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The Searlsian Decade: Visualizing VRM

Archimedes, the lever, the fulcrum, the world

Doc Searls is trying to find the fulcrum and the lever that will shift the basic network patterns, economics and power relations of advertising, marketing and B2C transactions. It’s your typical boil the ocean project. He calls it Project VRM.

VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management, is the reciprocal of CRM or Customer Relationship Management. It provides customers with tools for engaging with vendors in ways that work for both parties.

As the Network matures and we begin to understand the gestural possibilities at every device and virtual device endpoint of the Network, the tools that Doc seeks begin to materialize.

These proposals offer no quick and easy solution to the problems of peace. But they are essential tools. “Give me a fulcrum,” Archimedes is reported to have said, “and a place to stand—and I will move the world.” The tools I have suggested can be our fulcrum—it is here we take our stand—let us move the world down the road to peace.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) 
President of the United States (1961-1963) 
Campaign speech proposing the United States Peace Corps
San Francisco, California, USA
November 2, 1960
(As reported by The New York Times, November 3, 1960, page 32)

I’m remodeling my kitchen, so I’m in the market for a number of products: a sink, a faucet, lighting, appliances, drawer pulls, etc. I’d recently looked at a few of these items on Amazon, so the next time I stopped by, I was shown some similar items based on my previous browsing and click path data. I wondered aloud on Twitter whether or not Amazon could read my blog to add data to their propensity model. Michael Markman responded that they probably had enough data on me as it is. From my perspective, the difference is between a conscious gesture signaling interest and a harvested gesture that feeds a mechanized targeted messaging propensity model.

But the truth is, I’m not really interested in using my blog as a method to signal to vendors. But this thread reveals another piece of the puzzle, the value of a blog, and current authoring tools, is that they make it easy to create RSS feeds. What I’d like to do is construct an RSS feed of the kind of things I’m interested in for my kitchen remodel. Vendors could read that feed and respond with feeds of their own that I could wrap into a consolidated feed where I could rank, tag, filter, sort, and search the RSS items. The user contract with the vendor is: don’t offer me feeds that aren’t relevant to my interest/gesture feed or you will be labeled a spammer.

I’ve been thinking about the synchronization capabilities of Live Mesh, the idea of notebooks and pens, and what Evernote might be good for over the last few months. While I’ve seen some potential in Evernote, it didn’t really click with me as a user until yesterday. I was surfing around the Network looking at various sinks, flooring materials and faucets and needed a way to store my consideration set. The use case for Evernote finally emerged, I was able to select portions of web pages and copy them into a notebook on Evernote through a browser plugin. I can also use my my iPhone to take photographs in the wild and email them to a notebook. And because there’s an iPhone web client, I have access to my notebook where ever I am. Similar to plans for Live Mesh, there are already desktop Evernote clients for Mac, PC, Linux and some Phones. The desktop client extends my ability to manipulate, annotate, tag and search my notebook. The local notebook syncs to the copy in the cloud — and that copy can be made public as an RSS feed.

Relationship Button, VRM, Looking to buy

I have a number of notebooks on Evernote, I can choose to keep them private or make them public. One reason to make a notebook or a portion of a notebook public would be to create half of the VRM relationship envisioned by Doc Searls. The question is, is there a vendor somewhere on the network who would know how to respond to my RSS feed? And does Evernote, or will Live Mesh, give me the tools to work with the feeds vendors offer me?

Michel Foucault in his essay Theatrum philosophicum put forth the notion that one day we may identify the 20th century as Deleuzian. In particular Deleuze’s idea of the rhizome has taken root.  There’s a sense in which we are entering the Searlsian decade of the Network. Hugh McCloud noticed and noted it while talking to Steve Gillmor on the telephone. As we begin to understand more and more about the Network we always already occupy, revolutionary gestures like Project VRM will move into the strong currents of the zeitgeist.

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