I have always been a fan of Doc Searls, an author of one of the first guides to the transformation of marketing in the internet age: The Cluetrain Manifesto. First pronounced in 1999, the manifesto still relevant today.
Doc’s new book The Intention Economy has impeccable timing. The book (here Doc’s blog post about his book on Forbes) is a cleverly argued consumer’s call to arms in our internet-based, mobile world of big data. Doc starts with the very word “consumer,” which is suspect in Dos’s eyes; he prefers “customers.”
Sellers control buyers
Doc warns that businesses have an asymmetric amount of control over relationships with consumers in the internet marketplace. While Searls singles out some of the largest and fastest growing internet gorillas, this degree of control applies in general to sellers vis-à-vis buyers.
Many of us are aware that our data is being used in ways we cannot control, but most of us accept this, because of the benefits the internet brings. We do not want to withdraw from participating in the internet economy.
This is where Doc Searls’ genius kicks in. In The Intention Economy, Doc does not advocate withdrawal. On the contrary, the debate regarding personal data and identity control is turned around. Doc’s book is entirely positive and constructive.
Vendor Relationship Management (VRM)
The Intention Economy is accompanied by a software-based project called “Vendor Relationship Management” (VRM). Instead of lamenting the infringement of rights, Doc and his friends boldly define a box of software tools and protocols, which allow customers to control where and how they buy. VRM is designed as your private, personal counterpart of the CRM systems that e-commerce vendors use.
Searls describes a vision of a digital world with a Siri-like interface. In this world, we provide “Personal RfPs” such as: „I need a new baby stroller when I arrive at LA airport.“ But instead of the intention being processed by Apple and Amazon, VRM sets up an open request where different companies compete for our business on our terms. This is only once VRM use case among many.
VRM is being developed as an open collaborative project by about 30 companies and groups (listed here).
Doc is no stranger to this kind of movement, designed to transform software into a beneficial, positive force. In addition to having co-authored The Cluetrain Manifesto, he is Senior Editor of Linux Journal.
A positive agenda
Doc’s new book offers a positive and positive and constructive take on the lack of consumer control in e-commerce relationships. The timing for Doc’s new book could not be better. If we are to design software-enabled customer control into e-commerce relationships, we can still start now. We are still at the beginning of the internet era.