A sense of bewronging

“Social networks” are getting out of control. And I don’t mean their control. I mean your control and mine. Here’s an image to keep in mind while you read the rest of this post:

The calf is you or me. The cow is just one of our many social networks. Here’s how the situation looks from my browser…

  • I have 840 contacts . I won’t call them friends, though some of them are. A few are relatives, but most are neither. They’re people I’ve met or had contact with, somehow, somewhere. I also have 675 “friend requests.” If you’re on that list and want to contact me, find another way, since I avoid Facebook for all but the unavoidable (such as, say, a reunion that’s being organized by relatives).
  • I have 480 contacts , most of which I know about as well as my contacts on Facebook. I also belong to one Linkedin discussion group that I haven’t figured out how to deal with yet, mostly because I prefer my discussion groups in email, where I can sort them out into boxes of my own making. I see that Linkedin now also has updates on the Twitter model (and via Twitter). I see why they do it, but I don’t need it.
  • I have 212 contacts on Flickr (plus more through three other accounts). I don’t know and don’t follow most of those contacts, because to me Flickr is is for sharing photos with the world in organized ways. While I appreciate the groups there, I’ve organized none, and when my photos show up in some, it’s always because other people — most of which I don’t know — have put them there. I also know few if any of the people who have put more than 200 of my photos on Wikimedia Commons, a gallery of photos eligible for inclusion in Wikipedia articles. (And, in fact, most of my shots in the Commons are also in Wikipedia.) Again, this is not a social effect. Also note that in the Wikipedia case that there isn’t a business model anywhere in sight (aside from the $50/year I gladly pay for my two “pro” Flickr accounts).
  • I follow 1352 entities (most are people, some are companies or organizations) , and am followed by 13,096 others. I am sure most of us, whoever (and whatever) we are, don’t know each other. I use Twitter to find and share interesting stuff in short postings. This may be “social,” but only in a very loose sense.
  • I don’t know how many “friends” or contacts I have on Google, because I can’t find a number, or a list. My iGoogle page (which I view in just one of the four browsers I use) lists eight alphabetically before it runs out out of space at the letter N. I don’t know how to scroll down to see the rest, and I’m not much interested in trying. In any case the number is a tiny subset of lists elsewhere. For what it’s worth, I use Google’s services for many different things (docs, self-organized groups, mail de-spamming), but “social” stuff is not among them.
  • The address book on my computer lists 1162 cards, including a growing number of dead people, dead companies, and dead numbers from live companies. Yesterday I weeded the number of Verizon contact numbers down from six to one.
  • My main chat client, which spans four different contact lists and accounts (AIM-iChat, Google, Linux Journal and the Berkman Center), currently shows 35 available. I don’t know what the total number of contacts there is. Several hundred, I guess.
  • My other chat account, Skype, doesn’t integrate with those in the last paragraph and doesn’t give me a count of people online and off. I’m guessing I have about fifty contacts there.

The job of integrating all of these is mine, and I don’t bother, because the tools for doing that don’t yet exist — at least not in sufficient maturity for me to contemplate using them. Thus I am not yet what calls the point of integration for my own data. In fact I can’t be, because most of the data in these “social networks” is not mine. Functionally (if not also legally), it’s theirs. And I’m just a calf for each of them.

Of course, all these companies want to help me do everything, by leveraging the “social” data they have about me. Mostly they give me advertising that doesn’t help, but sometimes they just try to improve their meat and potatoes with “social” gravy. The latest example is Google, with “” recommendations. These augment Google’s third improvement to , through a button “to publicly give something your stamp of approval.” The idea: “Your +1’s can help friends, contacts, and others on the web find the best stuff when they search,” because “sometimes it’s easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when someone you know already found it.”

Why does Google think we want to “find the best stuff” all the time — as if all we do is shop, or something like it? Sure, they make their money with advertising, but I think the real reason is that they can’t resist the temptation to route “social” signals into everything else. Hey, it’s what the other kids are doing.

Since so much of what those kids do is invisible to us, they try to get away with all kinds of stuff. For more on what they’re doing, read The Wall Street Journal‘s What They Know series (http://wsj.com/wtk), and Joe Andrieu’s ISharedWhat Facebook login simulation site, which shows you how much personal data — yours and your friends’ — might get spilled every time you click on one of these:

They get away with it because the calf-cow system allows it. Also because the World Wide Ranch is getting really freaking huge. By some counts there are more than a billion commercial sites on the Web. Just by the sheer numbers involved, the default assumption is that most searches have commercial purposes. That’s what you’re likely to find in any case.

