The Intention Economy and thoughts on VRM
Earlier this week I attended a talk by Doc Searls for his new book, The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge [and yes semi-ironically that link is to Amazon w/my tracking details – feel free to buy your copies anywhere you like]. I haven’t yet finished reading the book (full disclosure all attendees were given a Kindle copy of the book by Weber Shandwick the PR firm that organized the event) but I have been following the VRM space for year and Doc Searls is an old friend.
At the talk I observed the following and Doc requested that I share my observation publicly to the Project VRM mailing list so here it is:
There are TWO important parts to what the VRM movement is talking about.
Part one is about individual intentions being shared and routed via some means to the entities that could fulfill those intentions with the goal of connecting the two parties to enable transactions to occur. Done well this can reshape business at the local, national and international level.
Part two is the discussion around Internet privacy and security of individual data. This is the part that geeks geek out about, the stuff that involves observing the volume of tracking cookies and technologies on many websites, the privacy concerns of the policies of many companies and the sheer volume of data being created around every individual’s activities online (and offline for that matter). This stuff is important to be sure but it is also of only vague interest to most individuals and the connection between “personal data stores” and the broader ideas of “share your intentions and get help fulfilling them” is tenuous at best.
To move forward I would encourage the VRM community to think about how to split the focus between the technology challenges of personal data capture and sharing and the business challenges of thinking about how intentions can be expressed (and documented in some means), shared broadly, filtered and routed to the entities that could potentially fulfill the intentions and then those parties connected via some means to enable transaction(s) to occur. All of which could, in fact, take place without any technology.
For example imagine the non-technology enabled version of the Intention Economy. A group of us walk around a large crowd – say of 100 people and captured everyone’s Intentions for lunch today. Some folks have very broad goals (“spend less than $10 for something tasty – but could be any type of cuisine with no restrictions” while others have very precise Intentions – “spend less than $10 for a gluten-free, vegetarian lunch w/o red peppers and with something spicy”.
These intentions could then be clustered into similar categories and we could go call up a bunch of local restaurants and compare menues and current deals and offers to find and connect people to restaurants that could fulfill their Intentions for lunch today. How this last bit happens could be any number of means (we could place a number of delivery orders, we could send folks out to each local restaurant to place orders and pick up food, each individual could decide whether to call for delivery, send a friend or leave the building to go get lunch in person etc).
Nothing about this imaginary intention-driven set of transactions would require personal privacy focused technology. Yes, it could leverage such systems if they were in place – perhaps to transparently and securely collect payments from everyone for what they order plus delivery charges all without exposing each person’s personal data to the restaurants – who just need payment. But equally such a system could just rely on non-technology means such as collecting cash from each person individually.
The point is that the power of the narrative of large pools of people sharing their Intentions and getting them fulfilled is lost when the conversation is only about complex to grasp technical points. Shared intentions leading to actions can inspire business people to build new businesses and reshape old businesses.