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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.

Published in digital economics markets money network user data value zettel


  1. My understanding of the ongoing development of identity models through the IIW process is that 'anonymity' may either be a default state, or a managed persona within an identity management system.

    The key is to enable a two-way market and conversation. One might ask the question: who would perceive VRM as a threat?

  2. Thanks for the comment Doc. The 'ocean boiling' metaphor is really a question of approach, as you note. But it does give a sense of the size of the task at hand.

    The live real-time aspect of this is very interesting. While XML-HTTP-Request has created a back door into a more interactive web page, it seems clear that an XMPP infrastructure will need to be deployed along side the established HTTP servers to provide that capability.

    If we assume success, the scale and bursty-ness of traffic will be tough to engineer for. Witness the difficulties of Twitter. I'm starting to explore the idea that a primary market will be required for VRM gestures. It'll be too difficult for Vendors to scan all possible nodes looking for possible connections. This is where the utility of Twitter and Track could be a piece of the puzzle.

    Regarding the mobility issue. The un-networked desktop computer is dead, long live the teleputer.

    As far as my use of the “Searlsian” adjective, ultimately it's not for you or me to say. If VRM and IIW have achieved their goals in ten years, I'd like to make sure that it's remembered that a person had this vision and worked with others to make it happen. The technical achievement will be substantial, but the human achievement will be world changing.

  3. Interesting approach, I tried to express something similar with my posts “Who owns the pen with which you write?” and some discussions about Data Liquidity.

    Lately I've been thinking that the foundation for this approach already exists in Dave Winer's OPML Editor. Because Dave fundamentally believes that you should have a local copy of everything you write or create, you keep your data at the point of origin. Then there's a simple upstreaming process that could be pointed to various clouds, or the blogging API. A comment API would be a welcome addition.

    There's a question about how new infrastructure and standards propagate — it requires a tremendous use of force to implement change systematically. Spreading virally node by node seems to be the more effective model.

  4. A key point about VRM is to have the ability to post 'invitations' to pull relevant information whilst retaining your anonymity.
    You may be interested to read the article 'VRM – Threat or opportunity?' on my blog or at

  5. Cliff,

    Thanks for understanding VRM so well — and for adding to that understanding.

    A couple thoughts.

    First, you are right that VRM is an Archimedean challenge. I prefer that metaphor to ocean-boiling. If we borrow the ocean metaphor, it's to look at the sea (half million and counting) of open source code bases out there for the right combination of small wheels we don't need to re-invent. I believe this is exactly what Adriana, Alec and friends are doing with the work she points to in her comments. It's also what we're doing with the relbutton. The nice thing there is that we have a handy symbol behind which all kinds of code can be placed.

    Second, the “Searlsian” adjective makes me cringe. I'd prefer something descriptive. “The relationship decade” or “The live Web decade” perhaps? I like 'live” because I think the most important and meaningful interactions will happen in close to real time. Too much of demand works that way already in any case, and the site-based static web can't cut it. Not alone, anyway.

    I also think it needs to be mobile. A whole 'nuther topic I don't have time to go into, but let's stick a reminder there.

    And thanks again.

  6. “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.”

    That's exactly what I concluded some time ago and what I want for myself. Given that there isn't much out there (checked evernote and live mash and they don't really cut it), I decided to try to design such a tool myself. here is more, if interested.

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