First Monday

The COMsumer Manifesto: Empowering Communities of Consumers through the Internet

The coming economic era and precepts are emerging as totally different from industrial capitalism. We're learning that e-businesses and their networks destroy many of our basic concepts of production, marketing and distribution. Jeremy Rifkin [1] notes that in this "Age of Access" we are entering an era in which lifelong customer relationships are the ultimate commodities market. This provides a different, more positive, and perhaps more likely view.

The Internet is changing business models and empowering consumers to create new communities that combine the power to aggregate rich sources of individually personalized data in real-time activities. Large-scale data aggregators are emerging to navigate and mediate info markets. While information records are proliferating, new standards for content capture and management are appearing. Most companies continue to hope they will control their customers' information assets. However, what if this is not true or becomes impossible? What if consumers decide to band together and control their own personal information? Are you ready to freely give your customers their data records? Are you prepared to live up to the COMsumer Manifesto?

This article offers a disruptive antidote to the hierarchical, closed, supply-system, explicit, knowledge-driven, "We Know What You Want" data mine world where many customers feel powerless. This is a world well beyond 1999's "Net Worth" [2] and 2000's "The Cluetrain Manifesto" [3]. Infomediaries are not just trustworthy agents which sit between the vendor and the customer [2], and markets are not just conversations [3]. In this new world, communities sense needs, desires, and wishes for the future and create new data markets - to which organizations must respond or die! We are closing in on the "tipping point" [4] where COMsumers take complete control of their destiny by collectively owning their personal information assets.


A Possible Trajectory for COMsumer Empowerment
The COMsumer Manifesto: Drawing Implications and Conclusions for Strategy


The consumers' position in the world is changing. Through technology the Internet is framing a new revolution, changing the underlying ecology and enabling a new form of empowered consumer to emerge.

  1. It is shaping and globalizing the world by enabling the acceleration towards an anywhere anytime economy. Further the movement of activity to this virtual continent is a onetime event that cannot be repeated. So for now, we have a virtual gold rush as new start-ups race to stake their claims and mine the opportunities. We have no idea how big this continent is or will be. Potentially a never-ending stream of new ideas can exist here.

  2. There is an ongoing and clear movement from tangible to intangibles. On this virtual continent information is king. Information and knowledge providing better returns and increased power as they are further exploited. Thus relatively the command of physical assets is becoming less important. Intangibles often trace to teams and networked activities, which are often hard to discern until decanted at which time the knowledge can be better exploited.

  3. By connecting everything the netification of this world (fueled by computers and communications) is changing how customers think, act and react. From initial impulse to data capture and conclusion is now instantaneous. Time buffers and slack are being eliminated. We are moving from a world of discrete steps to a world of flows.

    • How quickly are new Internet models proliferating that expand the scope and scale for information assets?
    • With exchange costs near zero how large is the opportunity for real-time information aggregation?
    • If consumer data and knowledge become the most important resource in the knowledge economy, who will control it?

    When asked for a perspective at a GBN Customers of the Future meeting in October 1999 I stated, "I don't want to be a customer anymore". At the time I wasn't quite sure why. For as long as I've clicked and surfed, I've been tracked, monitored, and captured. I've watched the unleashing of a progression of more sophisticated tools and wondered where personalization, collaborative filters, and the algorithms behind them will take us. Finally, the public's concerns about permission and privacy are surfacing. So, will customers reject these new systems and models as invasive? Or, are these just early indicators of another twist in the Internet's development? Perhaps the new data tools and the Internet are empowering each one of us, and the communities we belong to, in other ways.

    More recently, in January 2000, I co-facilitated a GBN session on Emerging Market Models. It confirmed my sense that we are surfing through enormously interesting times. Two end-of-day comments come to mind. First, "It's a Cambrian Explosion (of new ideas) and second, "We ain't seen nothing yet!" Indeed! The journey below searches for the real heart of the opportunities provided by the Internet. Imagine for a moment that only the first part of a much bigger story has been told.

    For years we've accepted that organizations provide products and services to customers. Some even claim unsurpassed customer satisfaction! What follows is a typical "hourglass" story; measuring the elapsed time since the hourglass was last inverted. Time is running out for the old view! The hourglass is about to be flipped over from commerce on top, and powerless customers at the bottom. What happens when we flip the hourglass over? The traditional flows of goods and services via channels to consumers is re-specified by massive flows of customer information, needs, and desires which continually create new markets and opportunities. We could consider this a simple switch from supply driven to demand driven models, but it is more. Initiatives will be directed by buyers not by sellers (see following diagram of the various types of demand and supply driven business options), and thus form a more profound revolution. A move to communities of interest and action rather than an individual personalized customer market focus.

    Four further concepts will be useful to us framing this changing future. End to End (often seen as B2B Business to Business), One to Many (B2C Business to Consumer), and the corresponding Many to One (C2B), and Many to Many (C2C sectors) [5]. I prefer to dispense with the -2- nomenclature for in the end whether individual organization or community it will be the type of connection that differentiates us, not whether we are business or consumers. Of these definitions, not much has been written so far about the last two. Even searches of Internet name registrations around C2C concepts suggest this space is still ripe for activity.