It’s interesting that non-advertising search results are now called “organic,” as if they were some kind of marginalized exception, of interest only to to a few obsessive purists.

Says Wikipedia, “Organic search results are listings on search engine results pages that appear because of their relevance to the search terms, as opposed to their being advertisements. In contrast, non-organic search results may include pay per click advertising.” How quaint and retro, to think that some search results should simply be relevant to search terms, without commercial prejudice by the search engine.

In respect to Google’s recent search improvements, I submit that organic searches are still what people want most, and that “social” help is marginal at best and distracting at worst.

Take yesterday morning, when I was wondering what accounts for ground conductivity. This was, admittedly, an idle distraction of the sort I wrote about later in the day, in World Wide Puddle. I mean, I didn’t really need to know what accounts for ground conductivity, especially since it’s a question I’ve had for about fifty years, and I haven’t suffered for lack of an answer. But search engines are here for a reason, so I looked again.

Google says it finds more than six million results in a search for “ground conductivity”. The top result is the FCC’s M3 maps page, which I’d expect. These maps explain why, for example, , a 5000-watt radio station on 570am in Yankton, South Dakota, has a signal that reaches from Canada to Oklahoma, while WWNC, a station on the same channel in Asheville, North Carolina, operating with the same power, covers an area only a fraction the size of WNAX’s. For a broadcast engineering junkie like me, this is catnip, but it doesn’t explain why ground conductivity varies from one region to another. I mean, why does flat ground in Long Island have almost no ground conductivity (0.5 mhos/meter) while equally flat ground around Dallas has very high ground conductivity (30 mhos/meter). Why do mountains in New England have low conductivity (2-4 mhos/meter) while mountains in coastal California have high conductivity (8-30 mhos/meter)? The M3 maps don’t say.

In the second result, Wikipedia saysGround conductivity refers to the electrical conductivity of the subsurface of the earth.” But that’s about it.

The third result, from Tom K1JJ, tells how to measure ground conductivity, but doesn’t explain the cause.

Next is a Facebook page on the subject, with a write-up lifted straight out of Wikipedia. It is recommended to me, with thumbs up, by two people I know: a nephew of mine and a fellow broadcast engineering obsessive. There is no discussion, and the page says “0 people like this”.

Two decades ago, when Compuserve hosted a large variety of excellent forums, I belonged to a broadcast engineering social network of sorts (though few of us met in real life). But today I don’t have one, even on Facebook — and the rest of my many “social networks” are no help with searches like this one.

Hmm… I just thought, “maybe Quora could provide some help. I just went there in the browser where Quora’s cookies for me are parked. It still wants me to log in, and a minute has passed while the progress thing on the bottom of the page says “Waiting for Facebook.” Okay, I’m there now, and I just put up the question, “What causes ground conductivity?”. According to Quora, I have “981 Followers, 485 Followingand “6 @Mentions” there. Will one or more of them get me an answer? Interesting experiment. We’ll see.

Whatever happens on Quora, I have no faith that my searches on Google will be improved by anybody’s “+1,” any more than my searches have been improved by “social” whatever. Here’s why: usually I’m looking for something very specific. And often what I’m looking for is not for sale.

In most cases I use Google and Bing the way I use a dictionary: to look something up. I don’t need a “recommendation” when I just want to know how to spell “mocassin”. Stand back, everybody. I think the dictionary should have it. Thank you.

I learned about Google’s “+1” feature only this morning, on Sheila Lennon’s blog. There she quotes the same Google post about “+1”:

So how do we know which +1’s to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible. If you want to know who you’re connected to, and how, visit the “Social Circle and Content” section of the Google Dashboard.

To get started +1’ing the stuff you like, you’ll need to create a Google profile—or if you already have one, upgrade it. You can use your profile to see all of your +1’s in one place, and delete those you no longer want to recommend. To see +1’s in your Google search results you’ll need to be logged into your Google Account.

