The Cuckoo

I have a strong positive predisposition to rational contrarians, and generally like those who use a combination of fact and story to challenge the current status quo.  So, I was very much taken with Alec Muffet’s most recent post regarding how we handle the concept of "identity" as is spans both the offline and online worlds.  Alec self-describes his work thusly:

"This is not a white paper. This is an opinion-piece, possibly a
polemic. In it I expound what I believe rather than making an argument
for you to believe it too

I’ll do the 100-word version here, but you really, really need to read the original source piece, entitled "Hankering for a World Without ‘Identity’ or ‘Federation.’"

Alec makes the following key points:

  • We need to be able to control our own identity and related authority, and not be compelled through legal or market means to outsource those tasks to a third party
  • There may be other means than the "certificate authorized by a higher power" (e.g. a driver’s license) to verify one’s ability to do something — we may be able to prove our capabilities at "time of need" (think about CAPTCHAs or field-sobriety tests)
  • One alternative to "credentialling" is relationship-building.  If you have a trusted relationship over time, you don’t need any "credentials" issued by a third party…the relationship itself is the credential
  • If someone has the tools to manage his or her relationships and those tools are under an individual’s control, we may have the basis for what is a new and, perhaps, better way to solve this problem

While there is quite a bit of valid side-bar conversation regarding whether Alec perhaps erroneously lumps some current technical identity efforts with historical lead zeppelins such as Microsoft Passport, the whole piece is worth a thoughtful read, as it challenges some very fundamental human/Western processes on how, and perhaps more importantly when, we prove someone has the credentials they require.

Go check it out.

photo credit: CaptPiper

Sell This Man A Car!

David Cushman is doing a little experiment in being a connected, active customer.  Here’s the skinny.  David:

"There’s a prize at stake, of sorts. The winner gets to sell me a car.

want to buy a Toyota Yaris – and I’m going to blog about this fact (and
twitter a bit) to see if this simple piece of disaggregated content
gets picked up by someone savvy enough to sell me one.

It’s also a
test of word of mouth because it’s possible that the dealer (owner?)
with the car I want isn’t clued up… but he might know a friend, or a
friend-of-a-friend who is.

So let’s begin.

I’m in the UK.

want a low mileage Toyota Yaris in either T3 or TR spec, registered
late 2006 onwards (new shape one). Must have aircon of some form.
Ideally 1.3 petrol but will consider 1.0. Probably go for the five
door. My wife prefers silver (and it will be her car). Ex-demo would be

Now, again, there are some basic channels through with customers and vendors typically interact.  From the customer’s perspective they are:

  • Search – Research and look for a solution
  • Shop – Engage in commerce
  • Help – Fix something you already have

Here’s the vendor view of these three items:

  • Market (as a verb, the converse of Search)
  • Sell (the converse of Shop)
  • Support (the converse of Help)

Key point: I feel the friction in this process is a result of the transactional mindset that most vendors are in today.  For if vendors were truly engaging in "customer relationship management," David would already be connected to them.  Instead, we’re trying to mesh the customer and vendor gears, each of which is spinning at a different speed, and rotating in a slightly different plane.

So, going back to the model…David has already nailed the "Search" part of his process, and is moving into Shop.  So, is there a vendor out there who is either (a) actively listening or (b) is connected through a reasonable number of hops to someone who is?  Let’s find out…

And I Suppose VRM is the New Customer Service

A heads up for folks who are interested in learning more about (a) customer service and support, (b) marketing or (c) Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) — I’ll be leading a workshop session at the "Customer Service is the New Marketing" conference next Monday here in SF.  The details:

Customer Service is the New Marketing

I’ll be facilitating a workshop called "Vendor Relationship Management (VRM): Enabling buyers and sellers to build mutually beneficial relationships."

Monday, 4 Feb 2008

The Golden Gate Club
Presidio National Park
135 Fisher Lane
San Francisco, CA 94129

Seeya there…

Let’s Look At The Big Picture: How Does This Affect Me?

