Ever since Doc Searls discussed the concept with me maybe two years ago, I’ve been fascinated by VRM. Whenever I have an electronic relationship with someone who provides me with products or services, it becomes possible to capture the conversation and transaction flow in a persistent and shareable manner. But whose information is it? [This is not a rhetorical question, and is asked regardless of what the small print on the site may say].
Take me for example. I read a lot, I buy a lot of books. Firsthand, secondhand, flatsigned, signed to me, association copies, manuscripts, even incunabula. If I could share my Amazon history with Abebooks, I gain. If I could share my Abebooks history with Amazon, I gain. If I could share my Amazon and my Abebooks histories with Bonhams, I gain.
This is just a trivial example. The issue is simple. Is it my information? Even if I have to pay someone for the service they give me in capturing and maintaining the information, is it mine? Whose else can it be? Shouldn’t I be able to point it wherever I please?
My father, and his father before him, used to write a weekly column called Clive Street Gossip. The masthead had a Bard quote I’ve never been able to forget:
I must have liberty withal/ As large a charter as the Wind/ To blow on whom I please.Â
Jaques, As You Like It, Act 2 Scene 7
And I guess that’s the way I feel about my data. I want to be able to point it where I please.
That’s not all that VRM is about. If you’re interested in the subject, do visit the Project Home Page, I’ve linked to it earlier in this post, and again here for your convenience.
While on VRM, there are a couple of things I’ve noticed recently that fit well into this perspective. A BBC report gave me some details on something I’d heard about, but not seen much of. A project to develop a “universal” avatar, allowing a person to move seamlessly between virtual worlds. You can read the whole story here.
And that made me think. You have virtual money “isolated” in different virtual worlds; some of them have exchange rates to bring them into the physical world. Once you have a universal avatar, then you should be able to have universal cash and other attributes as well, with the market setting the rates of exchange.
I guess I felt a bit rueful as well…..why was I even thinking about universal avatars when we haven’t really sorted out universal sign-ons and passwords, universal registration capabilities, and so on. This is despite the sterling work that has been done in the OpenID-meets-SAML-meets-CardSpace-meets-microformatsÂ space.
Talking about microformats. The first few people who got me on to microformats included some “A-List” bloggers: Chris Messina, Tara Hunt, Kevin Marks, Tantek Celik. In whose company I met Dave Morin (then of Apple, now of Facebook) and Brittany Bohnet (now of Google) for the first time, some years ago. And in that strange serendipitous way theÂ blogosphere works, I was reading something that Chris had posted the link for, visible on my Facebook news feed.
What Chris had linked to was this: Satisfaction: People Powered Customer Service.
Universal avatars. People Powered Customer Service. VRM is fast becoming like William Gibson’s future: already here, but unevenly distributed. Time to get that distribution more even.