I just clicked on the Google Dashboard link, and found I had to log in, even though I was already logged in on a different tab in the same browser. This got me into my Google Accounts page, which has a LOT of information in a lot of contexts — all provided by Google. At the top is Gmail. Slightly edited (for the privacy of others), and with links removed, it says,

Inbox 5000 conversations
Most recent: [18] new discussions, [15] new comments… at 9:22 AM
All mail 5000 conversations
Most recent: [18] new discussions, [15] new comments… at 9:22 AM
Sent mail 70 conversations
Most recent: ____ on Mar 31, 2011
Saved drafts 46 conversations
Most recent: progress & title on Mar 9, 2011
Chat history 60 conversations
Most recent: Chat with __________ on Mar 11, 2011
Spam 17000 conversations
Most recent: Copy of a Gucci watch is what you need … at 9:40 AMTrash 60 conversationsMost recent: Re: Sharing my TEDx Talk: The Unclear Path at 11:01 PM

First, I almost never go to Gmail in a browser. In fact, few people know my actual Gmail address (which is silly and has nothing to do with my real name). All mail to me at Searls.com gets routed to my Gmail account, which I use to filter out spam. I then pick up mail there from my IMAP account, which keeps copies at the server, or “in the cloud” as we now like to say.

Second, what makes Spam or Trash “conversations”? I’ll go to my grave being known as the main guy responsible for the “markets are conversations” meme, but usage like this makes me regret it.

Following Gmail on my Accounts page are:

  • Google Video (nothing uploaded)
  • Groups (33 total, mostly inactive, and not including two I just killed off)
  • Health (1 profile, which I gave up filling out long ago)
  • iGoogle (14 gadgets, 1 tab)
  • Latitude (disabled, because I like not being tracked)
  • Product search (shopping list has two items: the most recent of which reads “Most recent: Canon EOS 30D on May 27, 2006″ — a camera I bought long ago)
  • Profile (16 “about me” items, most of which I have kept vague)
  • Reader (36 subscriptions, following 11)
  • Sidewiki (no entries)
  • Sites (1 “shared with me” that I don’t know)
  • Social Circle and Content (which says,
    Direct connections from Google chat and contacts 4 connections with content; Direct connections from links listed on your Google profile 200 connections with content; Secondary connections 1788 connections with content; and Social content 3 links — and I have no idea wtf that all means)
  • Talk (23 contacts, which settles a guess I made above)
  • Web history (most recent for Web, Images, News, Products, Video, Maps, Blogs and Books — but only with this one browser, on this one laptop)
  • YouTube (a profile, plus a paucity of stuff under uploads, history, favorites, subscription, contacts and personal messages)
  • Other products (“11 additional products are not yet available in this dashboard – Show all”)

So I just spent twenty minutes weeding through and cleaning up all that stuff. I could spend similar sums of time doing the same on Linkedin, Flickr and other services. But I would rather have my own way of keeping personal information straight with myself, and sharing it selectively and when I felt like it. That’s what VRM development going on in the Personal Data Ecosystem is about. I won’t go into all the projects, but the idea they share is that each of us, as sovereign individuals, are (as Joe says) the best points of integration for our own data. None of these social sites, no matter how well-intended they may be, can do the job, simply because nothing, and nobody, can be personal for me on my behalf. If puppets are involved, they need to be mine. Not the reverse.

At the Kynetx Impact conference two weeks ago (where much fun was had), gave an interesting talk that summarized what he said last November, in a post perfectly titled
The Third Wave of the Web Will Be Uniquely Personal. He writes about three waves. The first is “information and access” — roughly what I’ve called the “static Web.” The seond is “social.” That’s the stage we’re getting fed up with now. The third is personal:

Now that the world’s information is posted, linked, indexed and searchable, and friends are connecting, sharing, liking, and following, the quest is on to streamline the noise and give the Web another dimension – one not measured by the data, or who led you to the data, but you as an individual. The third wave of the Web, I believe, is going to be about personalization by individual based on that individual’s preferences – explicitly stated or otherwise.

The declaration of the next wave of the Web being personal is not shared universally, of course. Some say the next wave is all about mobile. Others may say the next wave is all about location. But the right approach to ‘personal’ absolutely encompasses each of these things. With our smartphones and tablets being increasingly powerful, they are practically an extension of us, and we are relying on them to discover relevant things, content, places and products for us as individuals. Similarly, our location is an ingredient of who we are – for where we are impacts our decisions, and what tips are relevant, be it for news, for restaurants, lodging, dating or anything else. So “personal” as an individual is both local and mobile.

Excellent. I especially like how smartphones and tablets are extensions of ourselves in the world. (A little more about that here.) Then he adds,

Personal As In Me.