JP writes:

"Information is going to be like money. And we’re going to move it around like money. [We already are.] Institutions that hold information are going to be like banks. With a variety of services, and with rights and duties associated with our information, varying according to the service we sign up for."

In taking JP’s statement at face value and doing some reading, I found out a number of things regarding the history of money in North America about which I had been previously unaware.  These items may (or, admittedly, may not) provide a number of parallels that could be useful now as we think about issues such as online identity, customer behavior, and VRM.

Lesson 1: "Money" was very fragmented for a very long period of time after the colonization of North America

"Money" as we think of it in the form of cash/paper currency has only been around for about 150 years.  Over a period of almost two hundred years both before and after that time, a number of fragmented methods were used to exchange value.  These included, but were not limited to:

Wampum – Wampum, or "shell money," is a medium of exchange that was once common. The History of the Canadian Dollar states, "The Aboriginal peoples of eastern North America placed a high value on strings and belts fashioned from beads of white or purple shells found on the eastern seaboard. Early English settlers called such articles “wampum,” an abbreviation of an Algonquin word sometimes spelled wampumpeague. French settlers called shell beads porcelaine.  Wampum was highly valued, partly because of the difficulty in making shell beads even after European tools became available in the seventeenth century. By one estimate, it took 119 days to make a 5,000-bead belt (Lainey 2004, 18). Strings and belts made from purple beads were roughly twice the value of those made from white beads, since the purple shell was much more difficult to work." (cite)

Specie – Coins made of gold, silver or other metal.

Potlatch – Potlatch is a festive event within a regional exchange system among tribes of the North pacific Coast of North America, including the Salish and Kwakiutl of Washington and British Columbia.  Sponsors of a potlatch give away many useful items such as food, blankets, worked ornamental mediums of exchange called "coppers", and many other various items. In return, they earned prestige. To give a potlatch enhanced one’s reputation and validated social rank, the rank and requisite potlatch being proportional, both for the host and for the recipients by the gifts exchanged. Prestige increased with the lavishness of the potlatch, the value of the goods given away in it. (cite)

Barter – Trading one good for another

Furs – The pelts of native animals such as beavers

Tobacco – The leaf of the tobacco plant

Tobacco Notes -The US state of Virgina was using "tobacco notes" as a substitute for currency by 1713.  Tobacco farmers would take their crops to warehouses for weighing, testing and storage, and inspectors would issue "notes" that could be exchanged in lieu of moving the actual leaves around. (cite)

The key thing to note here is that it took hundreds of years for these various value storage media to converge (and both the convergence and creation of new ways of storing financial value continues today…remember that the oldest Euro coins and banknotes in the world are seven years old, the same age as a first-grader).

Now, let’s think about our information about ourselves, our attention, and our purchase histories through the prism of the points above.  Our information is undeniably a valuable asset.  However, at the current time, we’re at the wampum and furs part of the cycle as far as managing it.  These various bits of our online identity and history are in disparate forms, with each bit of information in a different vendor’s CRM system in a non-transferable and often inaccessible state. 

Lesson 2: Everybody needs to win

After the ideas of "cash" and "checks" had taken hold and become widespread, there were still many inefficiencies in the system.  Cash is cumbersome, and subject to loss.  Checks may bounce.  This continued until the mid-1900’s.

Enter the credit card.*

The credit card resonated with both customers and vendors because both parties received benefits.  For customers, the were afforded an unprecedented amount of flexibility and convenience, in addition to delayed billing.  For vendors, it’s a lever for differentiation and reduced transactional friction, as well as a way to access customers who might have previously found the vendor’s products beyond reach.  For the issuers, it’s a rich revenue stream.  (For now, we’ll assume that the credit cards are being used wisely by customers and not as mechanisms that get individuals into long-term financial straits through overextension.)   Perhaps the success of the credit card was a result of this win-win-win scenario.