    Why is B2B emphasis growing? How will the B2B and B2C sectors evolve long term or are they simply doomed? How quickly will the C2B sector and the C2C sectors grow in importance? Where are the really new business models and functionalities being created?
    Note: A recent McKinsey & Co. study found Internet companies are spending more on customer acquisition than they're likely to make in profit from a typical customer. Most sites have a hard time getting people to come back.

    Traditionally firms held the key relationship in financial markets. In the virtual 'demand driven' world individual information may hold the key to markets. In this new economy, organizations learn that investing in the creation and management of data markets and exchanges is more valuable than closed retention of standards and data mines. This means organizations may lose or be forced to share their most valuable asset - the customers' data record - with them. How firms manage and profit from these transactions will be the key to surviving in the new e-economy.

    The chart below suggests today's organization is competing for both knowledge and attention. Organizational knowledge is becoming more transparent, more explicit and more valuable. Yet without loyalty and trust it is difficult to harness an individual's tacit knowledge. Our other axis is framed by attention; typically industrial age organizations ran a command and control structure and aimed at competing in a space. Now competition comes from everywhere and industry structure has little meaning.

    Different Knowledge Markets?
    • How is competitive space changing? What opportunities for codification and standards?

    • What's the real worth of a data mine? How might new recipes be found?

    • How will consumers gain leverage in data markets?

    • Where new forms of idea exchanges are emerging?

    From this platform we are entering a new stage of e-commerce. This paper challenges you to consider the possibility that the future will be shaped by new exchanges between communities of consumers empowered by the further evolution of the Internet.

    The premise is that information belonging to communities of consumers will be the most important resource in the new knowledge economy. COMsumer, the word coined to describe these communities comes from the Latin com plus sumere meaning - to take together.

    A Possible Trajectory for COMsumer Empowerment

    Consider the following three stages as developing a trajectory for the empowered COMsumer to emerge.

    • I: Information Aggregation,
    • II: Customized Personalized Interactions,
    • III: Empowered COMsumers Participate in Personal Information Markets

    I: Information Aggregation

    Consider ... How quickly will your business become commoditized?

    This stage is characterized by changes in mediation leading to a commoditization of similar goods. Traditionally only organizations had the resources to amass large amounts of consumer information. In fact the only detailed information that all consumers readily retain and exchange is the amount of money in their bank accounts. The Internet is changing this.

    Intermediaries often assisted organizations in maximizing the value of the exchange between buyer and seller. Over time firms and their intermediaries organized themselves to minimize their transaction costs and maximize their profits. In this old paradigm organizations collected information primarily for their benefit. As they prospered products were segmented and increasingly customized. The incentive for the firm was to reach out and attract the customer. Now the transfer to the online world is rapidly changing this concept to drawing in the customer. This traces to customers having more information and immediate choices available.

    At first many saw the Internet as another distribution channel. However, the new space, time, and delivery concepts soon quickly changed the economics. This fleeter form of organization typically concentrates the design and knowledge resources and outsources the physical production, delivery, and service. It provides a lower cost solution and is typically more adaptive, more flexible. From this background the plug and play organization is also emerging. Ultimately only the lowest cost producers (of physical goods) may survive in broader value networks.

    For example, Amazon when launching their original bookstore went direct to their customers eliminating the advice functions, selling, shelf management, in-store promotions, parking, etc. Very quickly the economies of scale, space, and time were changing. Amazon's virtual bookstore had no stock but made every book available - a very "rich" offering. Amazon had no store but was located at your terminal and fingertips changing all previous concepts of retail space. Finally, Amazon was able to reach the whole world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All with lower prices. Further Amazon (as they were copied) quickly extended their scope by multiplying their business methodology. From the world's largest bookstore to one-stop shop, they continue to extend the reach and richness of their offering having thrown out the traditional marketing trade-off between richness and reach Before the internet this was an either/or dynamic tracing to the cost of communications. Today as illustrated in the chart below the relationship provides a both/and dimension significantly lowering information costs for all market participants.

    Evans and Wurster in their book "Blown to Bits" [6] highlight that the internet blows up the traditional marketing trade-off. Now information is increasingly available to all with new forms of comparison and increasing availability. The search and find function is empowered and from this transparent markets are emerging and only best in class are likely to survive. As a result economies of both scale and scope are being transformed.

    New business models are spawning a revolution in the collection and dissemination of data. Today data collection is cheap, easily captured, and transferred. Where mediated costs were traditionally tied to the movement of physical assets, the arrival of the Internet economy provided new infomediaries with the opportunity to gain real power from information assets. By collecting customer data they simplify the search and finding process. Aggregating the available product and service sources creates transparency for price and availability, potentially providing new value opportunities for the purchaser.

    From the Consumer point of view we can redefine the axes. E&W take a Industrial Economy view supply driven. Ie Reach and Richness. Here I have re-defined the axes in consumer terms. Reach becomes the value of connecting or connectivity, while richness is re-stated as the Quality of the relationships as trust and permission increase with personalization.

    Aggregators encourage the development and payment for goods and services by function by navigating the new value network. The power of Aggregators grows as they build potential for broader network aggregation. At first they provide a simple one to many functionality (e.g. As these aggregators evolve they will change the power structure from "one to many" (i.e. one supplier to many customers) to a "many to one" model where a value creating network is formed to satisfy individual or group demand. Over time the simple accumulation of more detailed information by consumers will provide additional opportunities for community aggregation; see also [6]. The curve follows a trajectory that starts with individual use of aggregators (the cost savings will drive their use) and then extends as consumer participation and data sharing enables new consumer relationships to be established that gain additional/group leverage.

