Say howdy to Insidr and Glome

One is , which is “rewriting the Rules of ” by giving you a way to “connect directly to real people who have worked in big companies and are willing to help when the company can’t or won’t.” You post a question, offer a bounty for an answer, and get an answer from an insider at the company. So far those include (copied and pasted from Insidr’s about/learn page):

I asked a question regarding , with which I’ve flown .82 million miles so far. The question had nothing to do with customer service, but rather with looking for a connection inside the airline, with whom I might talk about publishing a book of aerial photos (such as these) taken from United planes, timed to publish about the time  come into service. It’s a long shot, but a fun one.

I think Insidr qualifies as a fourth party (as described this blog post and this ProjectVRM wiki article). That is, one working primarily for the customer, rather than for the vendor. That Insidr is paid by places it on the side of customers financially, which is significant — and novel, in an age when most new Web-based businesses still look for revenue coming from sellers “targeting” customers rather than customers expressing their own intentions, in their own ways.

about Insidr. (I was given a heads-up that TechCrunch might call to get the VRM angle, but that didn’t happen.)

[Update…] I spoke with Antony Brydon, Insidr’s CEO. He made it clear that the term “Insider” is not limited to people working for the company, and in fact is refers to the collection of experts who are proximal to the company rather than inside the company — though it might include those too. He also begs our indulgence of Insidr’s learning process. They’re just getting started.

The other new VRM entry is .  ”Stop being a product” says the main copy on the index page. @glomeinc‘s Twitter page says,

Glome Inc@GlomeInc Helsinki, Finland
Media startup aiming to change the way advertisers connect with customers online. Buzzwords: VRM, User controlled data, online privacy, open API:s

The first and only tweet so far there says,

Glome Inc. is officially founded. Stay tuned for private beta invite instructions. #glomeinc #vrm #privacy #changetheworld

I tweeted back,

@GlomeInc Tell us more about your #VRMwork. DM me if you need to keep it private for now.

We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, it’s good to know that both companies fly the #VRM flag.

Here’s Zemanta‘s list of Related Articles:

Circling Around Your Wallet ProjectVRM

We're talking here about banks, insurance companies and anything called an agency, plus all the new companies coming into the personal services and personal data store businesses. These might include parties the individual doesn't pay,

Tools for Independence

So I signed up for . I added some friends from the roster already there (my Gmail contacts, I guess). Created a small circle to discuss VRM. Nothing happened there that I know of right now, but I haven’t checked yet. I’m about to (see below), but first I’ll go through my other impressions.

First, the noise level in my email already rivals that of Facebook‘s and LinkedIn’s, both of which are thick with notices of interest in friending (or whatever) from people I don’t know or barely know. On Facebook, which I hardly visit, I see that I have 145 messages from (I guess) among my 857 friends. I also have 709 friend requests. Just said okay to a couple, ignored the rest.

Second, when I look at https://plus.google.com, the look is mighty similar to Facebook’s. Expected, I guess.

Third, I see now that “circles” means streams. Kind of like lists in Twitter. I had thought that cirlces would be a discussion thing, and I guess it is. But I prefer the threading in a good email client. Or just in email. I’m so tired of doing this kind of thing in silos. Email is mine. Google+ is Google’s. In terms of location, I feel like I’m in a corporate setting in Google+, and I feel like I’m at home when I’m in email. The reason, aside from design differences, is that email is free-as-in-freedom. Its protocols are NEA: Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them, and Anybody can improve them. Not the case with these commercial Web dairy farms.

I don’t mean ‘dairy farms’ as an insult, but as a working metaphor. We are not free there. We are the equivalent of cattle on a ranch.

The problem remains client-server, which is cow-calf, and was a euphemism in the first place (I’ve been told) for slave-master.

We’ve gone about as far as we can go with that. We need freedom now, and none of these dairies can give it to us. Yet another site/service can’t work, by the nature of its server-based design. Asking Google, or Yahoo, or Microsoft, or Apple, or a typical new start-up, with yet another site-based service, to make us free, is like asking a railroad to make us a car.

Email is one kind of primitive car. Or maybe just a primitive way of getting along on the road. (It is, after all, a collection of protocols, like the Net and the Web themselves.) We need more vehicles. More tools. Instruments of independence and sovereignty, as Moxy Tongue suggests here and I riff on here.

