The VRM Vector

The core of VRM, Vendor Relationship Management, is the vector of activity.

Remember vectors? Vectors are multi-dimensional, scalars one dimensional. In high school they explained it by saying velocity is a vector, it contains both the direction of travel and the magnitude. Speed, on the other hand, is a scalar. It only has the magnitude, direction isn’t included.

VRM isn’t just about magnitude, it is also about direction.

Bart Stevens, a new contributor to the VRM conversation asked this in his post VRM, APML, and Semantics.

I have been doing quite a lot or reading like JP Rangaswami post
on data portability among various sites.

1. My remark had to do with creating some sort of bank for your data. Maybe owned by the community themselves.

Secondly, I have been following the APML/data portability discussion of Chris Saad at Google Groups

2. My remark is that this is moving in the direction of VRM, we should become an active member in this group

Thirdly, I read this interesting post from Yihong Ding.

3. My remark, should we look into semantics as part of the VRM standardization exercise?

The short answer is clearly “Yes”. Semantics matter, as does the work of the data portability group. Having a better understanding of all the data on the Giant Global Graph as Sir Tim humorously calls it, is A Good ThingTM. It frees the user from Vendor data silos and provides a more comprehensive, understandable foundation for creating user-centric value. That is, it might let you do cool stuff for the user.

The more complex answer suggests a grain of salt is in order, but with appropriate care, all of the above can contribute to a VRM future.

Both APML and the GGG, formerly known as the semantic web, suffer from what I consider a misdirection in attention, despite creating real value in the world. That is, they are doing great work, but at a level that is necessarily abstracted away from where the user gets value.

Think of it like this. Consider all the advances that made biochemistry the amazing science it is today. Electrons. Protons. Molecules. Chemical reactions. Organic chemistry. Enzymes. DNA. Biological pathways. Literally dozens and dozens of Nobel prizes underpinning the concrete understanding of our world that lets us apply modern biochemistry. And that modern biochemistry is solving many of the worlds greatest problems. Absolutely brilliant, powerful, important work.

And yet, it won’t tell you a thing about what makes a person fall in love.

Or what color sweaters are going to sell well this season.

Or what the person entering a search query is really looking for.

The semantic web is based on a model that once all the data is properly interrelated, we can do smart stuff with it. That’s certainly true. That’s essentially what forensics departments do. They analyze all the data available to produce clues that can hopefully solve a crime and convict the guilty. Automating and extending that Giant Global Graph would allow an incredible level of forensic analysis to attempt to figure out how companies can create value. Such a graph would nicely align with the CRM and MIS systems of Fortune 500 companies and direct marketers and charity fundraising campaigns, right alongside the Department of Commerce, the IRS, and the CIA. There’s no doubt in my mind that the graph can be used to create value in new and amazing ways for those entities with the wherewithal to understand it and build systems to leverage it.

But it isn’t about helping individuals.

APML on the other hand has greater proximity to users, which is good. However, it still requires forensics to tease out the value. APML is a storage format for keeping track of clickstream, lifestream, and other attention data. This data is created on the user’s machine at the same time we leave our data trails around the web. Since it collects all of a user’s activity, no matter where they go, it has a much greater reach than even the new Google/Doubleclick database of user activity. And because the user owns this file, the user has the power to control how that data is used by vendors who might want to use it. On the whole, this is excellent. A classic Personal Data Store approach (minus the user-centric Identity access control, but that’s a different issue).

But what APML doesn’t do is explain what real-world value is being created for the user. Like the GGG, somebody somewhere has to do the forensics to make sense of it. Is APML just a more thorough version of the same data that Google/Doubleclick already tracks? If so, what good is that to the user? Will it mean they get more appropriate spam? Will it improve search results? Will it improve the ad banners that show up in the Doubleclick ad network? In other words, while APML certainly starts near the user, it isn’t clear if the direction of value is truly towards the user. I can clearly see how it helps advertisers and investigators, but I have yet to see a credible, compelling case for user value.

VRM, in contrast, is about starting with the user and creating value on their behalf, first. We do that specifically by focusing on commercial transactions and by enabling mutually beneficial relationships. It isn’t about moving the power from Vendors to Individuals, it is about creating new efficiencies and new value points across the ecosystem and marketplace that improve the situation for everyone.

With VRM, the value begins with the individual. The rest is implementation.

By focusing directly on the point of value for the user, I believe we can create more value, more quickly than trying a forensics approach on deeper, larger, data sets. The user is the natural point of integration for any number of services. Even many in the data portability group have shifted their language in this area. Initially Brad Fitzpatrick catalyzed the Social Network Portability movement by imagining a Global Social Graph. But many have come to realize that it isn’t the abstract, six-degrees linking everyone Global Graph that matters, its the slice of that graph that defines our own, individual social connections. What I care about is my social graph, my friends, my coworkers. That’s where the value is created.

Similarly, consider the user-centric answers to the problems above. Instead of looking at the biochemistry or forensic data,

  • Try looking at people falling in love if you want to learn about what makes a person fall in love.
  • Try looking at what color sweaters sold well last year and how other color trends are changing if you want to predict what color sweaters are going to sell well this season.
  • Try looking where other people with similar searches actually visited if you want to find out what the person making that search query is really looking for.

Start with the user. Identify the real value being created and build out from there.

The net results of the GGG and APML are definitely useful in realizing VRM. In fact, the data portability movement is huge. There are sea changes that must occur to fully realize the power of VRM, and I think the Scoble Facebook fiasco and subsequent joining of the Data Portability movement by representatives from Google, Facebook, and Plaxo makes January 2008 a watershed month for opening up the web and giving users more control over their own data.

What this means for VRM standards is that there is a lot of work going on in the real world that is all headed in the same direction, and everyone can leverage the accomplishments of the other teams. VRM isn’t going to build everything, we’re just going to put a stake in the ground on behalf of the user and start figuring out how best to create value, for users, in today’s zero-distance world.

As Doc said at Le Web3, the user is the platform of the future. VRM is about figuring out what that means, not just conceptually, but in concrete pragmatic terms so that real companies can build real technologies and services that enable new, more efficient, more flexible, and more powerful relationships between buyers and sellers. And all of that starts with the user.

The VRM Vector starts with the user, straight towards real value.

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