    Web examples (in circle)

    Aggregation power arises when one can consolidate information. Traditionally information was consolidated by firms and traded with related products in markets. In the future it is likely to be consolidated by data market aggregators (agents, bots, navigators, info-mediaries) with the permission of individuals for their benefit. In this info space, data is not only captured on purchases and past behavior but for future wants. Yet this information capture alone does not account for the new market models arising between consumer and consumer and communities of consumers, i.e. many to many.

    II: Customized Personalised Interactions

    Consider ... Who will own these data mines and what Web-based functionalities will provide value for their owners?

    In stage one we saw the Internet as a real-time communication medium driving down the cost of connectivity and enabling new combinations of mutual interest to emerge. New communities allow individuals to share detailed information at an almost microbial level. From chat rooms to more sophisticated sites, the possibilities may be endless but each new species and relationship is unique.

    As data becomes more contested, competition for information will intensify. Consumer privacy will be more frequently violated. Rich, nameless, but highly distributed and encrypted data records are possible. Consumers will soon recognize that they do not have to share their information or data, and that by negotiating for their data they can either save money, or simply make dollars by selling their information or time.

    Thousands of individuals are now simultaneously engaging on Web sites like,, or They are also exchanging money for free in real-time at We see these large user groups combining emerging functionalities in new ways. Simple examples include that combined e-mail address provision with mobility and ubiquity, and that enables Web surfers to leverage and learn from assets tied up in their browser's "favorites" file.

    Web examples (in circle)


    The pride in owning your public feedback record is an example of a Web-enabled functionality important to both seller and buyer. At they created a new auction space in a real-time mode that connects millions of people all over the world to trade their goods. E-bay has become a global garage sale. The buyer and seller are 1 to 1 direct and begin to invest in each other. Not merely exchanging goods, but exchanging feedback on the exchange, which adds to their status within the community. There are few equivalents of this in the real world and none on the same scale. See also

    Of note, the organizations that started these business models began by facilitating the exchange between two parties rather than mediating. There is also another form of mediating emerging and your personal records are central to the effectiveness of these collaborative filters. As we know the collection of info is cheap and increasingly sophisticated. Transactions can be traced to source and matched with like or similar users. Sophisticated Web managers are now rushing to install profiling products and filtering tools to extract additional value from their visitors. The Amazon Purchase Circles are perhaps best known. These filters enable companies like Amazon to mine their visit and purchase data. Thus Amazon uses reader and corporate associations suggested by mathematical algorithms to recommend further books to their customers. This effectively mines a consumer's tacit knowledge. The consumer doesn't yet know they need the book but when presented with it the theory is they are more likely to buy. Of course, unless Amazon can capture all your book buying or all your purchases their suggestions may be less than accurate.

    So far the most interesting species are customizing personal interactions and appear to combine community production and consumption in real time. We haven't yet seen community ownership extend to the aggregation functionality suggested in the first stage for most of the value creation is being created currently at the individual level. However we should note that in both stage one and two massive amounts of new data are being collected and harvested. Simultaneously, ongoing developments and changes in technology are further stimulating the Internet revolution. Consider the new data sources and leverage presented by the adoption of these new technologies listed below.

    New information sources and market enablers [4]

    • Wireless; the evolution of wireless Internets.
    • SMART things, things that think. Sensors.
    • Voice, voice activation
    • Wearable computing (always on).
    • Nano, manufacturing at the molecular level
    • Genomics and bio-informatics

    These technologies will expand data availability exponentially [4]. However, their development will take time for information must first be categorized and stored with the individual before it will provide the real power to leverage customized solutions for consuming groups. The challenge for storing and maintaining the accuracy of these databases will become ever more difficult. The richest data banks will be very personal, flexible, and adaptive, thus enabling on-call collaborative use. With the passage of time individuals will have a vested interest in keeping their data current and accurate. So as the records grow in quality almost anything could be tracked or traded. Like today's Internet tracking of surfing data that is invisible to most surfers, the records of tomorrow must be easily collected. New levels of encryption will make them private and trustworthy when shared.

    So how might the potential for aggregation and customization evolve?
    First lets look at a product where there is a big savings potential. Let us take a new car purchase. Imagine for a moment there are 15,000 people that have registered their commitment to buy a new Toyota Camry this month but all have a second choice or a no buy if the deal isn't good enough. with a consumer aggregation engine would provide a good example of how this might be done. The manufacturer now decides how many they will make and sell based on the lowest price at different demand levels. Then those lucky buyers (10,000?) now all know each other so they can freely start to aggregate everything from insurance, to service, cleaning, and gas purchasing. The first contact effectively floats the potential for a new information market and an ongoing relationship between these consumers. How much would these consumers need to spend to float such an info-market? How many might participate? Should they own it? How much might the data be worth over the life of these purchases? What's their worth to future purchases or leverage?

    III: Empowered COMsumers Participate in Personal Information Markets

    Consider ... if the COMsuming Communities take charge, what's left for businesses?