A lot of services say they are “personal”, when in fact, most of what they do is actually social.

These services may leverage your social graph to provide personalized recommendations based on what friends or other people similar to you may like – much like television shows group people of similar demographics to guess what commercials are best suited for which episodes in which time slots. The hope may be that the more your friends like something, the more likely you are to click it or buy it. Peer pressure, you know. Meanwhile, other services say they are personal because you have specifically provided them with information about you and what you like, which goes partway to discovering your interests, but is incomplete, and possibly inaccurate, as you may want to indicate that you are something that you are not, or you may have overlooked some of your own interests in the name of rapid completion.

Beyond these initial attempts is a new wave of companies trying to crack the code of the real you. Of course, my6sense is one of those companies. Our goal is to deliver a personalized experience in all possible aspects of your life, finding the right information for you at the right time in the right context, based on you as an individual. But we are not alone. Take, for example, Hunch.com, which is talking about personalizing the Internet, and says they can build a taste profile for you, based on your own unique interests and tastes. Also, in October, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch previewed Gravity, founded by former MySpace executives. In that piece, which he headlined as “The Personalization War”, he said “I saw my own Interest Graph based only on my Facebook and Twitter streams over the last several months and it’s scary-accurate.”

Louis doesn’t go off the personal rails here. He just doesn’t quite get on, staying instead on the corporate ones:

Gravity says they will help “The right information find you. Hunch says it “Personalizes the Internet”. You’ve heard me talk about my6sense for some time – discovering your “Digital intuition”. Besides the crazy folks like us who are thinking about this constantly, there are other smart companies on the case. Start with personal recommendations from TiVo, Amazon and Netflix. Look at Google Reader Magic and Google’s Priority Inbox for Gmail. Look also at LinkedIn’s purchase of Mspoke for personal recommendations and Facebook’s splitting of the Most Recent feed and that of the News Feed.
Which makes sense: My6sense is his company. Then finally,
The continuing rapid growth of information creation and sharing, combined with pervasive connectivity, increased capability of smartphones and other mobile devices and the growth of location is all pointing us into a direction where the services on the other end have more potential to know you than those of years past, and you have the ability to be inspired by the right information in the right place more than ever before. This is a wave, one that benefits from all these mega-changes in the Web, that small companies and big ones alike are seeing. Maybe there’s another big winner in there, just like there was in the last two. Regardless, the direction is clear. Show me my Web for me.

Sorry, but no. My Web is not their Web. I’m tired of being shown. I’m tired of “experiences” that are “delivered” to me. I’m tired of bad guesswork — or any guesswork. I don’t want “scarily accurate” guesses about me and what I might want.

What I crave is independence, and better ways of engaging — ones that are mine and not just theirs. Ones that work across multiple services in consistent ways. Ones that let me change my data with all these services at once, if I want to.

I want liberation from the commercial Web’s two-decade old design flaws. I don’t care how much a company uses first person possessive pronouns on my behalf. They are not me, they do now know me, and I do not want them pretending to be me, or shoving their tentacles into my pockets, or what their robots think is my brain. Enough, already.

I spoke at Kynetx Impact the night before Louis’ talk. The visuals are on Slideshare. Here is slide 25, which illustrates the problem with the commercial Web’s long-defaulted client-server design:

Wikipedia says, “The client–server model of computing is a distributed application structure that partitions tasks or workloads between the providers of a resource or service, called servers, and service requesters, called clients.”

So, while the Net itself has an end-to-end design, in which all the ends are essentially peers, the Web (technically an application on the Net) has a submisive-dominant design in which clients submit to servers. It’s a calf-cow model. As calves, we request pages and other files from servers, usually getting cookie ingredients mixed in, so the cow can remember where we were the last time we suckled, and also give us better services. Especially advertising.

We have no choice but to agree with this system, if we want to be part of it. And, since the cows provide all the context for everything we do with them, we have onerous “agreements” in name only, such as what you see on your iPhone every time Apple makes a change to their store:

Legal folks call these “contracts of adhesion.” Sez the Free Dictionary,

A type of contract, a legally binding agreement between two parties to do a certain thing, in which one side has all the bargaining power and uses it to write the contract primarily to his or her advantage.

