

It is a much required antidote to the current marketing landscape that refuses to recognise how incomplete and inefficient current data practices are, and more acutely, how these inefficiencies are, in part, caused by the deterioration of trust between individuals and corporations.

The thrust of the argument is that free markets require free customers, and proceeds to show us exactly how current accepted norms are in fact quite counteractive to such a goal.

The magic ingredient is to give customers ownership and control of their commercial data (and non-commercial data for that matter), how it is used and whether and for how long a 3rd party (such as your electricity company) can use and store it. The quid pro quo for business is the evolution of a paradigm whereby we signal our commercial requirements, the terms we are willing to do business under and other data that may be valuable to the assessment of the transaction. They won’t need to spend untold millions to guess our intentions, if we are happy to tell them in plain language. It will be a damn sight more accurate too.

On the bare bones of a 900 word blog post that seems quite some challenge, which, of course, is the reason why you should read the book.

For me, the key revealed concept was the solution to the trust issues that permeate the current commercial relationships across almost all areas of business. I have long been of the opinion that the current trend to big data was always going to come unstuck in the marketing sphere. The line in the sand for me was the potential for data aggregation of several permissioned data sets, to deliver information to commercial entities that was clearly not within the intentions of the individual, when they signed each individual data release.

Rapleaf in the US, has already fallen foul of this trend, caught by the WSJ using personally identifiable information. Initially marketed as a reputation management system it didn’t take long for them to sell your data onwards.

Rapleaf still operate. Indeed in some circles are still considered something of a pioneering  trendsetter. For me, though, they clearly demonstrated that I could not trust them with my data (not that they ever asked permission). And they aren’t alone. Aside from the fact that in most circumstances I don’t have a choice, I am not happy giving faceless commercials ownership and control over MY data. I won’t use an app that requires data that is not essential to the service they provide. An asinine game, that insists on access to my phone number, my device ID and the numbers I am connected to, is, quite frankly, taking the piss. I know many don’t seem to care, but I do.

The VRM paradigm solves this entire problem.

Imagine having a personal data store, a personal RFP (request for proposal tool) that is linked to all commercial entities and a set of tools that easily allow you to set the rules as to how your data can be used. You will tell the market what you want, how, when, where and how much you are willing to pay. And the market will respond to you.

This will facilitate real relationships, something that just doesn’t happen today. Social is not personal (to puncture one current trend), and any relationship based on an un-negotiable contract of adhesion is one based on such ridiculously one sided power that to call it anything other than an abusive relationship must be a misunderstanding. All those TOS you accept? They are all contracts of adhesion, an aberration of civil expectation brought about by the complications of mass marketing and production. The communicative flexibility of the internet allows us to move beyond this legal lunacy.

The VRM movement, started in 2006, has been quietly laying the foundations for this massive transformation via ProjectVRM at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

There are many different providers of personal data stores lining up products (mydex, singly, personal.com).

Kynetx has built the language KRL for writing the rule permissions I mentioned earlier.

Doc Searl has written a highly accessible book to summarise the progress and the vision and there are many many other players in this space active and alive. It really isn’t just an academic projection.

Not only do we have the theory and the vision, we have the protocols (the bit without a business model) and the tools. But perhaps most surprisingly we have traction with governance.

The UK government has launched Midata. An initiative that, among other things, is encouraging commercial parties to release data back to their customers.

Scottish Power are the first to play and have recently announced that they will release back to their customers their usage data. If that doesn’t sound massive to you (it is) imagine how crazy it is that until now you didn’t have access, to this admittedly basic data, in usable form, at all.


A slice of life (or two)

That’s bad behaviour

Fine Ass Cat Hijab

Here’s another small collection of interesting stuff

Jay Leno’s 3D Printing set-up: An interesting little article showing how 3D tech is an integral part of the way Jay maintains his fleet of rare and luxury motors. Now obviously Jay Leno is a wealthy man, but his set up (scanner and printer) is less than $20,000 and from the perspective of a ‘fabrication shop’ specialising in the renovation of old cars that’s a fairly standard level of expense for essential machinery.

It’s an amazingly versatile technology. My EcoJet supercar needed air-conditioning ducts. We used plastic parts we designed, right out of the 3D copier. We didn’t have to make these scoops out of aluminum—plastic is what they use in a real car. And the finished ones look like factory production pieces.



Hartverdrahtet by Akronyme Analogiker is a three minute long audio-visual trip into a procedural fractalverse, compressed into a minuscule piece of software. No bigger than 4096 bytes – less than an empty Word document

I rather liked this comment on youtube, from some1namedjeff

Why am I waiting for this video to buffer when I could just download the original for 4k…



Geologic Time Includes Now

For Mr. Ralston, it referred to the fact that geological events, from our perspective, move incredibly slowly, yet they do occur, and the unpredictability of their nature puts everyone at some measure of risk



A reminder that sometimes it’s worth reading the comments (sometimes more so than the original piece). An interesting move in Brazil where Facebook likes have been incorporated into the hangers of clothes, in shop.