    In Stage Three COMsumerism combines all available power for aggregation and personalization in the hands of the consumer and their data communities. Today several hundred billion dollars in global market capitalization rests on the assumption that individual organizations like Amazon are able to own, control, and profitably exploit customer information in various ways. The prevailing market logic reflects the bigger the data mine the more valuable the controlling organization.

    What happens if the COMsuming Community takes charge? What happens if consumers can aggregate very rich sources of data in real time?
    Consider what is the most efficient point to store individualized information in this new economic paradigm. In this world who is most likely to have a vested interest in securing and maintaining data accuracy?

    However, what if this assumption is wrong? What if customers decide to claim the market capital represented by their personal information for themselves [9].

    The characteristic of this stage will be people recognizing that there are increasing returns for their personal information assets when cooperatively shared. Collaborative markets will chase the most valuable information you own and may not even know you have [2]. This is a world in which consumers fully benefit from their tacit knowledge. Stages one and two begin to demonstrate the aggregation and personalizing powers of the Web. Stage three brings to every consumer both total aggregation and total customization possibilities available on demand anywhere anytime. An individual will hold and consolidate all their information in an info asset account. Think of it as a personal bank account for your information; see also [10].

    Total aggregation requires highly effective information markets and meta-markets that handle a collaborative population group. In this world the markets for consumer information are almost limitless. Information portfolios will provide both wealth and access. Total customization will require very rich and highly detailed personal data records. Both historical and wish lists will increase in value over a person's lifetime.

    • What might a COMsumers meta-market look like?
    • What would the defining functionalities be that enable this market space?
    • If COMsumers were to organize their information assets in this way how would you approach it?
    • What will your strategy be for consumer information?
    • In this new paradigm we may find that market research becomes supplier research, while advertising and other forms of targeting now serve new masters.

    Thus COMsumers accumulate wealth by being part of a collective data sharing process. When consumers hold all their records they can control them and release them at their command. This will enable them to cheaply align their information assets in ways that will drive efficiencies and improve the articulation of what they want. These information funds will be managed like mutual funds today for a fee. Individuals will begin capturing their information slowly at first, but then more rapidly. This is a world in which consumers may not obtain total privacy but will demand electronic proof transferred invisibly with every transaction they make to their encrypted personal info account. Of course this is done already in a simple fashion with your frequent flyer mileage account; accumulating data and value that no one else can access.

    So why should this model be attractive and will it be more efficient? This shift will create a COMsumer mindset that collectively cares about the data owned and the value cultivated. In this world every individual has a vested interest (ownership) in data accuracy and consistently upgrading/adding to their personal info asset account. The more data added the more value created. This is in stark contrast with today's online world where we corrupt information and provide just enough to get what we want. Similarly, it impacts on standards. Today's consumers have limited direct control over standards. However tools created for tomorrow's information markets will by definition set standards. XML protocols like will make this a reality. As the technologies like smart sensors alluded to in stage two become available they too will be adopted because there are new markets for their information when tied to individuals. The invisible accumulating of this sensing information will be quickly attributed and banked by individuals. Consumer power will increase. Over the next decade or two it will become possible for individuals to capture a complete record of their "personal genome" for use in a variety of ways such as taking proactive steps to protect against certain genetic weaknesses. The sensitivity of genetic information will further drive individuals to want privacy and control of their personal information.

    If you fear that vast amounts of personal information will be accumulated you are absolutely correct! The COMsumer world isn't just about names, e-mail addresses, and postal codes. This is a complete electronic aggregation of purchase, educational, recreational, and medical information in a set of huge personal databases which will grow continuously throughout an individual's lifetime.

    This latest stage of Internet development will also play an important role in the spread of market economies around the world. Note that the value of customer information will always follow individual customers. While corporations may be able to extract wealth from a market based on delivering a superior product or service, they will not control the information assets generated as a result of these transactions. From this point onwards information will always be owned and controlled by the individual and potentially used by them in public and private ways (see below).

    • As a business, what is your strategy for the acquisition and use of consumer information?

    • How will you participate in future info-markets?

    • What info-account support are you providing to your consumers?

    The early signals of this tectonic upheaval in priorities are emerging. Small precursor shocks are being felt across the Net. Sure, they are weak signals, but the voices are there if we listen. Consider examples such as,,,, and These will fuel the privacy debate and customers will continue to clamor for more control over their own personal data. See also the introduction of products like,, and

    Fundamentally, the concept of empowered COMsumers is a disruptive idea. The next section provides the manifesto and begins to discuss possible implications.

    The COMsumer Manifesto: Drawing Implications and Conclusions for Strategy

    Under a COMsumer model individuals collaborate and emergent communities direct the major forces of consumption. The rest of the value creation exercise is focused on obtaining a transparent fulfillment (lowest cost) for the request. While this might seem at odds with today's practice, organizations in this environment will find it more difficult to accumulate wealth. There is already a parallel. When employees recognize that their intellectual capital is worth more than they are being paid they are increasingly mobile. In this instance the consumer and the employee are complementors. In both capacities we see them beginning to transfer and retain the rights to their own personal information assets. The COMsumer Manifesto

    We, the people who live in an interconnected, online, real-time world, declare that:

    We realize that the most important thing we own is information: data about our purchases, our preferences, and ourselves.