An example of an adhesion contract is a standardized contract form that offers goods or services to consumers on essentially a “take it or leave it” basis without giving consumers realistic opportunities to negotiate terms that would benefit their interests. When this occurs, the consumer cannot obtain the desired product or service unless he or she acquiesces to the form contract.

Here’s the thing: client-server’s calf-cow model requires this kind of thing, because the system is designed so the server-cows are in complete control. You are not free. You are captive, and dependent.

This system has substantiated a business belief that has been around ever since Industry won the industrial revolution: that a captive customer is more valuable than a free one. We’ve built systems that tendentiously affirm that belief, and the commercial Web is chief among those systems today. Correspondingly, on the customer side, we actually believe that a free market is your choice of captor. Even champions of the free market, such as The Wall Street Journal, seem to think this is okay. (Or they wouldn’t keep talking about how telecom giants — occupants of a regulatory zoo they all but own and control — comprise the “free market” at work.)

If the next wave is personal, then we have to bring our own contexts.

Think for a moment about the context of renting a wheelbarrow. If you sign an agreement for that, it’s only to put up a deposit, pay a certain amount, assume liability for whatever harms you might cause with it, and return the thing in good condition. That’s about it.

Or think about what happens when you walk into a shoe store. You don’t have to sign a damn thing. (If you’re lucky, the store won’t require that you belong to their “loyalty” program just to get a “discount” that’s nothing more than a normal price, rather than a higher price they charge to punish non-“members”.) Your context is shopping for shoes. Laws apply, of course. You aren’t allowed to steal things or act in a disturbing way. But nobody stands at the door telling you to stop and sign an agreement — least of all one with clauses (which nearly all adhesive contracts have) saying they have the right to change the terms, and they can do that whenever they please.

We won’t get rid of calf-cow systems, nor should we. They work, but they have their limits, and those become more apparent with every new calf-cow service we join. But we can work around these things, and supplement them with other systems that give us equal power on equal footings, including the ability to proffer our own terms, express our own preferences and policies, and make independent choices.

Louis Gray’s personal wave is for real, and it’s just starting. It’s also what we’ve been building through the last four years with . And it’s starting to catch on. The number and variety of VRM development projects has grown a lot lately, as has the activity level as well.

Naturally, VRM has attracted the interest of major players on the sell side of the marketplace. A month ago I spoke on stage with on stage at the Internet Advertising Bureau conference. (John’s insightful post about “digital plumage” ran in the same timeframe.) Next week I’ll speak at in San Francisco and to a meeting with and in Minneapolis. It’ll be fun.

The message I’m bringing is not about how these companies can improve the cow systems everybody has done so much to build and improve already. It’s about how buyers and sellers are no longer just cattle, and how we now need to prove something we’ve known all along: that free customers are more valuable than captive ones.

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41 Responses to A sense of bewronging

  1. Hanan Cohen says:

    Dave Winer say that we are hamsters.


    You say we are calves.

    I say that we are the suppliers and the companies are our clients.


    p.s. while searching for an answer to your ground conductivity question, I have found something you posted on March 1995 in rec.radio.broadcasting


  2. Doc Searls says:

    Hey, Hanan.

    We’re all correct, of course. 🙂

    Haunting to read that thing I wrote about KFI’s tower in 1995. It was knocked down by an airplane (two older people, off course in a small plane, both killed) in 2004: http://www.oldradio.com/archives/warstories/640.htm .

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  5. Ric says:

    Doc – just as a matter of interest, what Google considers to be your “social circle” can be found at http://www.google.com/s2/search/social#socialcircle when you are logged in. It seems to be a very comprehensive data aggregation (good or bad, depending on your viewpoint) and is currently under-utilised by Google, a situation almost certain to change soon (“+1” being something of an indication of Google’s intentions for “social”)

  6. sally says:

    If you imagine all your contacts interacting (which some of them are) and having their own networks (which all or most of them do) then you might be interested in our paper, “The Cultural Impact of Mixed, Dual, and Blended Reality.” In it, we introduce the concept of PolySocial Reality (PoSR), multiple rapidly compounded realities. Its a problem, no doubt.


  7. danny says:

    Hey, you say tools for integrating your all your contacts and social stuff don’t exist, but my HTC desire hd let’s me do this, in fact its brilliant at it, the auto complete for addresses and numbers is merged from all of my sources including my official work address server.

  8. Doc,

    a few questions/comments:

    Wouldn’t integration of all your disparate social network accounts mean that you’d lose freedom and independence? I keep separate accounts not for privacy or lack of integration, but for intended segregation for dedicated purposes.

