Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Tuesday, March 14, 2006day link 

 What am I doing?
I usually am not very good in marketing myself. Well, I'm not quite sure what exactly I'm marketing either. Once in a while I get into a bit of a crisis where I remember that I haven't quite decided what I'm going to be when I grow up. And, well, I'm probably a bit overdue at deciding that.

I'm talking about what I'm doing as a job. I find it surprisingly easy to forget, but on this planet one seems to be expected to have a job or a business, and pay one's rent and plan for one's retirement. I find it mysteriously unimportant, but there seems to be no good way around it. Sure, one can maybe do one grand brilliant business venture, and live from that the rest of one's life, and just pretend that one philosophically has transcended the need to work. But that too requires the execution of some plan. I.e. one knows exactly what one is doing, and one goes and does it.

At times when somebody gives me some job to do I might forget about it for years, and just pretend that I know exactly what I'm doing. But at other times circumstances force me to realize that I never made a plan B and I don't even know what to say that I'm doing.

In some periods of time I get by on providing some mysterious and intriguing job title, and I enjoy when people are puzzled by how I can make a living doing that. "Connecting the people who change the world" it said on my business cards for a few years. Of course I didn't make a living doing that, but theoretically I could, and it is a nice idea.

Now I'm in France. I usually say that I work at home and I have clients in the U.S. and I develop software. That's not untrue. But what I have of clients is completely random, as I do nothing to promote myself, and I don't really know what my product is, and I'm not even properly organized as a business. And why the hell am I am in France then? Oh, it is nice to live here. But I'm feeling a bit of pressure to establish myself properly here.

The French system pushes for that as well. In France one has to fit cleanly in some category. I can't just get some clients and sort it out with my accountant and the tax department later. One needs to choose. I can be unemployed, or I can have a job, or I can be freelance, or I can have a company, and there are different rules for each, and one can't just mix that up at will very well. And one has to choose the exact category of activity, and do the proper paperwork.

Now, I hate the idea of having a job and going to work every day. Plus jobs in this area pay badly compared with what I'd consider my minimum. You know, 3000 euro a month would be a typical manager job for somebody with solid qualifications and degrees and experience.

So, ok, I can just be independent. But one pays a lot of social contributions in France. Roughly the same amount per person one pays as salary. Meaning, I'd need to make twice as much money as I'd like to be paid, if I were just myself. Before we're even talking taxes. Hm, that's a puzzle.

Wouldn't really be a problem if I actually knew what I wanted to do, and I worked methodically towards that.

That I don't know what to do is a secret of course, so please don't tell anybody.

Really, I'm very qualified at what I'm doing. I have a lot of experience in a variety of settings. I've accomplished some things that have scored a lot of points along the way. I'm creative, a good communicator, I tend to transform activities I get in contact with. Sometimes it helps to hear other people tell me what a great guy I am. Mostly it doesn't, because the world has moved on, and I haven't done anything great recently.

Enough self-pity. I need to know what to tell people that I'm doing, so help me out a bit. I don't just want to be some guy who does websites. So, if we say I'm a consultant, and I have something to offer companies, what is it?

I'd like to believe I know something about online communities and social networking. I'd like to think I'm somewhat plugged into something that is emerging in the world, and which organizations of various kinds probably need to pay attention to. Self-organizing, open source, cluetrain kind of stuff. How networking is better than hierarchy, how cooperation is better than coercion, how good informations freely shared can be better than advertising, how invited voluntary participation can be better than mindless 9-5 work. Cool contageous ideas can be more effective than mediocre ideas that are just pushed hard. Open is more fun than closed.

Who gets paid for talking about cool new ways of doing things?

OK, I can make up half of the answers myself. Somebody who's very known for talking about these things. Duh. So, somebody who has written books, who writes articles, who speaks at conferences, and who seem to know what they're talking about. That wouldn't be the only way of course, but that would be one.

Or maybe I should become a forest ranger, or a lighthouse attendant. Or a contortionist. I'm getting too old to be a computer programmer.

Actually I dislike categories, and I dislike having to settle down on what exactly I am doing. I just want to be a secret agent who sometimes will take on interesting and impossible missions. I'd rather BE something than promise what I'm doing. I want to be inventor of the positronic ray, the author of "world peace for dummies", or the holder of the world record in holding my breath.

