Getting a piece of the action: The attention economy

Getting a piece of the action: The attention economy

Summary: The AttentionTrust gang, led by Steve Gillmor, Seth Goldstein and Ed Batista, held court during a session at the Syndicate conference. Most interesting were Seth Goldstein's comments about attention deficit--the notion that users aren't compensated for their attention online, which generates money for the host sites, e.

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TOPICS: Big Data
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The AttentionTrust gang, led by Steve Gillmor, Seth Goldstein and Ed Batista, held court during a session at the Syndicate conference. Most interesting were Seth Goldstein's comments about attention deficit--the notion that users aren't compensated for their attention online, which generates money for the host sites, e.g. Yahoo, Google, MSN, Amazon, CNET, AOL. "People  have to feel they own equity in the entities that they are providing the data to, which are becoming valuable based on the [user] data," said Goldstein. "The valuation of Google or Yahoo is  based on value of user gestures, and it's getting to a point soon where publishers and consumers, in a social media context, will be fighting over the proceeds."

He questioned whether del.icio.us had the right to sell the bookmarks he placed into the popular tagging site to Yahoo. Fundamentally, the AttentionTrust gang wants to develop mechanisms, and a culture, in which users can commoditize their gestures and participate in the value chain in partnership with Web sites.

Attention data can be harnessed from an anonymized pool of metadata that describes three fundamental principles, Steve Gillmor said. It's 'who' (the feed), 'what' (the item) and 'how long' (length of interaction). "With just three pieces of information, you can derive lots of inferences about the natural forming affinity groups that result from those gestures over a wide variety of people...It only takes about 1000 users to figure that out," Steve said.  If users can capture and control their metadata before it goes anywhere else, they can make decisions about how it can be used, he added.

Gestures, in part, are a sign of intention and attention or inattention, include online actions like tagging, commenting, subscribing, unsubscribing, clicking, not clicking, rating, voting, searching, linking, etc.

Goldstein went on to say: "Either you trust the non-profit [such as AttentionTrust.org] or new kinds of equity models like coops or associations that give a kind of phantom equity to users," Goldstein said. "We have to get to level of ownership--which would be disruptive to venture capitalists and start-ups. We may get away from it this year or next year, but ultimately the proletariat will overthrow the Web 2.0 aristocracy."

I followed up with Goldstein to get more granularity on his thinking on gestures and new kinds of equity models, and he send me the following in an e-mail:

I believe that consumers are becoming more sophisticated about the ways in which their gestures of attention (tagging, commenting, ranking, linking, reviewing, clicking, searching...) are contributing to the economic value of the social media they use.  Groups like AttentionTrust are helping to stimulate this awareness. This is not to suggest that consumers will stop using services that provide free functions in exchange for their metadata (i.e., search engines), but rather that consumers will want to have a much better and more explicit sense of the "trading costs" they are incurring. Paying users for attention in short term cash or discount chunks is dangerous because it invites attention inflation and click fraud. Encouraging users to dedicate their attention to a service that establishes a longer term economic contract is likely a more legitimate relationship. 

This is what I was trying to work through in the conversation yesterday [during the Syndicate conference] and which we are considering for our Vault members [see about ROOT Markets below]. To the extent that users are generating long term economic value for a commercial entity through their contribution of attention (which in a Web services world is increasingly fungible), they should be able to own a piece of their own mode of production. It's an important nexus of economics, behavioral psychology, Internet advertising and Web 2.0, and I cannot profess to have figured out a good solution.  But I am fairly confident that this is the right problem set to be focused on at the moment. 

Goldstein and his colleagues are calling for a new socioeconomic contract in which the users' gestures of attention become a kind of currency, a medium of exchange. Your attention gestures could be exchanged for a better class of service, money or discounts, for example, depending on how those gestures are valued. 

The AttentionTrust.org's attention recorder for Firefox collects a user's browsing history and clickstream. Users can analyze their attention data; share their data with other users to participate in services, such as a book club; allow data to be aggregated as part of a larger community; and potentially exchange their data for something of value.