    You mention that you have too many contacts in too many different accounts. Isn’t your frustration caused more by the empty promise of the social web instead of your multiple contacts? You used to have a great resource with the Compuserve network, and one would think “more is more” but the social web doesn’t exactly come to the rescue when we need specific, “one-off” bits of information like your ground conductivity answer.

    The next generation doesn’t seem to burdened by owning many large networks on different platforms. They are masters at making groups with differing privacy levels. Also, I suspect, they will learn how to navigate the current clumsy search engines in order to find the obscure webpage they need.

    The “scarily accurate” results are just a drop in the bucket. The AI that is coming down the pike will show us truly how hard it will be to delineate between calf and cow.

    -Christine Cavalier

  9. Doc Searls says:

    Christine, social networks are already integrated, or integrate-able, just by sloshing data from one to the other over APIs. This is what Google’s “social search” is about, and what happens when your tweets on Twitter show up in Facebook and Linkedin. This is cow-cow integration. It’s not the individual user saying “I’m not just a calf, and I have my own tools for integrating my own data, and sharing that data with trusted other parties in ways that I control.”

    The issue is less the “empty promise of the social web” than the inherent limitations of the calf-cow model that the whole commercial Web has relied on since the invention of the cookie in 1995. In that model the site owner bears full responsibility for relationships with users. They make the rules, hold the data, provide the cookies, and manage the whole thing. You only manage them to the extent their rules allow — and they can change those rules any time they please. This model won’t go away, but it needs to work together with other models that will make client-server more than cow-calf.

    The issue today isn’t one generation’s adaptation to a broken system, but the need for all generations to move past a status that is way too quo.

    As for the “AI that is coming down the pike,” it will fail if it royally creeps people out. And they are headed aggressively in the full-creepy direction. Today online advertisers, and advertising-supported sites, are slow-boiling their users like frogs. But we are not frogs, or cattle, even if we’re used to being treated that way. As Cluetrain said twelve years ago, we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

    Our reach still doesn’t exceed the cows’ grasp. But it will. For more on that, see Umair Haque’s latest post. The revolt has already started.

    Cow power is a bubble. And, in fact, no company wants just to be a cow, or a master to slaves they “acquire,” “capture,” “own” and “lock in.” They want real customers, not just consumers. The difference is one between species. And the human is the one that will win out.

  10. Jonathan May says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the point of the “user” actually being more a supplier. I wrote a fairly company-specific article suggesting remedies on a micro-scale for XMOS – one of the UK’s fast-growing chip startups:


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  12. Jesse says:

    I had to comment on the pictures you are using, very funny! I agree with you in the area of social media getting out of hand. Good thorough post.

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  14. Pingback: “Social networks” are getting out of “your” control « MyContactID

  15. “The message I’m bringing is not about how these companies can improve the cow systems everybody has done so much to build and improve already. It’s about how buyers and sellers are no longer just cattle, and how we now need to prove something we’ve known all along: that free customers are more valuable than captive ones.”

    I always thought the message was more like “one volunteer is worth ten conscripts” – so here’s how to get the cattle to want to *give* you the milk.

    Look, why are those companies going to listen to you if they don’t think they’re going to make money off it? That seems pretty obvious. It’d be nice if they were going to be dedicated to making money while respecting our individual and special uniqueness. But you keep acting like you’re surprised when that’s not quite how it turns out.

  16. Doc Searls says:

    Seth, the “one volunteer…” message is a fine one, in retail as well as military contexts. I’m saying it’s not the only idea.

    Of course I hope companies make money from free (as in freedom) customers, and in a connected environment where all parties are less shackled than they are in the calf-cow one that client-server has become on the commercial Web.

    I’m meeting with Best Buy and General Mills tomorrow. From what I gather so far, they’re very interested in what I’ve been talking about, and working on, along with a lot of other people in the VRM development community.

    And how do I “keep acting surprised”? fwiw, I don’t think things have “turned out” either. Business is always at a stage on the way to another stage. What I’m doing with posts like this is sharing my understanding of where we are now, and working toward something better in coming stages. Doesn’t mean I’m right, or that things will turn out the way I want; but I think it’s worth trying, so I do.