Now, the widespread usage of credit cards was not something the occurred overnight.  Instead, it was something that occurred over a generation.  In 1970, only 16% of American households had credit cards.  However, by 1995, that number had climbed to 65%. (cite)

As VRM continues to evolve, it is these win-win (or win-win-win) situations that will be kept in mind.  Without benefit to all parties, the effort will be stillborn (or, at least stymied).  With a view toward mutual benefit, however, the opportunities are expansive.

* – Kudos to Drummond for suggesting this parallel between credit cards and the necessity of mutual benefit as a precondition to VRM success.

photo credit:

The Wizard of ID


"Early next year the government
of British Columbia plans to introduce a virtual ID card for its
citizens. The virtual ID is actually a document that will reside on a
user’s computer and will enable him or her to access any and all
British Columbia government Web sites and use their services.The
virtual ID contains a bare minimum of information about a user; namely,
whether the individual is over the age of 19, a British Columbia
resident, or a student.

The virtual ID also protects a user’s
personal information from being stolen as that info is no longer stored
at the various government agencies, but is kept at an online government
service, BCeID. In addition, the virtual ID protects a user’s privacy
as the government can’t track what sites a citizen visits. The
greatest advantage for citizens is "they have control over their
personal information," says Ian Bailey, director of application
architecture, Office of the Chief Information Officer. ‘It’s really
about control. You’re in complete control.’"

More about it here.

Very interesting indeed.  A little more poking around regarding BCeID, where we learn a bit more:

"BCeID is an online service that makes it possible for you to use your Login ID and
password to sign in securely to BCeID participating Government online services.

With a BCeID you can:

  • Sign in to government participating sites using your BCeID and a single password so
    you don’t have to remember a different Login ID and password at every website.

  • With BCeID, you don’t need to enrol for a Login ID and password at each new site
    you visit — simply use the Login ID and password that you enrolled as your BCeID
    to sign in to any participating government site or service.

There are two
types of BCeID:

Basic BCeID – Allows you to access Online Services that need to
recognize your account when you return, and do not require to know who you are. 
To obtain a Basic BCeID there is no verification of your identity and registration
is completed entirely online.

Business BCeID – Allows you to access Online Services that require
that your business organization’s unique identity must be verified and where you are
acting in a business capacity as an authorized representative of the business
(i.e. not as an individual). Business BCeID may be used by representatives of companies,
partnerships, sole proprietorships or organizations including municipalities and
not-for-profit societies. Additional accounts for employees can be created as required. "

I’m especially intrigued by this section of the BCeID Privacy Policy:

"6.1 Customers
[ed.- they called us "customers" – I like this already…] have a right to access their personal information, subject to limited

6.2 A
customer can access their own key identity information and contact information
by utilizing BCeID’s online Profile Management tools.

6.3 It
is unlikely that BCeID would hold additional personal information about a
customer, beyond that stated in policy 6.2. In
the unlikely event that additional personal information has been collected
(where unusual account activity is detected, for example) a request to review
that information may be made in writing under the
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
to the Information Management Branch at the Ministry of Finance.

6.4 All
written requests for access to personal information will be responded to within
30 business days, unless grounds exist to extend that time period. Where
grounds exist to extend the time period for responding, the customer will
receive a written notice of the extension and the reasons for the extension.

6.5 If
a request for access to personal information is refused in full or in part, the
customer will be notified in writing. The
written response will provide the reasons for the refusal and the recourse that
is available to the customer.

A clear privacy policy, an ability for customers to control their own information, a stated service level commitment for disputes?  Holy cow.  We need to learn more about this in the context of VRM, methinks.

How To Cancel An XDrive Account

As part of our VRM discussion at the Internet Identity Workshop last week, one of the ideas we talked about was having a "personal data store" of interactions with vendors, and having a place to document sales, marketing and support interactions from OUR side (the customer’s side).  Here’s some more on the concept, from Doc Searls’ photo stream. (Go ahead, click that link.)

