Freewheeling about Vendor Relationship Management or VRM

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. 

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-microformats  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 the  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.

3 thoughts on “Freewheeling about Vendor Relationship Management or VRM”

  1. JP, in case you hadn’t seen this, I think it’s worth giving it 10 minutes. It’s an enlightening paper by Michael H Goldhaber from 1996 ( about a concept first introduced by a Noble Prize winner, Herbert Simon in 1973: Attention Economics. What’s becoming increasingly scarce, hence valuable, is people’s attention.

    On the same line of thinking of the VRM idea, what if you could store your attention data into a portable profile which could not only tell you how you allocate your time/attention during the day but also give you the ability to open (maybe trade?) your personal attention data with companies who would like to get a slice of it?

    This approach would ultimately kill advertising the way we know it (which is a bit of a stretch), but I find the concept very elegant and powerful. Attention is a very valuable asset and understanding and managing how we allocate it is clearly of great value.

  2. Matteo, you are right that the advertising industry faces a huge challenge and will splinter off, in my view, so that this ‘new world’ of positive, permission-based communication runs parallel with the old world of mass advertising.

    What is curious and doesn’t seem to have bene mentioned yet, is the fact that brands *should* only want to advertise to people with money.

    This will be the main discriminating factor. The old-style advertising and direct marketing will increasingly have money-less audiences and those with money will protect themselves digitally and start to strike the sort of ‘bargains’ that you and JP describe.

    Roll on the new future!
    Rebecca Caroe

    PS I used to work for don Peppers, the man who coined the phrase 1to1 marketing. His first book was the 1tot Future. I think it’s here. Now. Finally!

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