  17. Pingback: Take control of your contact information « MyContactID

  18. Maybe “surprised” is not quite the right word. But there seemed to me a certain emotion (rueful? melancholy?) in passages like:

    “Second, what makes Spam or Trash “conversations”? I’ll go to my grave being known as the main guy responsible for the “markets are conversations” meme, but usage like this makes me regret it.”

    “Sorry, but no. My Web is not their Web. I’m tired of being shown. I’m tired of “experiences” that are “delivered” to me. I’m tired of bad guesswork — or any guesswork. I don’t want “scarily accurate” guesses about me and what I might want.”

    “I want liberation from the commercial Web’s two-decade old design flaws. I don’t care how much a company uses first person possessive pronouns on my behalf. They are not me, they do now know me, and I do not want them pretending to be me, or shoving their tentacles into my pockets, or what their robots think is my brain. Enough, already.”

    You major fame rests on (my phrasing!) conflating the commercial sphere with the social sphere – that’s the vulgar (in the sense of crude) meaning taken from markets-are-conversations. Maybe you didn’t mean it that way, I suppose you’ll say. However, you write stuff like the above that strikes me as protesting against the most obvious and immediate consequence of it. And then when I ask why the same process won’t happen with the further project – as it seems pretty easy to see it going down the exact same path – well, maybe I’m just prattling on about things I should know just show my unsophistication.

  19. Doc Searls says:

    Sure those quotes have a rueful tint. I’m trying to change some things. While they stand, so does the rue.

    And you’re right that “markets are conversations” conflates the commercial and the social. Markets are social places. See what we wrote in the chapter by that title. Markets, in the original and literal sense, were places people went to make culture and do business. We felt that all the other more modern meanings of market — demographics, regions, categories, appetites, etc. — obscured and corrupted the original meaning. I could go on, but I need to meet with a couple of companies that seem just as rueful as I am about what became of business in the Industrial Age, and as optimistic about changing it.

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  24. Insightful and well stated.

    Some people prefer backpacking (a wilderness experience) and some people prefer to go to a resort (a curated experience). Preferences will vary across time and across individuals.

    If you drop a pop up ad in front of me when I’m trying to go backpacking, you’re just going to piss me off.

  25. Marc Canter says:

    Hey dude

    Been busy doing small acts in a town which needs help. Here they still think SEO is marketing and that ANY job (typically working for an ERM SW company or metal bending or grinding entity) is better than nothing at all.

    We’ve got to capture the energy and insights of “the Haves” and get them to help “the Have Nots.”

    So yes – I’m helping folks get integrated with Facebook – not because I want them locked in, but because if they can learn on-line job skills – they might be able to feed their families.

    Meanwhile – eventually – I believe that Google +1 can be our “open Lego board” – we’ve always dreamed of. certainly if Google had any sense, and all those employees want their X-Mas ’11 bonuses – then they’ll help US mesh into THEM.


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  28. Doc thanks for this post – long-time fan here.
    Wasn’t there a big context-change for the web soon after it was opened for commercial use? I recall when reading TBL’s proposal (after the fact, admittedly … it was about 1992 for me) that the assumption was most folks in that community would have read/write access to the http layer … the original browser was also a publishing tool. Alas, it made more sense for the browser/publisher not to also be the server daemon … but it was probably a nominal distinction back then (?)
    I’ve always felt the web has a certain DNA that is geared for peer-to-peer, at least in spirit … but maybe that’s just a romantic notion on my part?

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  30. Brett Glass says:

    I’m not sure that the “cow and calf” metaphor entirely fits, but one thing’s clear: “social networking” is, for the most part, bull.

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  35. opendna says:

    “Usually I’m looking for something very specific, and often what I’m looking for is not for sale.”

    +1 (heh)

    I miss the early (“static”) web because search engines actually found information, instead of linkbait, splogs and tangentially relevant retailers. The web was smaller, so it may not have had the answers, but you had a fighting chance because opinion was largely relegated to USENET. Not so much today. Wikipedia is proof that the social web can drown information in a crap-flood: we really need it, and we really shouldn’t.

  36. Great post. +1, LIKE, and all that other hullabaloo 😉

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  39. An absolutely brilliant post, sir. This issue seems to be keeping me up at night, much more often. The whole effort out there to “personalize” my web experience, tinged with commerce, makes me feel that someone is looking over my shoulder. In a world full of people that know so much, why would I want to constantly rely on those who are my “+1” crowd? And yes, I still have an actual dictionary on my desk. Totally old school.

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