Morning Keynote with Doc Searls

Hey, hey, it’s the last day here at Pubcon, but that doesn’t mean we’re slowing down any. Not…even…a little. This morning’s keynote featured Doc Searls and, as speakers often do, he started with a story. Today’s story centered on Mona Shaw, the woman who took a crack at Comcast. Literally With a hammer. If you’re not familiar with Mona’s tale, she was an older woman who, after repeatedly being jerked around by Comcast, came into their offices with a hammer and started breaking stuff. When she was done smashing keyboards and computers she asked, “have I gotten your attention now?” She certainly did. And though she was arrested for her efforts, there wasn’t a jury or judge that would convict her. Mona represented two things for consumers – independence and engagement. We’ve been improving these areas for 30-40yrs, but we’re not done yet. Doc talked about the early days of the IBM computer and the change that it represented. It allowed us to get more done inside the company. We had word processing and software and spreadsheets. We got a power that was corporate before that. It wasn’t going back because it was good for business. Jump to 1995 and the Internet comes along. What that we suddenly have international, cost-free communication power. We were zero distance from anyone else in the world that was also connected. The phone comes didn’t give us this. Neither did the cable companies. The geeks provided it. It was good for business because we had power to communicate in ways we couldn’t before that. This movement for independence and engagement is a personal movement. It was unprecedented in human history. In 2008, we got the smartphone. But progress isn’t done. The phone in our pocket isn’t truly our phone. It belongs to Apple or the phone company. This isn’t a general purpose device. In the days of IBM, no one would tell you what you could put on your phone. Today, we have things like the app store controlling us. Docs says there are three beliefs holding businesses back:

  1. Disservice
  2. Surveillance
  3. Gimmicks

Disservice Google, Facebook and Twitter have become infrastructure for us. We live on them. But there’s an inherent problem here – the consumer and the customer are different populations. These services are accountable to their advertisers, not to their users. That’s contributing to MLOTT – money left on the table – as the sites cater to the wrong audience. This a problem that needs to be solved. Surveillance We are being followed, and it sucks. Companies believe that they can automate process to get to know us (by tracking our data) and that they’ll be able to get a complete picture of who we are. They think by collecting this data they’ll get to know us better than we know ourselves. They don’t actually want to get to know us; they just want to get a picture of who we are through the data they collect. This isn’t the same thing and it’s not fun. And surveillance is only getting worse. The Wall Street Journal has been tracking online surveillance the past few years to help users follow what’s being collected and the impact it’s having. There are also sites like Ghostery which now exist to monitor who is tracking you and let you turn it on or off. Gimmicks This is an infection that is a real problem. Doc mentioned the loyalty card craze and how it hockey stick’d in the mid-90s when the Internet came along. It was an attempt by brick and mortar businesses to hold onto their users. But it’s silly and it’s stupid. It inconveniences users and forces them to carry around lame loyalty cards. The overhead price with this is enormous. He mentions the reason so many people love Trader Joes is because they don’t do any marketing. They have one price and they never discount anything. They relate to their customers instead of gaming them. Doc wants to see more companies act like this. Markets aren’t just conversions, they’re relationships. In 2012, your browser is like a shopping cart that gets skinned with whatever site it goes to. First you’re in REI, you’re in Walmart, you’re somewhere else. Why can’t there be one shopping cart for every site. Doc talks about the idea of “confusopoly”, which is when a whole bunch of companies in the same business put up really complicated choices so you can’t make an informed decision. You get confused and just pick something. Phone plans are a great example of this. Now we have services like Ting appearing, where you only pay what you use. They’re the Trader Joes of the phone company world. Trader Joes and Ting represent the ideal. It’s where supply and demand meet each other as equals. That’s what we’re moving toward. Doc says the answer to all these issues is VRM – Vendor Relationship Management. It’s the customer side of CRM. With VRM the customer drives. It’s about giving consumers tools to help them transform the marketplace. Consumers are able to manage their relationships, set who is able to use their data and how, set their own terms of experience, etc. He encourages attendees to start working with VRM developers to make things happen. If you want to learn more about VRM, I’d recommend checking out Doc’s blog. There’s a whole category of information there.