VRM and Public Broadcasting


The wide variety of demands on my time have meant that I haven’t been able to contribute much to Project VRM recently, but VRM is one of those ideas that won’t leave you alone: it makes so much sense and has so much potential that it just keeps popping up.

With the end of WNYC’s latest pledge drive today, I’ve got VRM and NPR on the brain (even more so than usual), so I’m passing along the text of a note that I sent to the Project VRM mailing list a few months ago.

One of the issues that we’re very likely to hit with many VRM initiatives is the chicken/egg problem on adoption: vendors aren’t likely to devote resources to implementation until there’s a clear critical mass of demand, and customers aren’t likely to devote their own resources until they’re getting a clear return on the time and effort required to actively participate in a VRM-style relationship.

This isn’t something that we need to address immediately, and there are a variety of ways to work with the problem, but it got me thinking about the exceptions to this rule…so I’ll toss out the idea that public broadcasting is right now an example of a vendor that’s trying to implement VRM but failing for lack of adequate tools (and probably lack of a clear understanding of the issues involved).

The language and ideology of public broadcasting is already relationship focused. You don’t “buy” or “license” access to public broadcasting, but rather “become a member.” All stations that receive funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are required to (among other things) hold open meetings and maintain a Community Advisory Board, requirements that are intended to keep public broadcasters engaged with (i.e. in a relationship with) their “customer” communities at a level beyond simple, transactional financial support.

The difficulty seems to be determining what the vendor<->customer should be after the pledge drive is over, and—only after that question is answered—figuring out how to facilitate that relationship.

I’ve been a member of WNYC since my return to New York City seven years ago. We don’t necessarily give a huge amount of money, but at least once a year we provide some financial support. But what else? I know that there are other “membership benefits,” and also that I could volunteer to man a table at an event or something, but I’m not sure that cumulative transaction count really ends up making a relationship.

From the VRM perspective, I’d like to know what both WNYC and I can do to build on the specific, unique relationship that we already have. Right now, WNYC knows enough about me to bill my credit card and (I assume) knows my contribution history. Not much to build a relationship on. In my case I’d be happy to provide more information to WNYC if that would help them figure out what else we could do together, and I suspect that there are a fair number of other people who would do the same.

Hence our starting question: beyond listening to things that I enjoy (me) and receiving financial support (WNYC), what do we both want from this relationship?