Doc still looks the same as when I photographed him at the Innovation Summit at Stanford seven years ago this week.
Review of ‘The Intention Economy’ by Doc Searls
Review by J.D. Lasica
In “The Intention Economy” (Harvard Business Review Press), Doc Searls picks up where he left off as co-author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” the seminal 2000 book that coined the phrase “conversations are markets” and ushered in a new understanding of how the Internet has changed the power relationship between institutions and individuals.
In his new book, Searls takes things a step further, painting a picture of what happens “when customers take charge” of this often dysfunctional relationship. Searls describes the tiny buds and sprouts of an emerging Intention Economy driven by customer demand and customer intent, an economy he believes has the potential to supplement and perhaps displace the present-day Attention Economy, where companies mine for personal data about us — sometimes with comic ineptitude — so that they can match us with products we don’t want and don’t need.
In the Attention Economy, we are consumers, calves, couch potatoes and eyeballs. Not so in the Intention Economy, where empowered customers set the agenda for releasing their own data and set the terms for engagement with “vendors” (that is, businesses).
This new movement even has a suitably geeky name, VRM, for vendor relationship management, to refer to the panoply of startups and projects that are trying to stretch capitalism in new directions
Doc, a longtime friend who wrote a positive blurb for my book “Darknet” and an alumnus fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, fills in the blanks for those of us who didn’t know such a movement existed. It even has a suitably geeky name, VRM, for vendor relationship management, to refer to the panoply of startups and projects that are trying to stretch capitalism in new directions rather than undermine it. (Doc runs ProjectVRM at Berkmann.) In this new assertion of customer power, where we shed our skins as passive consumers, we will tell businesses how they may serve us, notify the market about our intention and decide how much information about ourselves and our transactions to disclose. While specific examples are somewhat short in supply today, one gets the feeling that Doc is more interested in rallying entrepreneurs to this new approach with the entreaty, Come and build!
Along the way, Doc lays out the big picture in a way that few other writers and big thinkers can do, knowing when to zoom in and when to pull back to the 50,000-foot view. He astutely points out the cold calculations of the marketplace’s big players, like AT&T and Verizon — which are trying to define the Internet in terms of their business interests — as well as the world’s most valuable company:
“So, like Apple, Google wants to fix slow, damaged, or broken markets. But unlike Apple, Google wants to fix those markets by making them freer and more open for everybody — and therefore much larger as well. That is, to grow markets horizontally.”
Short version: If Apple can’t own something, it has no interest in nurturing it.
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