  4. We want instant connections - no delays! - to others in the network via systems which are invisible to us but controlled by us.
  5. We expect all suppliers to us to recognize a common courtesy of automatically and invisibly providing our information accounts with records of our transactions.
  6. We insist on free access and maximum transparency in all transactions on the network. This implies the free exchange of open information standards and our involvement in their ongoing development.
  7. We determine at all times if we participate in the network ("opt-in") or withdraw ("opt-out"). We will agree to timed commitments for the data aggregation processing and expect that these agreements will be "rolled-over" (say, semi-annually) in normal circumstances.
  8. In short, permission remains with us. We determine the level and degree of privacy we desire and we will share our data with those we trust.
  9. We have no desire for data about us to be stored in some remote inaccessible corporate databases which are "mined" for the benefit of the owners rather than ourselves.
  10. Therefore, we resolve to take ownership of our personal data ourselves and in conjunction with info fund managers maximize the value that can accrue to us.
  11. We recognize that the number of uses and opportunity grows as the network grows and will tend to infinity.
  12. Collectively, we realize that all of us have the potential to be better than any one of us in generating new ideas/knowledge.
  13. We believe that new wealth is created through the collective sharing of our largely tacit knowledge and codifying this with others of like interests into new potential market needs.
  14. We believe that enormous efficiencies will result when what groups of consumers want is more easily articulated and understood.
  15. We call ourselves COMsumers and believe in investing our information for the common good of the planet. We will share what it is important to share and keep private those details that might empower outsiders to interfere in the lives of individuals in our community.
  16. As we grow in number so will the wishes and desires of our community. We commit to capturing our collective wish lists of wants, desires and dreams and monitor how these change from time to time. After all, the willingness to dream reflects our desire to make these things come true. This is the best possible hope for our collective future.
  17. Implications for Busness Strategists

    In the COMsumer Manifesto we promote a fundamental shift in the information relationship that an organization holds with their customers and their markets. As COMsumers we believe we will inevitably own our information. The transition may be messy, but as this shift in information asymmetries evolves it will provide new opportunities for both COMsumers' and organizations.

    Just imagine the ultimate data mine might be everyone on Earth. If COMsumers are right then COMsumer info-asset accounts could be to market data what personal DNA data is to the human genome. With the right rules and trust everyone might realize the full value of their personal information. But, this shift in the balance of power around information assets will require new strategies for all parties.

    Organizational Strategies for Information Assets

    As technology and aggregation capabilities accelerate, real-time COMsumer usage of deep personal data sources and their info accounts will force organizations to redirect their strategies and attention.

    • Facilitate markets for mediating a fixed space will no longer work. Organizations must focus on facilitating and building new market space, promoting new ideas and new challenges, rather than using their information assets to mediate or broker relationships.
    • Provide transparent information and docking (interconnect) systems. This is a world in which COMsumer cynicism about organizations can blow up in minutes. Taking COMsumers for a ride is a recipe for disaster. Open, honest, caring communications with simple invisible docking processes are mandated. Providing a consumer with an electronic record of the transaction to their info-account standard may be the price of doing business. No record - no business.
    • Adopt new adaptive approaches to information architecture. Instead of an information repository organizations must look for systems that are adaptive, connective, responsive. No longer slice and dice, segmenting, or highly structured. They will look more chaotic. Think about your systems as flexible and inter-connective. Systems that create new combinations, merge, request, inquire, and probe to seek new meaning or clarification. Thus organizational systems must have the sense to be primarily responsive; for communities of consumers will sense and explore their needs and ask for them.
    • Look at the opportunity to turn over your corporate database to your customers. How can you give them ownership in it? What if did this? How would this affect loyalty to your markets and standards?
    • Consider measuring the rate with which your COMsuming communities are learning. Provide programs to accelerate learning.

    Organizational Strategies for Products and Services

    As information transfers to COMsumers, organizations are thrown back into the world of goods and services. Information will no longer be a scarcity around which organizations compete. This is a world where information is freely available or priced at fair market rates. Businesses will no longer be able to maximize their profits by mining the closed, proprietary data mines they have accumulated. This is a world where information is freely available or priced at fair market value rates. Thus organizations will find themselves with new product and service development demands. The challenge for organizations will be to look to other scarcities that help to develop the value of their products and sustain their position.

    • Focus on design.
      Add tactile and personal touches that are likely to improve the bonding between buyer and seller. Generally the trend to transparency will make products and services delivery more functional, descriptive, factual, guaranteed, purpose driven.
    • Focus on integration, interconnectedness, and longevity or upgradablilty.
      In a world where standards are rapidly evolving will your products enable communities to reprogram or upgrade them? Are the approaches sustainable? Environmental issues, including recycling, become more important.
    • Re-evaluate your media position and communication mix.
      Consider enabling the empowerment of new COMsumer groups. Media will also be used by COMsumers to advise the benefits and needs they require. For example, a group with a genetic medical condition might advertise and thus solicit responses from research establishments to health care organizations and insurance companies. Risk and investment would be more appropriately managed.
    • Recognize your developers and personalize their contributions.
      At Amazon, consumer book reviews are provided free, increasing Amazon's asset value. For this service, Amazon reviewers get nothing (but I'm sure it will soon change). Now suppose Barnes and Noble offered equity in exchange for ongoing reviews and favorable customer feedback. How long would it take for reviewers to migrate their reviews to Barnes and Noble? How quickly would their loyalty change?

