Shifting the powers back to customers, Lunch with the Doc at Harvard’s Berkman center

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(Doc Searls, on the steps of Harvard’s Yellow Berkman Center)

I’m in Boston still, getting trained at HQ, Doc Searls is also in the area, as he’s working at Harvard, I stopped by for lunch and learned a few things, now to share with you all.

Doc Searls, co-author of Cluetrain manifesto, was a CA native, who recently moved to Boston, to work at Harvard’s Berkman center, for Internet & Society. During lunch we discussed the “Alpha Paramecium” syndrome that’s happening with many of the top tech bloggers, and how they’re jockeying for top placings in Technorati and Techmeme (the petri dish). In the past, I was guilty of this too, but it’s sad to see that there are some bloggers that just echo whatever else someone else is saying without adding much additional value, I mean, how many viewpoints do we need on a single rumor?

Looking back at the influential Cluetrain, I’m not surprised that Doc’s focusing his energy at the Berkman center, he’s working on a few projects that are shifting the power from institutions (like companies or health care systems) over to the people, where ownership of personal information would be better served.

One such example, the Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) where Doc gave me a real world example where he had to seek medical care and the multiple vendors involved requiring multiple inputs of his personal information. Applying it back to our lives, how many times do we have to fill out forms to register for websites a year? We certainly have a problem with data inconsistency due to multiple registrations.

Other radical ideas involve buyers/consumers anonymously signaling to the market they want a product, and vendors would then bid for the business, the result? No need for marketing and advertising, if the Intention Economy deployed correctly:

“In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that.

The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just “branded” by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or “capturing”) buyers.”

I’ve given this some additional thought, and there’s a few questions that have to be answered:

Are consumers ready to take control of their decision making process, or do we still need the marketers to tell us what to buy?

Movements like these must come from the customers first, are they sophisticated enough to lead these? If so, institutions would only then follow.

Sadly, I question if the average consumer has the knowledge, or cares enough to lead the bottom up revolution, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying, it’s just that we should evaluate the challenges up front.

Picture 226The many authors at the Berkman CenterPicture 227Picture 222

  • I love Doc’s thinking on the Intention Economy, but have always thought it completely impractical. It seems to work (somewhat) in silos like LendingTree.com, but in the wild it seems overwhelming and unstructured.

    I believe the real challenge is how to address information overload, call it the “Filtered Economy.” It’s similar in some ways to Doc’s idea, but it requires companies to better anticipate what their customers might want and provide it to them in real time as they search for it.

    I have to think about this a bit more, but I will post it and link back to this article when I am done.

    Thanks for provoking my thoughts and bringing me back to this issue.

  • Re VRM: I see it as an evolution, rather than an overnight phenomenon. As tools are made available that can provide value to people, they will gradually adopt those that are of value. Step by step people can take control. Those tools will need to address the challenges you raise, and yes, there will be some who prefer to continue to be bombarded. Its all about choice.