In a world of remarkable events (I am trying to write this against a background of Rebekah Wade/Brooks getting arrested, the likelihood of News Corp selling its UK newspapers being discussed as a serious option, and the suggestion that now is a good time for Rupert to start sacrificing some children, while Fox News suggests that we should put the phone tapping issues aside and maturely move on (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/07/the-most-incredible-thing-fox-news-has-ever-done/242037/) it is hard to concentrate. Part of me rejoices at the acceleration of change in media markets, part is saddened by the loss of jobs belonging to people with no share in the wrong-doing. Part of me stares in wonderment: there really is nothing to match the British in one of their periodic outbreaks of public morality; however hypocritical they maybe, the political and the chattering classes devour each other in the media with an energy unmatched since Herod’s slaughter of the innocents!
So lets discuss, in the spirit of Fox News, something that merits some consideration. During the time from when Rupert bought and then closed MySpace, huge changes took place. These were partly to do with the emergence of the Facebook hegemony, partly because of emerging valuations for that service, LinkedIn and Twitter, partly because the succession in fashion terms seems slow to hit its stride (though I am still betting on FourSquare). But they were more to do with the emergence of a new culture around networked relations with other people, which has driven us all into discussions of social marketing, exploiting natural communities, building loyalty through networking customers, and finding out much more about user behaviours. In the information industry we have seen these issues as extensions of our CRM, with the apparent aspiration that in the Salesforce world of tomorrow we shall be able to assemble everything we need to know about the user in some Cloud-based solution platform and feed our relationships with customers in a wholly personalised way.
But what if this is not so? Since the dawn of the Web users have been stronger in marketing relationships than vendors, despite belief by vendors that they can use real world techniques to establish virtual world advantages. We pay lip service to the idea that advertising may be affected, even replaced, by user recommendation, then spend longer periods of time arguing why it will never happen. Because, viscerally, we do not want it to happen.
And yet it may be the least of what is likely to happen, and if we seek evolution rather than revolution then we need to put our heads into some emerging user positions. An important one of these is VRM (Vendor relationship management), in which individual users decide how to hold and store critical information about themselves (not their descriptors – age, sex etc – but their performance as buyers and sellers, readers and browsers, etc). What will happen when statistically significant groups of people get far enough down the road to Data Literacy (probably the most important untaught subject in our education systems) to practise what one leading practitioner and media influencer in this sector, Adriana Lukas (http://www.mediainfluencer.net/), calls “Self-Hacking” and others term QS (Quantified Self). We are told on the Web that ”markets are conversations”. Well, they are also relationships and transactions, and if users are able to hold and use aggregate knowledge of their web footprint then they have a considerable weapon in the battle to persuade vendors that free users are better than captive ones, and that each of us is likely to be the best advertiser of what we ourselves want.
What are the signs of progress towards this new world of “ambient intimacy”? Have a look first at the joint Harvard – Berkman Center programme around Doc Searls’ work on Project VRM (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/projectvrm) and the EmanciPay work program. This has deep roots, and recalls Searl’s pronouncement in the Cluetrain Manifesto:
And if you think this is just a one-off research-funded effort, have a look at Diaspora’s alpha (http://blog.joindiaspora.com/what-is-diaspora.html) or at TrustFabric (www.trustfabric.org). As Facebook begins to slowly lose growth and start marginal decline, there may be space for a new/old view of networked relationships. Of course this is an issue intimately related to privacy (see what Mozilla propose in their Drumbeat environment with privacy icons :https://drumbeat.org/en-US/projects/privacy-icons/. And then look at MyCube (www.mycube.com), and, if you think that personal datamanagement does not relate to what the real world does , see what the Guardian does in its datastore environment (http://www.guardian.co.uk/data) to sort and re-aggregate diverse datastreams.
Still too distant to grasp? Buyosphere (http://buyosphere.com) paints a picture of semantic web based shopping in beta, and Zaarly (www.zaarly.com) is a first attempt at doing community cross-selling in geolocational contexts. This is the beginning of a new, post-Facebook world, and must be grasped now if we are to migrate towards it. Happy travels!