    Even now, COMsumers are accumulating transaction information, changing their behavior by searching the Web for new functionalities and listing their preferences for future purchases. The age of community owned information assets and info-exchanges for info-funds is just around the corner! Perhaps the main chance for a return to stability from the present dotcom-driven hyper competitive land grab is for organizations to sponsor sustainable COMsuming communities.

    Let me conclude by urging organizations to look at their current strategies from The COMsumer Manifesto perspective. Make comparisons with your present day-to-day activities: then, I believe you will want to write a COMsumer Manifesto for your organization. If so, Great! You have joined the Movement.

    About the Author

    Stuart Henshall is a Senior Consultant with GBN Global Business Network (California) and specializes in strategy and scenarios. A 20-year global career in FMCG marketing stimulates a deep interest in consumers, finding new opportunities and inventing new solutions. In 1997 Stuart co-founded KCI Knowledge Capital International at, later joining GBN to further his interests in the future, communities, and networking. He continues teaching executive programs at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.


    My thanks and appreciation to:

    • Brian Henshall for his support, passion and ongoing commitment to brainstorming concepts, terminology, and new questions though which the idea for the name COMsumers emerged, and then for collaborating on the COMsumer Manifesto which ultimately changed the outcome of this paper.

    • Brian Mulconrey for his part in the original discussions (in September and October 1999, particularly and providing the encouragement to keep going. Brian is also important for the number of untold stories and ideas which still remain and are yet to be told. Without a Doyle St. lunch and an announcement by Amazon about purchase circles the gestation and evolution of this article would have been very different.

    • Thanks also to Kevin Kelly who made such a difference to the Emerging Market Models meeting and inspired new methods and tools for thinking about Web functionality. There is now enough new material for more than one follow-up session. Plus thanks to my other GBN colleagues - Kees van der Heijden, Jay Ogilvy, Jack Huber, and Nancy Murphy - who have read very rough drafts and put up with my wilder iterations.

    References and General Bibliography

    References in Text

    1. Jeremy Rifkin, 2000.
    The Age of Access: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism, Where All of Life is a Paid-For Experience.
    New York: J.P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000.
    ISBN 1-585-42018-2, 312 p.

    This book emphasizes "The new world of hypercompetition where accessing experiences is more important than owning things and all of life becomes paid-for activities." This is a deeply disturbing view of the future whereas The COMsumer Manifesto offers a more positive future outcome for society based on ownership and control of personal data.

    2. John Hagel III and Marc Singer.
    Net Worth: Shaping Markets When Customers Make the Rules.
    Bston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
    ISBN 0-875-84889-3, 313 p.

    A controversial book; over half Amazon's reviewers were less than impressed! It proposes the "infomediary" solution which sits between the vendor and the customer and acts like a trustworthy agent for both parties. They foresaw a battle between infomediaries for customer trust and access to their private information. Provides detailed descriptions and sizing estimates for real infomediaries to emerge. The COMsumer Manifesto believes that new, customer-owned infomediaries are inevitable.

    3. Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger.
    The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual.
    Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 2000.
    ISBN 0-738-20244-4, 190 p.

    This book emphasizes "markets are conversations" and sees humanity coming together without corporate PR and ad-speak - simply people communicating in human voices. One of the authors, Christopher Locke, savages present marketing practices in "Gonzo Marketing: Winning through Worst Practices". This essay was published in Release 1.0 in February 2000 at The theme in The COMsumer Manifesto has a much deeper application than marketing. The new community markets will aggregate needs, desires, and wants into new information market spaces which demand organizational responses, with the COMsumers in control.

    4. Kevin Kelly.
    New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies For a Connected World.
    Mew York: Viking, 1998.
    ISBN 0-670-88111-2, 179 p.

    This book is an elaboration of an inspired Wired article (volume 5, number 9 (September 1997), pp. 140-144, 186, 188, 190, 192, 194, 196-197). Kevin's influence and ability to cross between biology, social science, and economics is adding enormous value to the knowledge economy. Apply the rules to your business and make progress in an e-commerce world.

    5. The Economist, "A Survey of E-Commerce Shopping around the Web," issue for 26 February 2000 Special Analysis.

    This article introduced the E-Commerce matrix of B2B, B2C, C2B, and C2C which is used here. It deliberately downplayed the B2B sector, which is currently the "flavor of the month" and explored the other three sectors in some detail. A useful contribution, The Economist regularly comments on e-commerce. The issue for 18 February 2000 contained a perceptive look at E-cash 2.0 and the viral marketing nature of rapidly expanding sites like

    6. Philip Evans and Thomas S. Wurster.
    Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy.
    Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000.
    ISBN 0-875-84877-X, 261 p.

    This book and a related article in the Harvard Business Review (in the November-December 1999 issue entitled "Getting Real about Virtual Commerce") highlighted the initial "land grab" nature of electronic commerce. It reviewed the developing marketing trade-offs between reach, richness, and affiliation (defined as "whose interests the business represents"; see p. 87). Now The COMsumer Manifesto redefines the terminology for knowledge and attention, and suggests real-time connectivity will create new value for the COMsumers' benefit.

    7. Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian.
    Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy.
    Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
    ISBN 0-875-84863-X, 352 p.

