I've been sitting in ETech for the past few days being bombarded with ideas about attention. These have ranged from the profane to the profound. Dan Farber described the whole thing as amorphous. While I was busy chronicling what people were saying, Doc Searls was getting to the bottom of all of it.
Doc has a way of looking at all this talk of attention and seeing the forest in spite of the trees. He isn't on the program, but he should have been. In fact, he ought to give the sole keynote of the final day and put it all in perspective. Instead he wrote a brilliant piece that proposes that we need to turn the attention discussion inside-out and talk about intention.
We need to turn the attention discussion inside-out and talk about intention Intention is Doc's word for describing what he calls the "buy-side" of the equation. If attention is all about sell-side, then intention is about buyers (the folks with the money) describing what it is that they want to pay attention to. The most intentional talk at ETech was by Brian Dear announcing the addition of what he called "Dream Events" to Eventful. Dream Events allow buyers to express their intention to pay attention (and cash) to some future event.
I've been following the attention discussion from the periphery for a while now. The battle cry early on seemed to be "I own my attention data and I ought to be able to get it in a common format." Of course, as soon as you own something, you want to figure out how to sell it. TiVo already knows what I pay attention to, at least on TV. Amazon, similarly, knows a lot about my reading habits. What would Borders pay to know about my Amazon purchasing history? Not much, I think. And even if they would, is that what I want most? A few extra bucks?
No, I think the intention side of the equation has much more power. I'd rather use my intentions, along with those of other like-minded people, to get things that otherwise would be unavailable. I don't think this is about persuading O'Reilly to bring out the books I want to read, BMW to build the car I want to buy, or Apple to create the laptop I want to use because those companies already do that. That's why they're successful.
Intention is more subtle than that. Intention is a better word for what Seth Goldstien called the promise to pay attention or PPA. That may be the link between the notions of attention and intention that I've been struggling to find.
Seth talked about being able to secure and trade PPAs, or intention. I don't know that Eventful is trying to broker Dream Events, but there's more power in that idea than in pooling leads for mortgages, if you ask me. The linkage between intention and attention will ultimately be the brokers who can pool intention to represent real demand for goods and services that no one has imagined yet. Some people, like Steve Jobs, seem to be able to do this intuitively. Building systems that help us follow the path from intention to attention may make it less mysterious to the rest of us.