The very last comment….makes the whole thing infinitely more sensible and therefore considerably more interesting. Toes in water, and all that.



Here’s an interesting project from the MIT media lab, ZeroN. A floating metal ball, maintained in its position through computer control of magnets becomes an interesting new interface for computation.

ZeroN can remember how it has been moved. Physical motions of people can be collected in this medium to preserve and play them back indefinitely. When the users move and release the ZeroN, it continues to float and starts to move along the same path


The next Golden Age: Professor Carlota Perez

I’ve spent a little time recently buried in two different views about where we might be as an economy in the next 10 years or so. Both views are necessarily lax with regards to predicting exact timeframes, hence ‘or so’, but both are also mutually supportive, one providing the higher order framework that can enable the more logistic expression of the other (Doc Searl’s Intention economy).

So, to start with the higher order paradigm. Professor Carlota Perez claims to know how we can emerge from recession into a golden age of global prosperity. Which is nice.

Heady stuff, certainly. That’s some claim isn’t it. Indeed, from where I’ve been sitting for the last 6 years or so, I’ve not had sight of a future deserving of such grand declaration. Not even in my more optimistic moments. I sometimes feel as though we have been bombarded with a wall of global negativity, with very little seemingly, to evidence a return to collaborative and communal times, so it’s nice to know that there is an alternative out there to the doom and gloom.

Even the early signal and promise of the internet had become targeted and entangled by the old incumbent models, to the degree that I had begun to doubt that we might actually arrive at anything other than an illusion dressed up as a pretty, but nonetheless still walled, garden.

Right. A golden age. I have been reading an economist, the aforementioned Carlota Perez, courtesy of Confused in Calcutta (JP Rangaswami, chief scientist at salesforce.com whom I must once again identify as one of the most illuminating bloggers I have ever read).

Her ideas are bold and, so far as I can tell, robust. There is a part of me, a cynical part to be sure, that is waiting to see what i’ve missed, because it seems to me that she has nailed it.

The core idea is simple, which is that there are cycles within capitalism of technological innovation that last between 40 and 60 years. These cycles consist of 2 phases, an installation phase and a deployment phase, and are marked at the crossover point by a financial crisis, a bubble bursting. We are at that point now in the surge which is installing information technology as the standard, the 5th such cycle (started in 1971). We are yet, however, to emerge from recession.

Professor Perez has a lot to say very specifically about how we can get out of the recession and is quite clear as to what is required. The 2 different phases, installation and deployment, demarcate the transfer in roles between financial capital and production capital. Under the current free market ideology financial capital is ascendant, which is great for making things happen quickly and has enabled the maturity and installation of the information technology which will drive the next phase.

The next phase, the deployment phase, led by production capital which plays over the long haul, needs a significant expansion of markets and a wider deployment of the new technologies, to do exactly that (expand markets). It is, to oversimplify it, a time when it is wiser to move from monopoly to oligopoly as a dominant form, and from private ascendancy to state ascendancy. Think of the post war road building schemes in the US, which helped suburbanisation and the rise in mass markets. That was only possible via government intervention.

I’m not going to say much more, because she can say it much better herself. I can not suggest more strongly that it is worth looking at her ideas.

Hopefully you will look into what she is saying in more detail. The following links are to slideshare presentations, which I have found to be a surprisingly effective way to understand her ideas.

The talks she gives are somewhat enticingly named don’t you think? This is the first cohesive view I’ve seen about what we should be doing now and where it can lead.

Universal Internet Access and Sustainable Growth

Building a sustainable global golden age for overcoming the crisis

The Direction of Innovation after the Collapse – ICT for Green Growth and Development

Modernising Government to Shape a Better Future

Good Times, Bad Times, you know I had my share

Google maps link.

Good times. This post is about some of the good things that have been happening in the copyright / IP landscape recently. It’s been a busy 2 or 3 weeks.

Firstly, there is this from the Wall Street Journal

ACTA is effectively dead, the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda admitted Friday. An official spokesman said the “political reality” was the fight was over.

Quoting the mass demonstrations across Europe as the reason for this perspective seems to indicate that, at some level at least, democracy is alive and healthy. If you look at the map showing these demonstrations as represented by google, you see that this is chiefly a revolution of the Eastern Europeans. With the exception of Germany, the density of protests in the older western European nations is anaemic at best, and in the case of the UK embarrassing. Why we don’t care, in this country (the UK), I just don’t know. America and Australia are just as bad.

In Germany, the pirate party has representatives in 3 regional legislatures. A performance many suspect is in large part, due to their stance on simple power sharing, or democracy if you will.

“We offer what people want. People are really angry at all the other parties because they don’t do what politicians should do. We offer transparency, we offer participation. We offer basic democracy.” – Matthias Schrade

There is an unsurprising demographic bias amongst Pirate party supporters (younger, of course), but if they can exert this level of influence on the German political landscape as a party driven by the sub-35’s then we should assume that they could very quickly become significant, within years not decades.