Users can choose to work with a service, such as Goldstein's startup ROOT Markets, which is developing a financial exchange for monetizing consumer attention, and offers a 'Vault' service--like a bank--that lets consumers to store and manage their attention data, and potentially their identity data, in a secure way.  

But it's hard to imagine Google or other major sites granting users an explicit piece of the action, other than providing more convenience and relevance, such as with the Google Reader. The massively trafficked sites have been saying that the users have a right to their metadata, but that's doesn't mean they are willing to share the profits that have driven their stock prices into the stratosphere. The vast majority of users don't every read privacy statements, so what would compel them to start managing their attention data like commodity traders, or more simply like their bank account?

Longer term the notion of an attention/gesture/identity banks and vaults will flower, not just as kind of currency and identity management service, but also as a way to tune the Web to deliver the information your really need and make connections in the increasingly dense and complex social Web. Most importantly, Web users will be at the center, not just a handful of mega-portals--at least that is the theory.

Like other kinds of cultural, economic and behavioral changes, getting people to pay attention to their attention, as well as building the capability to manage and exchange attention data as a commodity into the infrastructure, will be measured in decades, not years...

Topic: Big Data

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18 comments
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  • english as a second language?

    "I followed up with Goldstein to get more granularity on his thinking on gestures"

    Ok - is something wrong with "I talked with Goldstein to get more details on his ideas?"

    it's bad enough somebody thinks "gestures" is a good word to discribe that sort of interaction, but "granularity on his thinking"?

    You've been mr. tech talk WAaaaay to long bro!

    You should try NOT to talk like a weenie, we're NOT impressed!
    CWButler
    • Well ..

      ... the guy holds a BA in Dramatic Literature('92 - Columbia University), what else did you expect ?
      Ardian Daka
    • I totally agree...

      Talk in plain English, please!

      I DO understand the words/wording used, but using fancy wording doesn't make a person sound "smart".
      BlazeEagle
  • Ummm, users get "paid" in information.

    That is the reason they go to a web site right?
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Exactly what I was thinking

      Or to put it another way...
      Our attention is something we willingly exchange for the services and information we get. It's already a mutually beneficial trade - nobody's getting short-changed.

      The economics of browsing are simple and these brilliant fools are trying to over complicate it.
      dstinson_z
      • well ...

        ... isn't the whole 'consulting' business based on inventing problems so that we hire them to give us solutions to those non-existing problems?
        Ardian Daka
    • Yep

      The idea is akin to demanding that we get paid to watch
      television because, after all, the tv stations are making money
      from our attention paid to ads.

      What's really interesting to me is the training that internet ads
      perform on us as viewers. After a brief period of first spending
      time on the web, ads generally become invisible. I no longer
      even see the flashing and moving boxes ZDNet (for example)
      slaps all over a webpage. They're training us as viewers to
      understand implicitly where valuable information can be found
      on a webpage, and what things to automatically ignore. Efforts
      to create non-ignorable forms, like pop-ups, have been met
      with anger and annoyance. What does this say about the future
      of online ads?
      tic swayback
      • To many adds spell disaster? PCMag is an example.

        I USED to be a subscriber to PCMag. not any more. Why is that? "Back in the day" PCMag used to be full of interesting articles, insights, and even something for coders. Heck the thing weighed as much as a book.

        Have you seen one lately? Maybe two or three real articles that are poorly thought out, opinion pieces in place of information, and every page is minimally 50% adds. And they thought I would continue to buy it? Pfffttt...

        ZDNet pay attention, you aren't far from losing me as a reader. Why? The number of adds continues to grow and the quality of the site continues to degrade. Of late, every time I visit ZDNet I find broken links, 404 errors, missing posts, posts placed inappropiately and very long load times. But you can bet the damn adds work every single time!!! It is very clear where the energy and effort is being spent.

