Attention isn't simple and it should be

Attention data is valuable and little understood. When someone makes it simple to contribute attention data for even small compensation, they'll break the market open.

Alex Barnett writes:

If I asked the non-techie whether they think it is important for them to be able manage and store their banking data, emails, contacts and playlists in a way that alllows them to use their data within any application / service they want, I would guess a large proportion would answer 'yes' - because they see the value in their data.

While I agree that ordinary fold and not just a cognescenti will be interested in the vale of the data that describes what they pay attention to, I think if you asked almost anyone on Earth that question, the answer would fall between "Huh?" and "What the hell are you talking about, collect my data?" 

The challenge will beThe only way to carve more time out of the customer's life for attention data is to give them more time to pay attention to to make the collection and monetization of attention data a benefit to users. In a manymedia world, the only way to carve more time out of the customer's life for attention data is to give them more time to pay attention to things.

The simplest way, I think, is to pay for it in some way. There are plenty of examples in the retail world of such programs, in loyalty cards and multi-level marketing (where people's friends become the raw, and uncomfortable, material for a sales effort in a community). But online efforts have devolved to labor intensive collaborative tagging and filtering projects, from and Digg to Amazon's recommendation system, and none of them pay the contributor explicitly for their efforts (Amazon does offer a discount for users who allow the A9 search toolbar to collect browsing data).

Bill Gates made a gesture towards the idea of paying for attention when he suggested MSN search could pay users for searching and responding to offers through its index. The problem, then, is whether someone might succomb to the moral hazard of becoming a search-for-a-living user who only appears to be paying attention.

Seth Goldstein's Root Vaults, offered by /ROOT Markets, which intends to provide users compensation for their attention by creating an exchange that will be managed by professional traders, is one potentially interesting competitor. The service, however, is couched in terms of generating leads for marketers, a position that makes it less attractive to users who are not interested in opening their lives to marketers.

Attention is also simply a set of data that shows what, given some criteria for choosing a perspective, a certain group of people are reading or viewing on the Net, which can provide others guidance about what is useful or significant—mining that data for value and distributing it somehow will, I think, be the first implementation to get traction in the market. To some extent, this is what Google does with Page Rank, which assesses which documents about a particular subject on the Net are most pointed to, but Google's trading on advertising and not engaging its users in the value chain.

"The data that defines you socially isn't really that complicated, or that hard to collect," said Google's Larry Page at CES on Friday (excellent coverage by Engadget, by the way). In some sense, he's dismissing the idea that attention data is valuable enough to share the revenue with users. Attention, though, is much more granular than the "social" data that defines one's demographic or behavioral profile, and if Google's going to take that value off the table it is a huge opportunity for others, perhaps /ROOT Markets, to capture a loyal community of users willing to share their attention for even small compensation.

In the meantime, over-intellectualizing of attention data is the primary barrier to commercial success. It's a simple problem: How do you include the creators of attention data in the pay day? Delivering a service that does that with a minimum of effort and moral hazard is hard.


You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All