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The Intention Economy is Here

Doc Searls new book, The Intention Economy, published by Harvard Business Press, is launching at the European Identity Conference. Addressing the “unfinished business” of The Cluetrain Manifesto which he co-authored in 1999, The Intention Economy is the culmination of six years of work on ProjectVRM at the Harvard Berkman Center. But it doesn’t just stop at VRM (Vendor Relationship Management)—the concept that customers should be able to manage their relationship with vendors the same way vendors use CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools.

It goes on to posit that “free customers”—customers who are free to take their personal data and relationships to the vendor of their choice—are not only more valuable to a vendor, but in fact the engine of an entire new economy. In the Intention Economy, customers can broadcast (or narrowcast) their intent in ways that the market can react—quickly, intelligently, precisely—to fill their needs.

Think of the economic efficiencies of eBay, but no longer limited to a single auction site. Instead, customers can send out intention signals much like the RSS feed on a blog. Vendors can listen and respond to these signals no matter what the need is: a twin stroller, an evening on the town, a trip to Cancun, a townhouse in the North End with a swimming pool. When there is a match, customers and vendors can converse and transact much more easily because vendors are adapting to customer’s tools and not vice versa.

It’s not the end of shopping by any means—customers will still browse products and services. But it turns shopping from a “place-based” activity, where the customer must go someplace—a physical store, or a website—to shop, into an intention-based activity. The customer can publish an intent stream (called “intentcasting”) and then “fish” in the results much like watching a Tweet stream for the most interesting messages.

Of course for intentcasting to work, buyers must trust sellers and vice versa. No customer wants to fish in a stream of hungry sharks—all you will catch is spam. So much like a credit card network, where transactions flow easily because buyers and sellers are protected by a carefully-crafted chain of contracts and regulations, an intentcasting network needs to provide strong incentives for customers and vendors to respect each other’s time, attention, and data.

That is the goal of the Respect Network, starting with the Respect Trust Framework to which every member of the network agrees. By participating in a contextual, peer-to-peer reputation system, both customers and vendors have the same incentive to maintain a positive reputation as they have on eBay or in any other trust community where members need to be accountable for their actions.

Whatsmore, Respect Network standardizes the “tools and rules” of trusted data exchange so that any customer can engage, interact, transact, and relate with any vendor just like anyone can send and receive Internet email today. By giving customers their own network—one to which any vendor who agrees to the rules of customer independence is invited— Respect Network can help the vision of The Intention Economy become reality.

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