        I mean look through every talkback and you will see someone complaining IN PUBLIC begging ZDNet to fix their site. You can be certain that for every vocal complaint there are dozens of people that don't bother and just go to another WORKING site.
        No_Ax_to_Grind
        • Well said

          Technical issues aside, we're also seeing more and more puff
          pieces, more press releases just reprinted verbatim, and a slew of
          blogs that are little more than PR for particular companies.
          tic swayback
          • Technical issues...

            But note, the adds all work perfectly. That says a great deal to me and tells me where the priority is placed. What they (ZDNet) don't seem to grasp is that when the content turns to crap, the adds won't matter a bit...
            No_Ax_to_Grind
        • Having a good day No_Ax?

          You seem to be writing more thoughtful and inciteful dialog today. Merry Christmas?! :)
          Roger Ramjet
          • Funny how when you agree I become insightful.

            ;-)

            (Not to worry, I do the same.)

            Hope you and yours have a great holiday!!!
            No_Ax_to_Grind
        • Speeling ??

          No_Ax it's "ads" not "adds."

          As in more ads can add to the bottom line.
          Regulator1956
      • Rats in the Maze

        I wonder how much our response to advertizing has changed as a result of awareness. Instead of clicking on ads, do we file it away for future inquiry? Do we now consciously click links where we previously just "surfed"? The average user is applying more organization to his web usage (search, RSS, etc.) and is more aware of reputation and presence, so tracking stats are probably not comparable to those from a few years ago.
        3dguru
    • Correct, AND...

      ... these guys are saying; If you look at the value of businesses such as Google and Yahoo they are getting a way better return out of the deal.

      In the past the thinking has always been that our attention is pretty easy to get - because other media, such as newspapers, create market dynamics with monopoly (or near monopoly) aspects to them.

      But, on the Net, the playing field is levelled. Now a new entrant in the New Media market has as much chance as an existing media brand [no-one knows your a dog... etc.].

      This means that our attention is becoming scarce, where it was once abundant and easy to harvest. Like any commodity that becomes scarce, the price for our attention is going up.

      The rest of this blog is about people speculating on what that means, what must change, and what strategies people must begin to employ. I'm not convinced by all the arguments, but at least they're thinking about it and coming up with ideas.
      Stephen Wheeler
  • A Gesture

    I already value ZDNet highly because they actively encourage my gestures (like this one).

    However, if ZDNet do start to value my contributions more, might I be tempted to move elsewhere...

    It is people like those of us who populate these Talkback zones who are at the forefront of New Media - sometimes it seems even more then the pros who write the main news stories, papers, and blogs.

    So, to answer your question Dan; "The vast majority of users don't every read privacy statements, so what would compel them to start managing their attention data like ... their bank account?" I believe early adopters are already hawking their attention around - they're just never offered great deals for it, so are never disappointed. The Net is actually waiting for someone to grab first-mover's advantage...

    That said, I'm not convinced by all the attention bunnies have got it right yet.

    Then again, I've been registered with the Attention Trust for at least three months now...
    Stephen Wheeler
  • MyOwnEmpire.com

    How short our memories!

    Does anyone remember MyOwnEmpire.com that had ALL the bells and whisltes including text-to-speech reading of your e-mail for free?!

    You got stock in MOE for your participation in the portal. The more you clicked, the more stock you got.

    Whether through a MyOwnEmpire arrangement or some other scheme which attempts to monetize people's attention, you are creating a loop in which no new value is created. There needs to be an exchange of valued "things" to create value.

    People have, and need to have, a reason for giving their attention, whether it is education or entertainment - and they exchange their attention for the object of it - anything else is wasted time

    And I can tell you that value of that.

    Best regards to Bob Haya if this catches his eye (anything is still possible! - but never the same dog twice) :-)

    Eric P.
    eric.pederson@...
  • Get paid to browse...

    How about a search engine that pays you for your time and attention? With a kind of "Virtual Money", similar to frequent flier miles? Who knows?
    eslorence@...