No, you can’t control your own data, says the travel industry


A big thanks to Jennifer Cobb for the link to this New York Times article entitled “Swatting Down Startups That Help Consumers.” The gist is that there are a raft of startups that act on the behalf of customers in interacting with big brands (These kinds of services can be thought of as “fourth party” services.) Some examples:

  • Customer-benefitting booking engines for car rentals
  • Airline milage program points aggregators (think, but for points)
  • Airline seat watchers that automatically rebook you to a better seat when one opens up

A number of brands (American, Soutthwest, Hertz, etc.) have acted in ways to restrict the ability for customers to use these services to attempt to improve their travel experience.

The linked article above is worth a read.

image: NYTimes

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. نرم افزار crm is extremely useful for businesses since it helps them manage multiple areas of the business. 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.

Haystack Networking Now Supports OpenID

HaystackopenidBig news today: As of this morning Haystack Networking now supports OpenID! We are entering an age where the users and customers (that’s us) are increasingly in control of our own information, at least when interacting with vendors who respect us. That means we’re moving away from the silo-oriented model of the industrial age (where the vendors have all the power, and we have none), and moving into a time where we are afforded increasing power and commensurate responsibility. The emergence of disciplines like VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) and CRM2.0 are the bellwethers that are pointing the way, and OpenID is one of the tools that will enable us to get further down the path toward that goal. We’ve been working on this for a while, and it’s important stuff.

What it means: Cerado’s support for OpenID means that professionals who use Haystack Networking are fully in control of their own online identity, and are able to better manage their online representation of their professional reputation. OpenID support also means that customers can now take advantage of “single sign-on” capabilities across a variety of complementary services that also support OpenID, including blogs, wikis and social bookmarking sites. This enables a single username and password to be used across a wide variety of sites that support the standard.

Why we did this: Cerado has a commitment to empowering customers of its Haystack business social networking service to control their own information and online identity.

Who else supports OpenID:
In addition to Cerado, other industry leaders such as Microsoft, Verisign, AOL and Symantec have also announced support of the OpenID standard for online digital identity management.

Haystack Networking home page:

Related capabilities:
Cerado’s Haystack networking supports this philosophy of open-ness in a number of ways. These ways include:

* Export capabilities
* Import capabilities
* The Haystack social networking widget
* An open API

Export: You, at any time, can export your profile data. That means no lock-in. You’re free to take your information with you anywhere, anytime. Your profile information is exportable in both CSV (Excel comma separated value) and XML formats.

Import: Additionally, Haystack administrators can import CSV and Excel files to easily set up new Haystacks with a minimum of hassle.

The Haystack social networking widget: Organizations can create Haystack networks on their own websites or blogs using our widget (

The Haystack open API: Cerado partners like SwapThing ( are using the Haystack networking API to integrate Haystack capabilities into their own offerings. Much, much more on the API here (

Related links: Much more background on the history of Cerado’s Haystack social networking system for businesses and associations can be found at:

Tying One On

Post Number 8
Originally uploaded by Auntie P.

A couple of decades ago, my old friend Joe DeCarlo used to talk about “posts” in communities and social groups. A “post” has nothing to do with a blog post in these conversations, incidentally. In these conversations, a “post” was a person or concept that was solid. Tall-standing. Deep-rooted.

A post was the anchor to which other things could be lashed.

On February 7, in his SuitWatch piece, Doc Searls tells the story of his interactions with Sayo Ajiboye. Doc:

“A few years ago I had a Socratic exchange with a Nigerian pastor named Sayo, whom I was lucky to find sitting next to me on a long airplane trip.

He went on to point out that, in his country, and in much of what we call the developing world, relationship is of paramount importance in public markets. In the industrialized world, prices are set by those who control the manufacturing, distribution and retail systems. Customers do have an influence on prices, but only in the form of aggregate demand. The rates at which they buy or don’t buy something determines what price the “market” (meaning: the demand side) will bear. But the whole economic system is viewed mostly through the prism of price, which is seen as the outcome of tug between supply and demand. Price still matters in the developing world, Sayo said; but there is a higher context that tends to be invisible if you view markets exclusively through the prism of price. That context is relationship.

He said relationship is not reducible to price, even though it may influence price. It operates at a higher level. Families and friends don’t put prices on their relationships. (At least not consciously, and only at the risk of cheapening or losing a relationship.) Love, the most giving force in any relationship, is not about exchanging. It is not fungible. You don’t expect a payback or a rate of return on the love you give your child, your wife or husband, your friends.

Yet relationship has an enormous bearing on the way markets work, Sayo said. And it is poorly understood in the developed world, where so much comes down to ‘the bottom line.'”

If you haven’t read the SuitWatch piece, it’s worth the time. Here’s the link again. And I have a feeling the Sayo story is a post that will anchor many other things over the next few years. Actually, some things are lashed to it already.

One of the things the Sayo story is currently anchoring is a discussion of how VRM might apply to changing public radio. In other words, can we use the concepts of VRM to create direct relationships with artists and producers?

Also, as I write this, I’m taking a sidelong glance at Dave, who has chimed in on this issue. Dave’s been very vocal and a key lynchpin to the development of what we currently call “podcasting.” I wonder if, down the road, we’ll see “public radio” and “podcasting” as synonymous terms. Actually, it’s much bigger than that. Much, much bigger.