I've noticed a long time ago that on the internet things often happen simply by putting a stake in the ground or putting up a sign. The magical soup stone principle. You establish a certain vibe, plant a seed, and everything else that is needed sort of starts assembling in the space created. The more clear the seed is, the more likely it is that the result will be useful. OK, I'm mixing the metaphors terribly, but you get the point.

If the purpose is clear, the means can manifest much more easily.

I know I have to come up with it myself. But give me a few hints.
[ | 2006-03-14 01:33 | 19 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Intention Economy
Doc Searls wrote an essay about The Intention Economy. You know, that is in contrast to The Attention Economy. So, let's talk about that first. Like, one fine article is The Attention Economy and The Net by Michael Goldhaber. He says stuff like this:
If the Web and the Net can be viewed as spaces in which we will increasingly live our lives, the economic laws we will live under have to be natural to this new space. These laws turn out to be quite different from what the old economics teaches, or what rubrics such as "the information age" suggest. What counts most is what is most scarce now, namely attention. The attention economy brings with it its own kind of wealth, its own class divisions - stars vs. fans - and its own forms of property, all of which make it incompatible with the industrial-money-market based economy it bids fair to replace. Success will come to those who best accommodate to this new reality. [...]

So, at last, what is this new economy about? Well if the Net exemplifies it, then you might guess it has less to do with material things than with the kinds of entity that can flow through the Net. We are told over and over just what that is: information. Information, however, would be an impossible basis for an economy, for one simple reason: economies are governed by what is scarce, and information, especially on the Net, is not only abundant, but overflowing. We are drowning in the stuff, and yet more and more comes at us daily. That is why terms like "information glut" have become commonplace, after all. Furthermore, if you have any particular piece of information on the Net, you can share it easily with anyone else who might want it. It is not in any way scarce, and therefore it is not an information economy towards which we are moving. What would be the incentive in organizing our lives around spewing out more information if there is already far too much?

Well, my title gives it away, of course. There is something else that moves through the Net, flowing in the opposite direction from information, namely attention. So seeking attention could be the very incentive we are looking for. Parenthetically, I have now rejected both parts of the conference title; no economics in the conventional sense, and not digital information either. You might conclude I am speaking at the wrong conference. I would rather say it has the wrong title. Except the title did serve its purpose. It did get your attention, and that was something, in fact a lot.

Attention, at least the kind we care about, is an intrinsically scarce resource [ 4 ]. Consider yours, right now. You are reading this paper, or more likely, since it is intended to be delivered at a conference, listening to me speaking it. You have a certain stock of attention at your disposal, and right now, a large proportion of the stock available to you is going to me, or to my words. Note that if I am standing in front of you it is difficult to distinguish between paying attention to me and paying attention to my words or thoughts; you can hardly do one without doing the other. If you are just reading this, assuming it gets printed in a book, the fact that your attention is going to me and not just to what I write may be slightly less obvious. So it is convenient to think of being in the audience at this conference in order to consider what attention economics is all about.
A lot of people have talked about the Attention Economy, and written books. Now, Doc Searls says that he doesn't entirely understand all of it, and it all sounds a little too much like marketing and advertising guys talking about "eyeballs". Which I kind of think too. Anyway, Doc is quite a new-thinker in terms of markets and where things are going, in part as one of the authors of the monumental Cluetrain Manifesto, which said cool things like:
we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp.
deal with it.
So, now, Doc thinks up the term "Intention Economy" as something more desirable than the "Attention Economy":
The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don't need marketing to make Intention Markets.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don't have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer's purchase. Simple as that.

The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just "branded" by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or "capturing") buyers.
So, like, I express what I want. I'm going to Tahoe, I need a hotel and a rental car. I don't need the insurance, and my budget is so and so. And then the potential vendors could go to work on trying to accommodate me, and they can give me an offer.

Now, I don't think "Intention Economy" is a very good term for it. Well, it is a great term in itself, but to me "Intention" is a more noble word I'd like to reserve for other things than just what I'm in the market for buying. Like, what I want to do in life, for example.

Various people comment that most of us don't really know exactly what we want up front, so it isn't a great thing to build an economy on.

