David Tebbutt, Teblog

One of the most challenging, charming, intelligent and irritating people I’ve ever met is one Adriana Lukas. She was a leading blogger in 2001, long before most people had ever heard of blogging. She understood the ramifications of social software before we knew that there were any ramifications. That would be at the end of 2002. She really was a classic voice in the wilderness and, through speaking engagements, massive amounts of networking and, in my case, arduous discussions, she brought many people to an understanding of the potential of social computing.

Now, she’s mounted her charger again and her lance is firmly tilted at people’s control of their personal data. In classic Lukas fashion, she’s looked askance at the accepted ways of doing things and asked ’why?’ Incremental developments creep up on us and we don’t realise that the status quo is possibly not where we’d be had we realised the implications of each micro-step.

In this particular case, we’re talking about the data that other people hold about us. Banks, social software sites, wine merchants, anyone, in fact, with whom we have dealings. Adriana’s view is that we should be in charge of our personal information and reveal appropriate parts when it suits us. Thus, a bank might be given permission to check our address. This would be done through a standard feed mechanism (probably Atom) and the bank would be given an access key. It could poll the address whenever it felt like it. And, if it were a new account, the bank would be given the key and all the relevant pieces of information could be picked up, without the individual having to do yards of typing. At the end of the relationship, the ties can be cut and potentially valuable new personal information put beyond reach.

A wine buff might decide to expose their drinking habits and wine-tasting findings to the local wine merchant. Same thing. Merchant subscribes and, in the gift of the information owner, gets a glimpse into their client’s life. Some people might mix their feeds (no pun intended) and others might feel more secure with separate feeds for separate ’friends’. Some might want to encrypt information. Providing the standards chosen are those which are acceptable to the accessing party then this is possible too.

This is an inversion of the relationships we have come to expect. It makes the supplier the supplicant. It puts the buyer in charge. Or, if we’re talking government and civil service scenarios, it makes them the servants and the citizens the masters, which is as it should be.

This is all part of the vision of Project VRM. And, yes, this stands for Vendor Relationship Management, a deliberate inversion of the Customer Relationship Management term which, of course, is nothing of the sort. While born from the same roots and overlapping to a large extent, you will notice that Adriana’s take on it is totally individual-centric, while the American-led version is more all-embracing. But, in each case, the aim is to restore some balance into the relationships.

In 2001, when Adriana started blogging, people probably thought her mad. In 2002, when she started articulating the value of social networking inside and outside organisations, she was still alone. In 2003, when Google bought blogging service Pyra, she knew she was on to something. And then, in 2005 she was finally vindicated as the mainstream media picked up on social networking.

Right now, I suspect she feels as lonely with respect to VRM as she did when she was blogging in 2001. It will be interesting to see if, once again, she has managed to hit the nail on the head.

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