    This book is the classic on the information economy. A related article, "Versioning: the Smart Way to Sell Information", appeared in the November-December 1998 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Hal Varian has also written a short article entitled "The Law of Recombinant Growth" in the 28 February 2000 issue of The Standard See,1151,11884,00.html This work predicts that most of the current dot-coms will not survive the present hypercompetition/land grab. However the functionalities they possess will be broken down to their basic components and recombined into yet another configuration, just as in biology where parallel evolution is the norm. As Kevin Kelly noted, "Parallelism is one of the ways around the inherent stupidity and blindness of random mutations" (In Kelly's book Out of Control: The Rise of Neo-Biological Civilization. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994; p. 292).

    8. Ko Kuwabara, 2000. "Linux: A Bazaar at the Edge of Chaos," First Monday, volume 5, number 3 (March), at

    This remarkable undergraduate thesis puts Eric Raymond's description of the Linux "phenomena" into context, combining complex adaptive systems theory with an ethnographic account of Linux as told by participants in the kernel development process. It is an eye-opening article about open systems and collaborative development of advanced software initiatives.

    9. J. Bradford DeLong and A. Michael Froomkin, 2000. "Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrow's Economy," First Monday, volume 5, number 2 (February), at

    The Information Age shakes the foundations of the case for the market. Replication of data is cheap and instantaneous and first mover advantages may be compellingly overwhelming. This is a challenging paper to market orthodoxy.

    10. Michael Schrage.
    Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate.
    Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000.
    ISBN 0-875-84814-1, 244 p.

    Another book with 10 rules! Very engaging and useful. More than a prototype worth emulating, a user's guide to the innovation practices of winners.

    Background Bibliography

    The COMsumer Manifesto was developed by Stuart and Brian Henshall from an earlier desire to create communities of interest and action. These communities would develop knowledge capital tools for the knowledge economy. See for details on "The Network Multiplier". The common link to this paper is the realization that trust is a key element in all networks, especially when linked to privacy issues.

    Key books worth considering are:

    Francis Fukuyama.
    Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.
    New York: Free Press, 1995.
    ISBN 0-029-10976-0, 457 p.

    This book re-connects the ideas behind economics and culture and in particular public values particularly "trust" in shaping the future of nations.

    Matt Ridley.
    Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters.
    New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
    ISBN 0-060-19497-9, 344 p.

    Ridley's book explains the revolution now taking place which will allow personal DNA data to be used by individuals and added to their personal infobase records. The need for a secure, private knowledge base about oneself has never been more crucial. Many new markets will develop as a result.

    Neil A. Gershenfeld.
    When Things Start to Think.
    New York: Henry Holt, 1999.
    ISBN 0-805-05874-5, 225 p.

    Highlighting a world of smart paper, smart clothing, and smart everything, this book analyzes devices which communicate unobtrusively via handshakes. A new world where personal computers essentially become invisible.

    Ray Kurzweil.
    The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence.
    New York: Viking, 1999.
    ISBN 0-670-88217-8, 388 p.

    Whatever the future brings in terms of new sensors, new technologies, and new COMsumer networks, we believe in the innate common sense of people. Please re-read the last two paragraphs of The COMsumer Manifesto. The COMsumer case rests.

    Appendix 1: Key Indicators of Emerging COMsumer Empowerment

    Changes in dimensions for knowledge capture and attention.

    1. Direct Consumer Payments for Information and Response:
      Information is key to customer retention and loyalty. Customers are slowly beginning to understand the value of their information. The increase in organizations like,, and are examples of how consumers are being paid by new data aggregators to get additional leverage.

    2. Consumer Directed Aggregation Communities:
      Separately, consumers are activating aggregation functions to save money and obtain lower prices using everything from to As yet major consuming communities have not emerged but are in the formative stage, see and

    3. Privacy:
      Massive fragmented data mines are rapidly being created collecting many forms of data, leaving data trails and raising consumer concerns for privacy and security. Increasing numbers of passport and profiling tools are becoming available.

    Permission and Rights to Exchange

    1. Information Brokerage:
      Fragmented data records are of limited value. Look for new filtering and data sharing systems to be set up. Similarly watch for privacy products like Norton's extending Internet protection to individuals. Consider how information brokerage changes and for whose benefit? See also uptake on products like

    2. Ownership Rights:
      Amazon is also creating a flurry of activity around a community of customers through co-creation. Their online book reports were recently augmented with feedback and personal pages for the writers. But can Amazon create a literary review process without paying the reviewer for any part of the information they provide? Similarly individuals build reviewer profiles on but have no ownership in the site. In both of these cases the writers fail to profit from the value of the asset they are creating through the collective pooling and mass viewing of their reviews. Similarly the value-created consumer groups involved in, the genealogical and open source product sites, or chat lists seldom results in a stockholding or other form of ownership.

    Emergent Info-Markets and New Functionalities and Approaches to Value Creation

    1. Developing New Sources of Value:
      A major auto manufacturer is currently developing GPS links and data reporting for their automobiles. They plan to collect the data on where the cars go. This data is obviously marketable, but does it invade privacy or impact personal security? To whom does this data belong? Should the consumer pay for the unit in their car? Alternatively consider how this GPS sensor can lower the car usage cost. The opportunity for the auto manufacturer is to create a market so consumers can trade in this information. By setting the exchange standard, they create new forms of value for the customer, simultaneously creating additional value for their auto product. The customer can then sell this personal information to as many markets as they see fit. The automaker may make a management margin on the market if their standard takes off. In this environment enhancing an individual knowledge bank is good business; watch what happens to GM's OnStar product.

