Kim Cameron, identity uber-geek, posted an enthusiastic endorsement of Amazon’s recommendation emails over the weekend.
I know what he means — I blogged about the very same positive experience with Amazon’s recommendations a couple of years ago, shortly after noting the inverse experience with eBay’s sad little attempts to send personalized email to me.
While I, like Kim, am still pretty happy with Amazon and continue to view their recommendations as useful (and not spam), my thinking about VRM has taken some of the luster off of this relationship with Amazon.
The problem isn’t anything that Amazon is doing — what they offer is already far better that what most of the market is doing; the problem is that my expectations have grown while Amazon’s capabilities appear to be fundamentally the same as they were two years ago. You see, I’d like to offer Amazon the chance to have an actual relationship with me, rather than a relationship with the incomplete model of me that they’ve built from the transactions that we have in common (I call that construction “Whit: Amazon Virtual Edition”).
Just taking the easy examples, real-world Whit leaves trails of data across the Internet that I’d be happy to share with Amazon, just to see what they could do with them. (With the explicit understanding that both the data and the decision whether or not to continue sharing it is mine, of course.)
- I get at least five or six DVDs per month from Netflix, and tend to rate them after viewing. Amazon knows only that I don’t buy DVDs often at all. No recommendations for me, no opportunity to prey on my secret desire to own every episode of The Tick for Amazon.
- While I buy a reasonable number of books through Amazon, the overwhelming majority of my book purchases are from Powells. Amazon knows nothing about them. No recommendations for me, and no opportunity to take business away from Powells for Amazon.
- I buy some music from Amazon, but not a huge amount. last.fm doesn’t know what I’ve bought, but it knows all about what I’ve been listening to. Amazon knows nothing about it. No recommendations for me, and no chance to take business away from eMusic, Apple, CD Baby, and a host of others for Amazon.
Now I know that I could work around this to some extent by using Amazon’s lists, wishlists, and what-have-you, but why should I? I’ve already created all of this information in a variety of places, why can’t I just use that information now, to make my own life easier? And if that means that Amazon gets the chance to make more money by knowing me better, where’s the harm? Isn’t that scenario better for everyone involved?
I know that this isn’t just Amazon’s problem: even if they make it possible for me to put data in, everyone else that I’ve mentioned needs to make it possible for me to get data out. But that’s the way I want these relationships to work. All this metadata I’m creating is mine. I should be able to actively and selectively share it with others. I should be able to offer vendors data that they can’t collect themselves, so that they can build a relationship with me, rather than a relationship with their transaction database.
And that right there is the “R” for one big piece of VRM.