Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Media, Users and Attention

As I have mentioned or hinted at in previous posts over the last week or two, I walked away from the Gnomedex conference with one idea that has stuck in my head since I encountered it. That idea is centered around what Steve Gilmor unveiled as the Attention Trust or what can more broadly be described as the Attention Economy. This idea was certainly not new as I believe that Michael Goldhaber has been writing about it for a number of years and the topic has been given new prominence recently by Tim O'reilly and others. The presentation that Steve laid out was brief and it had the taste of an academic topic but I wanted to share some of my thoughts as it relates to my personal journey around media and user created content and why I think this is an extremely big and powerful idea. Hopefully I can do that in a way that is accessible. I find myself grappling with how to portray this to people I discuss the topic with without sounding confused.

By way of background, my time prior to MP3.com's acquisition by Vivendi and during my tenure as President of their Internet Music Group, we spent a lot of effort trying to find meaning in the data that was generated by our detailed user tracking. The main byproduct of that was described in this blog post here where we identified up and coming bands and held out the theory that a quantitative approach can be applied to identify likely content producers that would be of interest to major record labels. In retrospect we were harvesting the attention of our users to identify trends in content consumption or consumer taste with respect to music.

For me, I walked way with the intention to focus my professional efforts on opportunities that platformed what I would describe as edge of the network media. Some of the background that builds on the previous post can be found in this post from earlier this year. My general theory was that there are a number of trends that are creating a fundamental shift in what we think of as media. In this presentation I gave to some SDSU students back in early 2004, pages 16-18 highlight what I thought were the important pieces/trends that related to this shift in media.

One of the important trends on that slide was the decrease in cost for people to create content. This is seen in many areas such as blogging, podcasting, fantasy sports, and mobile devices. Some of this thinking contributed to what we have done so far with Rabble. One of the key ideas that was present at both MP3.com and with Rabble was the use of stats for users. Stats to us are a proxy for fame or in the language of Goldhaber attention. People wanting to capture other people's attention.

My personal belief based on my experiences over the last 7 years or so with media produced outside the center of the network has been that there is a fundamental shift away from centralized media and a passive entertainment experience to an interactive content creator model that is embraced by the youth culture in specific, but also is broadly beginning to disseminate out to a broader audience. This idea is described in a large number of places including most famously by Chris Anderson in The Long Tail.

So what was the big deal for me in hearing Steve Gilmor talk about Attention Trust? A couple of things. The idea that your attention is something that you can control, although on some level an obvious statement, isn't that powerful if you can't actually document what you are paying attention to. I can see what people are paying attention to on this blog by looking at my Sitemeter reports or by looking at my reports on Urchin. What I see in that case is maybe a navigation flow, or a referral track from a search engine. In general though I don't have much insight into who the person is viewing my pages, or why they are here or what they are hoping to gain.

The use of the Attention Recorder plugin or Firefox allows us to keep track of all the places we go to the Internet. This combined with the various devices like the Root vault allows us to create a record of our activity and share it with others. So who cares where I surf on the web? Well Google and Yahoo certainly do. They use this data to determine what sort of ads to serve us. What if based on what I am paying attention to there was someone or some company out there that has a product that I am looking for? Would I mind being told that there are a number of books that I am waiting to buy that I just haven't gotten around to ordering at a great discount? Certainly.

In general I am still trying to get myself up to speed with the concepts. The piece I am currently digesting that you can find here is from Michael Godhaber in the First Monday journal. It is really good stuff.

There are two specific things that are of interest to me that I am still trying to crystallize in my mind. The first one is that this sort of infrastructure or platform can really drive expressive behavior down to a really low level that makes sharing your thoughts/ideas/activities very easy. If you don't want to blog or create a podcast, how about sharing with others the clikstream of the sites you are visiting. Certainly there are a lot of my friends whose clicktream I would find fascinating. It would be a way to keep up with what they are doing when I don't have the time or ability to reach out. Knowing what they are surfing would give me some insight into what they are up to.

The second one is the one I touched on previously, which is the marketplace idea that Root and some others like Meople are working on. Mathcing your attention with the creators of products or services you are looking for.

There are certainly challenges for the widespread adoption of these ideas and principles but the ideas are extremely powerful when one considers the shift from passive consumer of content/media to an engaged creator or arbitrator of our own attention. The implications are profound. I am sure that I will be spending some of my free waking hours noodling on this for a long time.

1 comment:

Ed Batista said...

Hi Derrick,
Ed Batista from AttentionTrust here. Great post--I just pointed to it from AT's blog: http://attentiontrust.org/node/367. Looking forward to hearing more from you!

Ed