    2. Applying COMsumerism:
      As consumer to consumer auction markets continue to grow new products are being developed around them. Recently, launched a free payments service. This enabled the seller to make an instant payment to the seller without charge by e-mail at the end of the auction. However, delivery and tracking of delivery is still a problem. What I require is a "go fetch" service. I'd really prefer to make the payment when the goods have been checked by my agent and thus reduce the need for any later remedies and lower my risk. Clearly I need a courier company to confirm the pick-up time and the quality of the goods I will be receiving. The company can check it off against my audit list. They could also keep my personal details completely private from the seller. The seller would only need to agree to the pick-up time.

    3. Authoring a New Book:
      Recently, Stephen King launched his latest thriller as an e-book and sold 500,000 copies in the first 48 hours. So what's so interesting? First there were potentially zero distribution costs. Second he really didn't need a bookstore or and agent. Of course, in this example he was paid in the traditional manner. However, if he were not Stephen King he might have had to give the book away for free. After a period of time we can imagine a million people may have read his best seller. The question then becomes how much will the average reader pay for the next book he writes. Either individuals or communities could sponsor this work. If you enjoyed the last book you might very quickly confirm your interest in the next book with the author benefiting from this exchange.

    Appendix 2: Suggested Metrics for Web Community Development

    Put in place a monitoring process to track changes and emerging COMsumer power. Consider these challenges and the metrics on your own developing Web community and ones you participate in.

    • Where are there scaling bottlenecks? Similarly where will new points of friction arise? Will everything scale? We need to also look for those things that won't scale; for example customer support may have difficulty scaling. How do you handle flash point crowds?

    • What is your Web site coefficient? Where are you in the food chain? How many other Web sites rely on you and vice versa? Of those you rely on what are their Web site coefficients? In a community and cooperative world is your Web site the coefficient king?

    • Are you measuring inflows and outflows? Is your COMsumer community knowledge base and power increasing or decreasing? Are you actively connecting new markets, intermediating or facilitating? What metrics are you using to define the above?

    • Are you measuring your adaption and change? What level of transparency exists on your site? What happens if everyone you ever did business with pooled their information? Simply everything is on the Net.

    • Consider what happens if all your customers are simultaneously engaged at their Web site. What happens to your organization if the number of nodes in the network tend towards infinity? How can you increase this extrapolation?'s launch as a free site was closed down by simultaneous engagement of thousands of customers at the same time. Some stock sites and Ebay have suffered similar fates.

    • Pause to reflect on whether the information will be free or who might own it. For consumers are already giving away their opinions and more recently pooling them in search and reporting systems. Similarly open source concepts are growing and are perhaps embryonic of what emerges in Stage III. Similarly what if the standardization and scaling provided by the model moves towards zero price?

    • Number of new functionalities disintermediated: Being the first mover gave an advantage. Copies have reduced opportunities for success. However this success may be fleeting; now consolidates and provides a finder and reporting function on all major auctions. Apparently Ebay spent too much time facilitating their customers and mediating their market so they failed to see what they would gain by sharing and providing an open market format. The real prize was in setting the auction exchange standard; had they franchised it to others they might have owned the AuctionWatch space as well.

Appendix 3: Building Functionality, Building Value

As we know, the Web is continuously developing and generating new functionality for users. As noted earlier, the functionality that first provided filled a certain niche as the first online auction site. However, on the Web the benefits of that original space are quickly modified, added to, and re-presented by competitors who recombine the original elements in new ways. Thus further developed the functionalities of this emerging market. The various red hexagons in the illustration above represent market space could have captured. Since it did not, E-Bay's long term potential may be at risk if the COMsumers decide this or other new benefits packages are more attractive. Note: as this is written Yahoo and Ebay are involved in merger talks.

This is a very clear illustration of the basic principle underlying The COMsumer Manifesto - The Law of Recombinant Growth. First developed by Stuart Kaufman and Martin Weizman and recently revisited by Hal Varian. "Once one inventor proves something can be done, hundreds of others attempt to improve upon the invention. Biology uses such parallel evolution to great effect, and so does capitalism, when it has the opportunity."

The Internet has already shown that this is the way to very rapid progress, as in the case of Linux. An open system of COMsumers will redefine markets faster than any company can do so (This is the basic message of the book The Cluetrain Manifesto although the authors did not state it as such). Most of today's's will not survive the present virtual land grab and current culture of rampant hypercompetition. However, the component parts of these dot.coms - that is, their functionalities - will remain central and the know how necessary to re-combine them into new market place offerings. These functions and personal skills will be the most sought after. They will reflect the personal tacit skills of knowledge workers and morph into new info-markets, The COMsumer Age.

Editorial history

Paper received 18 April 2000; revised 19 April 2000; accepted for publication 24 April 2000.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

The COMsumer Manifesto: Empowering Communities of Consumers through the Internet by Stuart Henshall
First Monday, volume 5, number 5 (May 2000),