A while back I ran across something Doc Searls has been working on at Harvard called 4th party, vender relationship management. The concept is that there will be (are) services that aggregate commerce in a way that best serves consumers.
“VRM, a concept pioneered by Doc Searls of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and co-author of the ‘Cluetrain Manifesto‘ (PDF), proposes a new category of tools which enable individuals to get value from their personal information and to manage their relationships with companies. VRM complements CRM and SocialCRM by enabling the ‘voice’ of the customer to be communicated directly to company’s ‘ears’. With a CRM and VRM infrastructure in place, we have a platform for dialogue, and ultimately a context for building scalable trust-based relationships. While VRM doesn’t (yet) exist as a category in the same way as CRM or SocialCRM, we’re starting to see examples of VRM dynamics:
Another way to look at it, and the first diagram I saw of it is here. I think Hugh did this for Doc, yep he did – Hugh MacLeod.
From VRM and the Four Party System: April 12, 2009
“VRM is about enabling the first party. It is also about building fourth-party user-driven (and within that, customer-driven) services, which make use of first-party enablement.
For travel, third parties include Orbitz, Travelocity and other intermediaries operating mostly on the vendor side of the marketplace. They wouldn’t have to stay there, of course. They could become instruments of customers as well. There can be blurring between third and fourth parties.
But, as customers get more power, fourth parties are bound to flourish — and not just because they’re located on the side of the customer and his or her money. Fourth parties will flourish because they will help more intelligence flow into the marketplace, and help the customer both manage and apply that intelligence.”
From the ProjectVRM Wiki:
“VRM development work is based on the belief that free customers are more valuable than captive ones — to themselves, to vendors, and to the larger economy. To be free —
- Relationships must be voluntary.
- Customers must enter relationships with vendors as independent actors.
- Customers must be the points of integration for their own data.
- Customers must have control of data they generate and gather. They must be able to share data selectively, voluntarily, and control the terms of its use.
- Customers must be able to assert their own terms of engagement and service.
- Customers must be free to express their demands and intentions outside of any one company’s control.
VRM research work probes the willingness and ability of customers to assert and enjoy independence from vendors — and of vendors’ willingness and ability to value and engage with independent customers. It also follows changes in the marketplace as VRM tools come into use.”
In this light it seems like the start up Zaarly is playing that game. Described by CEO Bo Fishback as a “proximity-based, real-time, buyer-powered market,” Zaarly has already attracted a big time group of investors including Ashton Kutcher and Paul Buchheit.
RRW describes how Zaarly works: “Using Zaarly, a buyer (that is, someone who’s looking for something, anything) enters their location, a description of what they want, the timeframe they need it in, and the price they’re willing to pay. Zaarly then broadcasts the message via Twitter (eventually, more options will be added here. This app was just built 2 weeks ago, remember?) Sellers (that is, those who are willing to agree to these terms and sell the good or service) can accept. Zaarly connects the buyer and seller on the phone, via an anonymous party-line, where the two can then rendezvous face-to-face to complete the transaction.”
Its just a few weeks old but Zaarly sure seems to have a head of steam heading into its launch at SXSW.