Customer emancipation

Regular readers of this blog would know how much I care about the Three Is: doing the right thing about the Internet, Intellectual Property Rights and Identity. The weird thing about these issues is that they create conversation on both sides of the work-life fence. And, for some reason, they don’t attract the dogma and intolerance that characterise many political and religious conversations.

I dislike many of the terms used in these conversations: a perfect example is “content”, a word whose sound reminds me of fresh chalk squeaking on a glass-fronted blackboard. Now, one of the commonest phrases in which I hear that appalling word used is the following:

Content is king

And when I gently enquire of the speaker “Over what kingdom?” the usual answer I get is somewhere along these lines:

You don’t get it, do you? The content-owner rules, he owns the customer

The people who say that are right about one thing. I definitely do not get it.  People who choose to call themselves content-owners and pipe-owners (another term I deeply dislike despite Senator Stevens’ attempts) start squabbling over “ownership” of the customer.  Over the years, I’ve seen this manifest itself even within organisations, where power magically descends upon those who “own” the customer.


None of us owns the customer. If anything, the customer owns us. We seem to be taking a long time to understand this and to learn from it.

12 thoughts on “Customer emancipation”

  1. Content simply rules.
    Content can influence intention though attentention confered by the customer.
    Since content collects tax( attention – The currency) from both owner and the customer it is king!

    Content is the king of Attention Nation.
    Emancipation is when content is a medium for conversation/relationship.

    Jumping to chess metaphor, if content is king( no content no game), is data/information the queen?
    Is there a flickr for data? – DataR anyone!
    -Balaji S.

  2. When the customer controls the content then the customer becomes king, of their own individual kingdom.

    The content is little use though without the key to the kingdom.

    Content may be king, but connection is key.

    Without connection there is no kingdom, just a lone castle (silo).


  3. “Owning the customer” is symptomatic of organisations, units or individuals jealously guarding their important relationships. It is based on guarding preceived power and influence to maximise profit in the value network. Trouble is, relationships are complex and adapt rapidly threatening the status quo and causes defensive reactions. Content is a component perceived to deliver a large degree of power in relationships; hence the general comment we frequently hear. I prefer to see things more simply: give customers (wherever they are in the value network) what they want at the price they want; make that price more that it costs you to deliver and everyone’s a winner.

  4. There is only one situation when content is king: when there is only one content producer.
    There is only one situation where the pipe-owner is king: when there is only one pipe.

    In any other situation, the customer chooses the content source and the pipe that he prefers…

    …and the customer is the king.

  5. JP,

    This thing has been bugging me from the last many days, and everytime I read your blog.

    Why are you no the CIO of something seminal as Google?

    You should be, for all of us.

  6. Incognito, I learnt a long time ago never to take my own propaganda too seriously……I enjoy what I do, I go to bed happy and wake up happy. That’s important to me.

  7. Dave the Lifekludger seems to be the only one who “gets it” (to use JP’s language). Whether or not he has read any George Herbert Mead, he is a great student of this pioneer of social theory! Mead’s basic story is that the social world we inhabit is a world of symbols and most (if not all) of how we behave in that world comes down to how we interpret those symbols. Now in an objective world (like the world of mathematics) every symbol has a “context-free” interpretation; but, in the social world, as the cliche goes, context is everything. This means that, more often than not, we cannot interpret symbols without exchanging OTHER symbols with OTHER inhabitants of the social world. That is called “conversation;” and Mead’s fundamental thesis (often called the thesis of “symbolic interactionism”) is that we cannot understand the world without it.

    “Content” is nothing more than a noun that names the class of all those symbols we are trying to interpret. With that usage it need not grate on either our ears or our consciousness. Is it “king?” Well, in a default sense I suppose it is: In other words it is the only thing we have through which we come to understand the world. Can it be owned? Hell, no! No more than the air we breathe can be owned, because, if air is what sustains our physical existence, the class of all symbols is what sustains our social existence. (Of course, given what we are doing to the environment, ownership of air may seem less absurd within my own lifetime; but that is another story!)

  8. I learnt a long time ago never to take my own propaganda too seriously……

    Funny. I take it pretty seriously. :)

    I enjoy what I do, I go to bed happy and wake up happy. That’s important to me.


    “I believe that it is only a matter of time before enterprise software consists of only four types of application: publishing, search, fulfilment and conversation.”

    JP, when I read comments like these, and I think about the Internet, the chaos of information age; It basically forces me to think on a deeper, intricate level. I think, this age is not just about convergence of information, it’s about the convergence of knowledge at a more deeper, talismanic level.

    If you see all evolutionary knowledge and experience of every human being can now be inter-connected. Above all, I also believe that knowledge is also passed on as a kind-of gene (people have proved this too). Information adds more currentness to it, kind of like proof of certain theorems. Internet is definitely the way of cumulative self-realization (or at least the start of it).

    Try reading this, kind-of chaotic, still it might explain my confusion

    Why there is so much isolation of information and knowledge?
    Even in the age of Internet, the age of talismanic interconnectivity, there remains the absence of philosophical and cognitive Internet.

    Why is that, when it comes to enlightenment/satisfaction, there are separate ways of doing it like meditation, theoretical physics, writing, blogging (I’ll come back to this point later on) and so on?

    Why don’t we realize that we need a Unified Theory?

    Hey wait! Doesn’t this sound familiar?

    Let me take one more metaphysical example. The more modern deduction of the Omega Point Theory is that Internet will be our way of realizing the “loving, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God”. It’s not the Internet which we see today, about which Frank Tipler is talking about. It’s the other Internet, the cognitive Internet. But does he know that? I doubt so. And that is exactly where the irony lies.

    Why is that nowadays, terms like “world changing” and “revolutionary” are not associated with inventions at a more frequent pace then in the past? Why is that, the art of invention and discovery has been castrated into small, more miniscule and recursive entities of human endeavors like science, religion, technology and art?

    In the olden, pre-historic days of more pure human endeavors, things were simple. There was no science, no technology, no religion, no nothing. So they invented the wheel, discovered fire. No negative reverberations, no criticism, no challenges of the proving its importance.

    Fast foreword a few hundred thousand years, we see total chaos. People from each domain are so into themselves, are so achievement hungry, face so much competition that they develop an inherent hate for other domains. They love their domain specialization. They want to and are proudly defining “the divinity” in their own language, can be mathematics, C++, Vedas, music or art.

  9. Incognito, you may enjoy reading “The System of Professions” by Andrew Abbott, as also EO Wilson’s Consilience. See what you think.

Let me know what you think

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