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We’re not consumers anymore. The majority of us are producing ideas, sharing photos, thoughts, comments. Because we have become producers, we have much more power than we ever had. The industrial-age power structure of companies(Coke) buying white spaces/time on properties of producers (Time Warner) is rapidly disintegrating and being replaced by a new economic ecosystem of collaboration and co-creation. The challenge for most companies: How do we value this new ecosystem appropriately?

It’s easy to put a price tag on a transaction – You make something of value, I buy it and give you something (most likely money) in return. That’s the idea behind exchanges and the industrial age. It’s measurable. It’s efficient. But, there’s something else taking place: The relationship economy, aka The Karma economy). If I help a friend finding a new job, I don’t expect anything in return. When I love my kid and try to create the best life possible, I don’t expect anything in return. When I smile at a stranger on the street, I don’t hope for an exchange of emotions. I just want to be generous for the sake of being generous.

At its core, the Web is generous. ┬áThat’s why it’s so disturbing (or better: infuriating) that a company like Facebook, relying on the generosity of its users, develops monetization solution based on exchanges. A relationship economy brand tries to get rich based on monetary exchanges: In exchange for the user data, produced through the generosity of its users, brands pay Facebook to target users with more relevant messages. A total disconnect if I’ve ever seen one.

All this talk about Facebook being the Internet is just silly and there are warning signs that Facebook might be facing a groundswell of deletions very soon. The Internet landscape is littered with ruins and pitiful remains of companies that believed to be the Internet and Facebook will suffer the same fate. As they should.

Given the generous nature of the Web, people were willing to share data points with the world and didn’t expect anything in return. Sure, a badge from Foursquare is nice. That only works as long as all stakeholders are generous and understand this as a relationship, not an exchange. Users are beginning to understand that most brands just use their data to deliver commercial messages and pay a lot of money to get access to that data. Leaving the user with a shiny badge on his iPhone and data mining companies with impressive balance sheets.

better mistakes

Some look at Congress to legislate behavioral targeting and ease privacy concerns. Others hope the industry will self-regulate itself. I wouldn’t bet a dime on these initiatives. But I bet the house on the creativity and originality of people engaging on the Web. Privacy was always about control: We don’t mind sharing our personal lives and thoughts, but we want to control how, where and with whom. A privacy failure is always a control failure.

So far, our privacy options are limited to the options platforms give us (and how easy they can be located). The exploitation of by corporations leveraging asymmetric power to relinquish control of our data will lead to the obvious question: How can I control my own data, monetize it myself? Why should companies control my relationship with them? Shouldn’t I control the relationship?

People want to share their data and information on their terms. Yes, we want to engage with brands and give away our data to create innovative things. On our terms. When I’m in the market for a car, I would love to hear from brands that can customize offers based on my preferences. And when I made the purchase, I don’t want to hear from the again. Until I’m in the market again. I don’t mind hearing from a local restaurant about their lunch specials between 11.30 and 12.30 when I showed intention that I’m ready to head out to lunch. But don’t bug me before/after or in case I packed leftovers from yesterday.

Project VRM (VRM = Vendor Relationship Management) is still in its early stages and we haven’t see any real-life implementations at scale of this thought model. But, that’s where the future lies: Let me control my relationship with brands. Develop meaningful control systems that are easy to use and give way to a new ecosystem of collaboration and co-creation. The future is about a personal datastore, an aggregation of all relationships with people, platforms and brands. Completely controlled by the individual. Limiting the noise emitted by irrelevant advertising, spam and other commercial messages. Shaping the information flow and stream to receive communications when we want it, about things we desire. Ultimately, leading to a restoration of balance in the relationship between people and brands.