The Intention Economy: What Happens When Customers Get Real Power
Doc Searls, Berkman Fellow
Ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution, sellers have made the rules that buyers live by. (For evidence, consider how many times you've clicked "accept" to "terms of service" that nobody reads and give all advantages to the seller.) Even in these dawn years of the Information Age, when individuals have more choice than ever about what they can do with their time and money, big companies still talk about "capturing," "acquiring," "owning" and "managing" customers as if they were slaves. This kind of thinking is formalized in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems that "relate," for example, through call-center mazes that have more in common with cattle chutes than with real human interaction.
The age of Vendor Domination will end, Doc Searls believes, when customers get real power --- when their own Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) tools serve as far better instruments of demand than any of those provided for customers by CRM systems on the supply side. (And will improve CRM systems in the process.)
We will know VRM works when:
- Customers can set their own "terms of service" including ones that may be better for both sides than the ones supplied now by vendors alone.
- When customers are in charge of their own data, and how that data is used by companies, resulting in genuine, trusting, two-way relationships.
- When customers can advertise their intentions to buy X, Y or Z, without having to go through a controlling intermediary, or to reveal unnecessary personal information.
Doc expects an "Intention Economy" to grow around these new forms customer empowerment - one that will out-perform the "attention economy" based on advertising and other forms of guesswork on the supply side.
Working toward this goal is a growing community of developers and other individuals gathered around ProjectVRM, which Doc runs here at the Berkman Center. The VRM community is making progress on a number of fronts, which Doc will detail in his talk.
In addition to his work here at Berkman, Doc is co-author (with fellow Berkman Fellow David Weinberger and others) of The Cluetrain Manifesto (the 10th Anniversary Edition of which is due out this summer), Senior Editor of Linux Journal, and one of the world's most familiar and inveterate bloggers. His work as a journalist, speaker and advocate of the Internet led to a Google-O'Reilly Open Source Award for Best Communicator in 2005. In "The World is Flat," Thomas L. Friedman calls Doc "one of the most respected technology writers in America." Doc is also a Fellow at the Center for Information and Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where his work focuses on Internet infrastructure issues.