Attention Bunny

When Robert Scoble reported on our late night conversation after the Berkeley meat-up Monday night, I briefly panicked when I realized he had really gotten what I've been talking about with regards to attention. Then I calmed down, figuring he'd forget it all after a good night's sleep.

When Robert Scoble reported on our late night conversation after the Berkeley meat-up Monday night, I briefly panicked when I realized he had really gotten what I've been talking about with regards to attention. Then I calmed down, figuring he'd forget it all after a good night's sleep.

Wrong. Tonight, the Bunny pops up in Rojo with a gesture and gadget-laden post that clearly indicates attention has gotten his. Luckily his site appears to be down, refusing redirection and connections, so I'll check back in the morning before heading off to breakfast with Dave (who thinks Gillmor Gang is "slipping" and doesn't care about attention.)

Could it be that Microsoft is paying attention? On Tuesday, Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie will likely shake up the industry with details of their rapid move toward the attention economy. The key to this reboot is the understanding that page rank, and the fundamental search methodology of people looking for information, is about to be flipped on its head to a new model where the information is provided gestures of intention that allow it to target the user. The key is the same fundamental that drives RSS: the invitation on the part of the user to address information inward.

As splogs destroy the perception of page rank legitimacy, which is based not on the actual metrics of linking but the accrued reputational value of a site's authority, the number of false positives will undermine confidence and dilute the economics of the system. It's not so much that links are dead, Doc, as that trust in link rank is undermined. As in the bond market, weakened trust lowers ratings and shifts the market in other directions. This is Microsoft's opportunity.

Interestingly, Microsoft is already sending signals--gestures in attention-speak--that it gets this. As Dan Farber reported and Information Week confirmed, Redmond is undergoing a massive transformation as the political effects of Jim Allchin's retirement sweep over the company. The once-unthinkable knowledge that Office revenue could literally go to zero has been unburdened from its apocalyptic moorings as Ozzie and Gates realize they are being handed the optimal opening to embrace Web 2.0 and pivot into the new attention economy.

Ozzie makes much of the notion that services will work for consumers and the SMB market but not the enterprise. I don't agree, but let's follow that logic anyway. Office's vulnerability, as expressed in Gmail's impending route of Exchange/Notes at the consumer and virtual enterprise level, creates an ironic but seductive opportunity. Take Ozzie's assumptions about Office's lock on the corporate market and flip it on its head: Microsoft can afford to challenge Google, Yahoo, and Skype with thin pluggable apps--what Scoble calls gadgets--that can slip onto the desktop alongside Gtalk, Gmail, Skype, and RSS inforouters like Rojo or Memeoradum.

When Gtalk came out, I quickly added it to my mix of GooOffice components. It interoperates quite nicely with Skype on my Tablet. Ironically, this loosens Google's grip by establishing multiple sources of attention metadata that are not being captured by one company but many. Not only does that produce value for users who support independent attention recorders such as the one we've seeded with AttentionTrust, but it also creates the foundationfor a cross-vendor API based on attention metadata. Gestures that span multiple engines and transports (AIM, GTalk, Skype IM, and Yahoo; Bloglines, Rojo, MyYahoo, Google Reader, Vista; the coming round of calendar gadgets; etc.) will inherently become more trustworthy as signals of interest than gamed links, walled garden cross and up-sells, and attempts at supplying authoritative information from incumbent publishers who can't or won't intermingle content from their competitors.

 Back to Microsoft: the enterprise holds firm as Redmond ships a thin pluggable calendar app for both IE and Firefox. Not only does it run across Linux, Solaris, the Mac, and Windows, but it communicates back to Office as an offline store. But Microsoft can't fake this: if it supports an attention recorder across all components--Gmail, Gtalk, Yahoo's mail client, RSS read unread marks, offline sync--then users can leverage the aggregated metadata to wrest the best value out of all players in return for access to the aggregated data. It will not coincidentally uphold the four foundational principles of the AttentionTrust--the rights to own, market, move, and track the flow of their gestures around the network.

Meanwhile, if Ray is right, Office remains stable in the enterprise. If he's wrong, and like Office 97, attention economics rapidly proliferate between organizations and along the virtual supply chain, forcing their way past IT and through outsourced on-demand Office dialtone services, then Microsoft has a huge headstart in easing the transition from local to virtual storage. Like Office 97, build the new Office at home, on the road, in hoteling desks in satellite offices, then let the users drive it past IT into the office with automated replication that synchronizes both data and services into the installed Office container.

Remember: Office's potential demise kept Microsoft from moving directly to confront the Google challenge. In the same way, Microsoft's embrace of attention forces Google to cannabilize Adsense and their black box economic engine to stay competitive, something as expensive to their core revenue model as Office is to Microsoft. It's a massive game of chicken, and I think Ozzie and Gates will signal on Tuesday that they've already discounted the loss of future Office revenue and therefore have much less to lose by jumping now.

But none of this will happen, because Scoble forgot everything I told him. Oh, shoot, Scobleizer is back up. What have I done? Naah, nothing to worry about. They won't listen to Scoble. Oh yes they will.