I’m thinking more about infrastructure these days. Facebook, LInkedIn, Google+ and Twitter are all good at what they do, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient as infrastructural elements supporting personal independence and real social interaction, like the kind we’ve always had offline, and in marketplaces since the days of Ur. Right now nearly all the sites and services we call “social” are platforms for advertising. That’s their business model. Follow the money and that’s where you end up. Then start there to see where they’ll all go. (LinkedIn, to its credit is an exception here. They have a serious set of professional personal services.) Yes, a lot of good in the world gets done with ad-supported social sites and services. But they are still built on the dairy model. And everything new we do on that model will have the same problem.

There are alternatives.

Kynetx’ execution model, for example, transcends the calf-cow model, even as it works alongside it. RSS always has supported personal independence, because it’s something that gives me (or anybody) the power to syndicate — without locking anybody into some company’s dairy. There are other tools, protocols and technologies as well, but I’ll stop naming my own votes here. Add your own in the comments below.

Earth to Microsoft: Don’t sell Bing.

In the New York Times, Robert Cryan and Martin Hutchison of Reuters BreakingViews suggest that Microslft sell its Bing search engine, either outright or in exchange for stock in a company that can do more with it than rank a distant #2 to Google while piling up billions per year in losses, which is what Bing is doing for Microsoft right now.

Bing is a good search engine, but it still seems derivative. Even where it leads, it seems to follow.

Take “bird’s eye views” in map searches. That is, views from a low-flying plane, rather than a from a satellite in space. Bing had it long before Google came up with the same thing, and does a better job of integrating it. Case in point: the Rialto Mercado district of Venice, which I covered (using a Google Maps image) a couple weeks ago, when I was there:

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

Here’s the Bing bird’s eye image of the same place:

Yet who (besides me and too few others) knows that Bing’s bird’s eye views are better? (With real street names, rather than a scattering of commercial locations?) And why hasn’t Microsoft challenged Google on this and other fronts more aggressively? I think the reason is that all Microsoft’s marketing efforts are all going into revenue production with their customers, which are advertisers, rather than users.

So here’s a suggestion for Microsoft: Don’t sell Bing. Sell Bing-based services directly to users — and fight Google where they’re weak: with personal attention and support.

Do that by making customers of users. Sell premium search (and other) services, and provide hand-holding support. Hell, I’ll pay for organic searches (that is, ones where results aren’t buried under Himilayas of SEO). Ad-driven pollution of search results is Google’s biggest problem right now, whether it knows that or not (and I’m sure it does). And, for all its virtues (there are many, most of which are non-trivial), Google remains a server-based company. It isn’t personal, and probably can’t be.

For all its faults (and there are many, also non-trivial), Microsoft has always been a personal computing company. This is a huge advantage. The future, like the past, is personal. Not just “social.” (Which, in the business sense, has come to mean advertising-supported.)

People will pay for value. They always have, and they always will. As Don Marti once said, “Information doesn’t want to be free. It wants to be $6.95.” There is a market here. People saying “Everybody expects everything to be free now” only masks the opportunity. (And, while I’m no fan of iTunes, Apple proved with it that people were willing to pay more than nothing for music, if it was easy.)

Yes, keep the free search engine up, and keep providing plenty of free services. But also remember that the free that matters most to people is freedom. That’s the ultimate secret ingredient, if you really want to get personal. “Social” from the start on the Web has never been about personal freedom. It’s been full of traps: walled gardens, coerced loyalty, isolation from personal data, stalking by robot advertising slave files… The list is a long one. So sell freedom too. Help move the World Live Web evolve from the calf-cow model to the human-human one. Of course you’ll need to make your services unique. But you can also help customers in ways nobody else (at your scale, anyway) is today: by helping them collect data for themselves, so they can decide on their own what to do with it. Make personal data portable as well as personal. Join the personal data ecosystem. Be a VRM as well as a CRM company.

Sure, selling ad-free services might undermine some of Bing’s current ad-based business model, but so what? You’re already losing $billions — and it will undermine Google’s model too. (What could be more competitive? And it’s going to happen anyway.) Go back to your roots. Get personal again. As Dave Winer often says, zig where the other guys zag. So stop being derivative. Take the lead. It’s there for the taking. Nothing could be bigger. Microsoft’s biggest successes already prove that. You can prove it again.