As Goldhaber and others who talk about Attention Economy point out, economies are typically based on something that is scarce, which then is traded. But, aha, that sort of indicates how Doc is right. In practicality it easily becomes just another word for corporations trying to grab my attention so they can sell me something. Because who's going to trade my attention? Well, websites and marketers. Somebody's trying to grab my attention, and sell it to somebody who wants it. Attention Economy isn't really centered on me, and really it should be, like what Doc intends with the Intention Economy. It should be about me and what I want. As he points out, advertising is an enormous waste. 999 people need to waste their time looking at something they don't want for one person to maybe get what they want. Or worse.

Could my purchasing intention be a scarce item that one can exchange in an economy? Well, potentially. One can sell a "lead", and this is in a sense a superb lead. I want something, for sure, and I'm in all likelyhood going to buy it, the question is just from whom, and what the exact conditions are.

I'd say the battle isn't really between whether it is attention or intention, but rather between whether it is a buyer's market or a seller's market. Or, better, it is whether we focus on what is needed or what is offered. An industrial age capitalistic market mass produces a lot of cheap stuff and convinces people that they need it and that they should buy it, and it doesn't really matter if they really actually needed it, as long as they buy it. Doesn't matter if they'd rather have had something else. Now, new technology could now well allow for that everybody could get something different. Mass customization. In a lot of areas it is no longer inherently necessary that I get the exact same thing as a million other people. A computer manufacturer can be geared for assembling a computer just for me, to my specifications. A travel agency can construct a travel plan particularly for me.

It is still largely a market controlled by the BigCo's, so at first these things are just a gimmick to persuade me to buy from them, whether their product actually really is what I need.

What would change it would be if I and most other people were sufficiently well informed, and there were a sufficient amount of alternatives. And a sufficient amount of organization on the buyer side.

Imagine I had a website that aggregated needs. We could concentrate first on needs for buying stuff. What products or services people want to buy, and exactly how they want them. So, what if there were a way of assembling these in a systematic way, quickly and in large volume. So, let's say I could represent 100,000 people who wanted to buy computers, and I had the specs each one was looking for. Could I, or rather this aggregated buyer association, present this massive list of needs and wants and specs and requirements to a series of vendors in a meaningful way? Hey, we need 100,000 individually customized PCs, can you deliver? You could imagine that you could both act as a large volume purchaser, who needs a really really good deal because of the volume, and still ask for individual requirements for each item. That would be new.

There are computer manufacturers that let you customize the PC you order. There are websites that will let you set the price you want to pay for something, like a plane ticket. Reverse auctions. But as far as I know, you're dealing with the service individually, and it is run by a BigCo travel agency outfit that doesn't really have to care a lot about you individually. It is just another way for them to sell some tickets they might not have sold otherwise.

But what if our reach actually went farther than their grasp? If we, formerly known as the "consumers", were big enough in numbers to spell out our terms, or we'll take our business elsewhere.

If our information was well enough organized, it might go some steps further, into what is not just simple buying/selling transactions. Like, here we are, 10 million people, and we spend 10 billion dollars per year on electricity. We'd like to offer 50 billion dollars to anybody who'll come up with an energy source that means we'll never have to buy metered electricity again. You get the idea. If the masses are organized in a way so they know what they want altogether, there's leverage to be able to ask for something quite different from what they'd get if they were just individual consumers with no real choice. Like, asking never to have to buy another one of those products again.

You could imagine a market that was completely upside down. Or downside up, really. Where buyers suddenly were the scarce commodity, rather than the products. OK, companies have to compete for customers today. But imagine the customers were the big guys, and the vendors had to bend over backwards to meet their demands.

I'm not sure I can come up with a better cool name fo it. The Demand Economy, the Request Economy, the Buyer Economy, the Need Economy. I give up.

If enough people easily could get enough information about what is possible and available to know what they want in some detail, and they were able to notice if they got it or not, and they were able to coordinate that information better and faster than the vendors can manage to mislead and confuse them, and they were able to band together to carry out large aggregated transactions, then the market would certainly have changed, whatever that would end up being called.

It is something about a distributed market being aggregated. You know, like anybody can have a blog, and any blog can have a syndicated feed, and anybody can have an aggregator that shows the total content of lots of blogs very easily. And, together, this becomes something that competes quite well with mass media. We could imagine a similar thing for economic activity.
[ | 2006-03-14 23:31 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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