Now that the Gang is re-saddled up, I have been wondering how to move forward again after three months of negotiating, strategizing, writing, and turning used coke cans in for breakfast money. These last few years have been brutal for me and my family, an almost pathological struggle between the best of all possible worlds and an empty desperate time that makes high school look downright placid. Although I've had the great fortune of working for and with the best and the brightest in the tech (and recording) business, never before have I straddled the line between opportunity and entropy with so little differentiation between those states.
In recent weeks I've watched myself, almost from an out-of-body perspective, reach out and challenge the notion of my most valuable professional relationships. Things came to a head when I got into an argument with Adam Bosworth at the SDForum conference where we were both speaking. Immediately afterward I apologized on a personal level for my behavior, but on a pragmatic level, I felt (and still feel) compelled to work for something more than what I got from Adam.
What I got privately was a great deal of his personal time, for which I have been immensely grateful over the years since I first talked with him (and hired him as back page columnist) for XML Magazine. In those days before blogs emerged, it was uncommon for vendors to "cross the line" and write for a tech publication. But I knew Adam to be a straigh shooter whose agenda was clear and progressive: the build-out of the Web services revolution on top of the XML platform that he had had such an important political and architectural role in fostering at Microsoft and beyond.
What I got publicly was support for the principles behind attention.xml and, at a moment when Adam felt misused by the blogosphere about some posts about open source and databases, an appearance on the Gillmor Gang. To this date, the show represents one of the high water marks for attention, and in general Bosworth's support of attention gave enormous credibility to the effort.
But, as Doc Searls said to me on the phone today, once an idea takes hold, it's no longer my idea or your idea--it's our idea. Since I wrote (and Christina Koukkos rewrote) the body of the December Release 1.0 report on attention, the idea has taken on a life of its own. My Waiting for Attention post received widespread coverage, as did Robert Scoble's video conversation with me. Even Yahoo! joined in with an experimental implementation of the spec. I accepted invitations to speak at Supernova and Gnomedex on attention, and just this week, a conference on innovation in Singapore.
Maybe I was seduced by the success of the attention train, or was just too full of myself in general when I saw Adam deliver a second talk on RSS as the fundamental data model at SDForum. Certainly I was frustrated by Adam's lack of mention of attention in his slides, though I rationalized it as the deeper architectural foundation that attention metadata would flow on top of. Whatever my assumptions and/or mistakes, I was unprepared for Adam's reaction to my persistent questioning of him in a group of attendees after his keynote.
In essence, he suggested that he didn't mind being asked to do something, but drew the line at being told to do something. Fair enough. But he also made it clear that he would set the priority for helping somethig move forward lower when confronted by my more aggresive approach. Fair enough as it pertains to me and my personal relationship with Adam. But fair enough for the idea? I don't think so.
In mulling this over for some time now, I've tried to figure out what parts of this are pique, impatience, and just plain boneheaded behavior. I don't pretend to have all the answers about how to navigate in what I believe is a fuindamentally altered world of discovery, innovation, and relationships. The forces unleashed by blogging, podcasting, and RSS in general have torn down the Berlin Wall between ideas and implementation, with best practices lying in shambles on the newly tilled ground. It could be that Bosworth will not trust me again, in the same way, or that I will find myself unable to back down from the notion that we all are peers at some level in this new world.
But I have no doubt that Mike Vizard, on some Gang session long ago, had it right when he said that just because it's called public broadcasting doesn't mean it has an inalienable right to exist. As Adam pointed out, a company has every right to make money, to exist. He also reaffirms the principle Sergey Brin supported in his comments to me during the Factory Tour, that users have a right to retrieve their own data. Where Adam and I disagreed publicly (I have and am always careful not to describe private conversation) is over what constitutes our data. Are links, as Dave Winer suggests, part of our writing? If so, are gestures--attention metadata--also part of our intellectual property?
Here, then, is my question: if attention as an idea is now part of the public domain, isn't its product also worth the same care? I see no reason why Google, or Microsoft, or Yahoo!, or Skype, or any hive mind just now being born doesn't have the right to mine the data they collect for their own economic purposes. But shouldn't that metadata, the gestures that we render as information flows through us, be recoverable, and if so, why can't it be mined by the user (or users) as an economic force just like the publicly-traded or private company? We are in the age of empowerment, where the power of the Church, of the emperor, of the nation state, of the town crier, of the fourth estate, of the talking box we call radio, is now equally in the hands of the individual.
At that moment we've all begun to experience first hand, when the idea leaps off the screen or out of the speaker, it becomes its own being, able to decide for itself how far it will travel in the universe. As Doc said on the show Friday, we're just reaching the top of the roller coaster... Go listen to him, he's got it just right. What are we gonna do with this?