In the moment at SDForum SearchSIG the other night when Seth Goldstein announced the funding grant of the AttentionTrust by the Omidyar Network, a spontaneous burst of applause erupted. Months of discussions and diligence by Omidyar had resulted in a profoundly important ratification of the Trust's mission and its principles, and the folks in the room recognized both the logic and the significance of Omidyar's support.
As cofounder with Seth of the Trust, I've been there from the earliest germ of the idea at Etech 2005, Seth's first statement of the guiding four principles in an email, and the moment in the parking lot at a Kelsey conference as I drove away from a meeting with Seth and suddenly realized the Trust was the way forward to declaring our rights as metadata creators. I could have just turned around and driven the 500 feet back, but instead I called him on the cell phone. It was there that the Attention Recorder was born.
At the Web 2.0 conference last year we launched the first iteration of the Recorder extension during the first public board meeting of the Trust. In the discussion that followed, Tim O'Reilly suggested the possibility that the Trust's opportunity could be similar to that presented by Richard Stallman's positing of the beginnings of the open source movement. Could be, Tim cautioned. But in that moment, I began to think of the lessons learned by the advance of open software, standards, and services.
In that context, the Omidyar action can be seen as a bootstrap of one of the signal successes of Web 1.0 by an emergent Web 2.0 construct, Attention. If RSS is, as Bill Gates said today at Mix'06, "the start of the programmable Web" then Attention rights follow as the start of the user-in-charge. No wonder the SearchSIG audience, filled with VCs, mashup artists, and Attention startups, broke into applause.
When executive director Ed Batista messaged the Trust board with the good news about the Omidyar commitment, I felt just such a surge of delight, and not surprisingly, not a little pride in what Seth and I had started. But also a sense of responsibility to do whatever I could to justify the faith Omidyar has placed in our grassroots efforts. With the Trust on firm footing and the existence of the ATX recorder extension the "teeth" that underlines our rights to our own attention, what could I now do to close the virtuous circle of user empowerment?
Gestures. The third leg of the tripod, the other two instantiated by the Attention Trust and the Recorder. Why gestures? If the Trust asserts the right to control your metadata, the Recorder provides a reference implementation for each of us to insert ourselves at the beginning of the chain. But applications need an open stream of data to bootstrap the intentions of the users-in-charge on an aggregated basis. In turn, users need a way of influencing or guiding the services gleaned from the open pool to their individual needs and perspectives.
Seperating attention streams into two channels, one of anonymized aggregated metadata owned by its contributors, and one of gestures and private metadata owned by the gesturers, creates a powerful tool analagous to the fundamentals of free software and open standards. This is GestureBank, which I have been developing to stand atop the now secure foundation of the Attention Trust and its gifted open source Attention Recorder extension to Firefox. And the teeth: You can use GestureBank and its services only when you contribute to the open pool of data. And of course, join the AttentionTrust and uphold its four fundamental principles-- Property, Mobility, Economy, and Transparency-- just as Gesturebank does while building on top of the ATX Recorder and developer toolkit.
We've announced a private beta you can join by sending email from a Gmail account to gesturebank AT gmail.com. The Gmail requirement is to ensure that we can establish a live connection with each particpant via Gchat, which manages a persistent integrated store of IM and email communications. I've been working with Robert W. Anderson, a developer who I met at a blogger dinner in Berkeley (more specifically in the back parking lot during a vigorous debate with Robert Scoble about the fate of Microsoft Office,) who has been volunteering his ideas, advice, and nonexistent free time much to the dismay of his wife and children. The day after SearchSIG I drilled down with Dan Farber, Mike Arrington, and Dana Gardner, all of whom were at the event, on the just-released edition of the Gillmor Gang.
I have no idea if GestureBank will be successful at creating and maintaining an open pool of anonymized aggregate attention metadata, but given the Omidyar validation of the seminal AttentionTrust effort, I wouldn't bet against it. In order to ensure that there is not only no conflict of interest, but not even the appearance of such conflict between the Trust and GestureBank, I tendered my resignation from the board and as President as soon as I heard from Ed Batista that the Trust's immediate (and I hope and trust, long term) future is assured.
I have been careful not to talk too much about the GestureBank project as it began to develop, particularly as the buzz around attention began to mushroom and accelerate as RSS pushed many of us to the brink of information overload. With the AttentionTrust now endowed with enough resources to maintain a significant mediating role in the service of these essential first steps in users' control of their metadata and digital identity, I am confident that GestureBank's commitment to seeding an open pool of anonymized metadata under the control of its contributors will produce a further critical acceleration in the values and goals of the AttentionTrust.