While the idea of the "personal data store" is still in development, there’s no reason why we can’t blog the public parts this stuff, both for our own records as well as to help to feed the nascent community of others who may encounter similar issues with vendors in the future.  So, to that end, here’s how to cancel an Xdrive account (in this case, the whole process took about 10 minutes once their phone number was located):


When you go to the Xdrive website to try to cancel the account, the roach-motel help system will inform you to "call the 800# or send an email" to cancel your account.  However, doing this search on the Xdrive site actually doesn’t GIVE you an 800# – I tried for 20minutes to find either an 800# or a support email address without success, and finally found a contact # on another website. 

Xdrive makes the cancellation as difficult as possible.  So, here’s how to do it.

1)  Call Xdrive at 866.GO.XDRIVE (866.469.3748)
2)  Choose the "Billing" option from the phone tree
3)  Answer the myriad questions that the customer service rep will have for you

Make sure you ask for the following pieces of information for your own records:

a) Your cancellation confirmation number (this is a 9 digit number)
b) The agent’s "headset number" (my agent was #:14320)
c) Also, record the time of the call (mine was about 10:35am PDT on 26May2007)

At this point, the account should be canceled.

Note:  Xdrive is now owned by AOL, it appears.


N.B.  It would be cool to have a microformat for customer-side support records.  I could imagine structuring the following types of items:

– Vendor Name (e.g. Xdrive)
– Contact method (e.g. phone, email, etc.)
– Contact method details (e.g. 866.469.3748)
– Vendor contact identifier (e.g. "14320" or support person’s name or extension #)
– Issue description (e.g. "Cancel an account")
– My URL/URI (e.g.
– The call notes
– Related vendors (e.g. AOL)

If we tracked these things, we’d all (a) individually have our own records of these interactions (just like the types of systems that Customer Service Reps have on US) and (b) as a bonus, we free the public portions of the interaction to help other customers similar to ourselves down the road when they search for this stuff online.


Doc writes:

“CRM — Customer Relationship Management — is a highly developed set of disciplines: market research, call center tracking, marketing campaign tracking and reporting, contact tracking and so on. Here’s a white paper ( featured at CRM Today ( that makes a “business case” for CRM by promising to “increase the response rates to our marketing campaigns by delivering a tailored message to customers and prospects” and to “segment customers and prospects in line with our marketing strategy”.

This kind of jive is what you get when it’s easier for companies to talk to themselves than to their customers. And when it’s easier to talk to populations than to individuals. When a recording says “Your call is important to us” or “Your call may be recorded for quality control purposes”, it’s not talking to you as a person. It’s saying, “Calls like yours may be recorded…”

CRM is lame because it is in complete control of its “relationships” with customers. Customers contribute as little as possible to the system other than money, patience and feedback on forms. Complete control is what causes CRM systems to become silos. Those silos become echo chambers for the voices of those in control, and of the inmates who stay and make agreeable noises.”

He continues:

“VRM — Vendor Relationship Management — obsoletes silos and saves CRM by giving it something to relate to. VRM provides customers with tools of both independence and engagement. It gives customers ways of notifying sellers of readiness to buy. It also gives customers safe ways to share useful information without taxing the energies of the vendor or insulting the intelligence of the customer. In all these ways VRM is the reciprocal of CRM, and a powerful way to make CRM useful and to stop being lame.

VRM changes the world by making markets truly free rather than “your choice of silo”. It appeals to customers by providing them with useful, safe and productive ways of relating with vendors. And it appeals to vendors by relieving them of the need to waste money and time on trapping customers and still guessing at what they might want.

The problem is, VRM doesn’t exist yet. We need to make it exist.”

If you are interested in helping to make VRM exist, check out the ProjectVRM wiki and get involved.