The Netherlands also made waves with their legislative agenda this week, becoming the first European nation to pass laws enshrining the principles of net neutrality into law.

In the publishing world we have the news that Tor and Forge ebooks will be distributed DRM free by July this year. I am so happy with this news. Of all the measures in play from the incumbent content industries the one I have the most trouble with is DRM. Not because it’s the worst aspect, or the most pernicious aspect of the incumbencies fight to retain relevance, but because it is so directly anti-consumer.

It’s the same feeling I have about insurance companies that will not submit their rates to aggregator sites. I know why they do it, price point control. But, if you can only achieve that, by refusing to endorse legitimate new mechanics, that are certainly, massively valuable to the consumer (ie. aggregators) then I do not want to trade with you. To reject such pro-consumer developments is a strangely aggressive position for a modern brand in a networked world.

Anyway. Back to Tor and DRM. This whole episode has been rather quaintly framed by its intersections with the author Charlie Stross.

Charlie had originally written this post explaining how he saw Amazon’s business strategy and how it was a direct threat to the publishing industry. In particular Charlie showed how Amazon have been able to manoeuver themselves into a position of both monopoly and monopsony.

Amazon has an effective retail monopoly, via its Kindle platform combined with the lockin effect of the DRM. Because you can’t move your books from the Kindle to another ebook reader, you are essentially stuck buying all your content from Amazon. Which is a monopoly. At the moment, we the consumers, are still enjoying value from Amazon because of the next bit, the monopsony.

This retail monopoly has created a wholesale monopsony. A monopsony is where one buyer faces many sellers, and can therefore dictate terms. Because Amazon owned the ebook market through the DRM led lockin of the Kindle, the publishers had no choice but to sell to Amazon on terms that Amazon dictated.

It is a classic case of disruption and disintermediation. What is most striking, however, is that if the publishers had not fought the changes and disruptions of their business models as they did. If they had not decided en masse, to shackle their legally acquired product with injudicious ‘protections’ such as DRM then there is a good chance that Amazon would not be as much of a threat as it is right now.

It turns out that Charlie’s post caught the eye of a good many relevant people and he was invited by Macmillan to discuss the issue with them further. This post describes the outcome of that venture.

Of course the big 6 publishers had originally fought back against Amazon’s position via their deal with Apple, reintroducing the agency model and price point ownership. That ‘solution’ is, at least temporarily, on ice while the US government proceeds with their anti-trust suit for price fixing.

What is perhaps being left unsaid in that particular cul-de-sac, however, is that with regard to magazines and journalism, even the “hallelujah tablets will save us” agency model wasn’t terribly valuable.

Have a look at this somewhat damning indictment explaining exactly why. I am feeling somewhat vindicated, by the way.

Publishers believed that because they were once again delivering a unique, discrete product, analogous to a newspaper or magazine, they could charge readers for single-copy sales and even subscriptions, reëducating audiences that publications were goods for which they must pay……

This is from the editor in chief and publisher of the MIT Technology Review. He goes on.

…..But the real problem with apps was more profound. When people read news and features on electronic media, they expect stories to possess the linky-ness of the Web, but stories in apps didn’t really link. The apps were, in the jargon of information technology, “walled gardens,” and although sometimes beautiful, they were small, stifling gardens. For readers, none of that beauty overcame the weirdness and frustration of reading digital media closed off from other digital media.

The article goes into a lot more detail and is very much recommended, a good read, even if you do not agree with everything he says.

There is one last point here. This comment, from the same article surfaces a similar problem to the one that we have just seen dissected by Charlie Stross.

Because people expect free on the web, this poster wants to stay with Apps sold within the Apple app store (it isn’t explicit from this image but in later comments he expands on his “HTML5 isn’t a platform” position to ridicule the development of webapps over native apps). His argument is clear and not exactly original, the attraction is the payment platform.

The problem with delivering content via the web is that people don’t expect to pay for it

BUT BUT BUT…….THIS IS WHAT MUST BE CHANGED, NOT AVOIDED. Sorry for shouting but it does seem necessary. The whole strategy, so far, has been about keeping the old control mechanisms in place. We can’t, currently, control payment behaviour on the web, so we have tried to force consumers into smaller less connected webs, walled gardens. It is such a philosophically regressive step, I find it borderline offensive. When faced with a tool such as the internet, the most effective democratisation of information in human history, we seek to hamstring it. To reduce it, in order to meter it.

Surely what we must change is people’s expectations about paying for content on the open web.

To do that….there has to be content on the open web.

The change is coming. This whole optimistic post is about things happening that are counterpoint to the bleak news of SOPA and PIPA and ACTA, that demarcate the transitionary trends that oppose the current attempts to breathe life back into the dying incumbency models.

I don’t know how this will play out exactly, or how quickly, but I’m very glad to see evidence that it’s no longer such a one sided fight.

All kinda country