If this plays out, what we currently call “podcasting” becomes public broadcasting. Think about it.

Oh, look what’s in the bottom of my mug…some tea leaves!

Jeff Foxworthy Does VRM

As part of the ProjectVRM meeting yesterday, Joe Andrieu and yours truly facilitated a session asking the question:

“What are the expressions (or perhaps “gestures”) that indicate that you might be in a relationship, instead of just a simple transaction?”

(This was intended primarily to be in the business domain, although there is definitely a blurring of business and not-business when talking about actual interpersonal relationships.) These “expressions” are things you do, or things you feel, or real-world manifestations that indicate that a relationship may exist between parties. Please note, the relationship may be positive, or may be negative.

Here was the list the group came up with. Can you add to it?

“You might be in a relationship when…”

  • there are implications for the future
  • expectations
  • recognition
  • subscription
  • payment
  • tipping
  • genealogy
  • hate sites
  • strong feelings
  • recommend
  • contract
  • employment
  • ask advice
  • expose yourself to vulnerability (“trust”)
  • blacklist
  • conversation
  • stalking
  • repeat patronage
  • badmouth
  • reliance
  • federation
  • referral/introduction
  • sponsor
  • invite
  • rebuff
  • evaluate
  • hug / P.D.A.
  • advocate
  • commenting (e.g. blogs)
  • give gifts
  • find
  • respond
  • keep apprised
  • request
  • extend credit
  • support
  • vouch
  • shared experience
  • having coffee
  • conferences

What are other expressions of relationships that you can think of?

VRM Scenarios

(Note: More background on VRM here.)

Been doing a lot of thinking about VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) in anticipation of this week’s developer’s meeting. It’s a potentially expansive, and extremely undefined, area.

One particular tactic I’ve found useful when dealing with uncertainty is scenario planning. There are many different implementations of scenario planning; the one I use is a modified version of the one described here and originally pioneered by Peter Schwartz at GBN.

So, the two big questions:

  • Q1: Who controls the interactions between vendor and customer?
  • Q2: Are the interactions focused on transactions or relationships?

This gives us a universe as follows:


It’s important to note that the object of this exercise is most emphatically NOT to “predict” which of these four areas will “win.” Instead, it’s to draw a vivid caricature of each world, and determine its key traits. Doing this allows us to better plan for, and recognize, instances of that particular scenario when we run across it in the future.

“Minority Report”
MinrptVendors bring every resource to bear to extract the last bit of margin out of every customer. Targeted ads, served relentlessly and based on our past purchasing behavior, attempt to entice us to consume the next new thing. Friedman’s “Flat World” observation plays out to its logical conclusion, with manufacturing and marketing, sales and service taking place at whatever patch on the globe can deliver the product most cost-effectively. Since vendors use data mining of petabytes of customer data in order to predict the next hot trend, post-sale service becomes increasingly unimportant, since product lifecycles are measured in weeks. Customer data becomes a pure commodity, created, owned and traded by vendors in the way that carbon credits and pork bellies are traded today. Vendors with economies of scale rule the day. Customers get low prices, and limited choice.

Happybunny_1Cryptography, identity management and business processes have all converged, enabling customers to shop securely both online and off. Customers issue anonymous “personal requests” for goods and services, and vendors battle each other relentlessly in order to be selected. Prices are driven to just above cost for commodity items, and a cadre of flexible, “long tail” suppliers emerge to meet the non-commodity requests. eBay stumbles, and then launches a service that is the converse of its current offering. Reputation systems abound for both customers and vendors, leading to the creation of RepTorrent, an anonymous network for the trading of gray-market reputation identities.

“The Global Village”
The customer owns her own information, and does with it what she pleases. In some cases, anonymous transactions are conducted, but most interactions happen with trusted vendors with whom the customer has dealt over time. The customer chooses vendors based on interpersonal empathy and affinity, as well as technical capability. Relationships grow over time, and vendors evolve beyond being simple suppliers of goods and services and into confidants (and sometimes friends). Customers pay somewhat higher prices, but look at interactions with vendors holistically, feeling that price is only one aspect of the true cost of a good or service. Customers and vendors work together to come up with new products and services. Competent and personable vendors succeed, scam artists are quickly outed and ostracized. The same is true for customers, as both vendors and customers belong to interconnected offline and online communities.

“The Matrix (Blue Pill)”
BluepillVendors control production, allocation and distribution, and at the same time understand that a connected customer is a lifetime customer. Supply chain models such as vendor managed inventory and consignments are used. The vendor controls what purchase options are given to the customer, and realizes that he must be equitable, or the customer will terminate the relationship. The vendor has perfect information on the behavior of his customers, including purchase history. Vendors use this information to continually refine and model the selection and quantity of goods and services made available to each customer not only to maximize profits, but also to ensure continued access to that customer. Customers select their vendors based on the belief that they will have an ongoing relationship with the vendors they choose, and give them feedback as to what they’d like to see.

So. These are just first thoughts. Would love to work on this together, both here in the comments and here on the wiki.

marrakech market: malyousif