Now that we've got your attention

I was in a conversation last night where the subject turned to Office and whether it's dead or not. You know, the good old Notes is Dead micromeme that I pushed out into the world way back when Ray Ozzie was not the Prince of Redmond.
Written by Steve Gillmor, Contributor

I was in a conversation last night where the subject turned to Office and whether it's dead or not. You know, the good old Notes is Dead micromeme that I pushed out into the world way back when Ray Ozzie was not the Prince of Redmond. Back before Ray rewrote the Microsoft playbook to stand at the doorway of attention. Back before Bill Gates told the Indian subcontinent that maybe just maybe it was time to cut a deal with--yes, us. Free stuff for attention. And what free stuff might that be? Credits for software! And what software might that be? ooh ooh I know... pick me, pick me.

Office. The Wall Street wisdom is that Google is a media company, their business model is advertising, and they have no business or gain in undermining Office. Right. Gmail, Gtalk, Gcal, Gbase, Gdesk. If you believe that, I've got a Gbridge to sell you.

OK, so of course Google is building the new microOffice. And this gives Ray the opening he needs to neutralize all the heavy hitters back at the ranch. Surely Ray remembered the moment at Web 2.0 when someone asked how many people had Gmail accounts and 80% of the room went up. Who are those hands? Thought leaders, influencers, enthusiasts, PR, media, so-called early adopters. And what did they pay for the right to use the software? No, not nothing. Their attention.

So if the war is already over, then what more does Microsoft have to lose? Only time. Time in which to make the switch to services. But can they just clone search and win share? Entropy rules. Take one of my favorite parts of Word- Outline mode. Works great, hasn't measurably changed since Office 97. Why upgrade? Can it be taken down? What do you think Dave Winer's OPML Editor is? But wait, what chance does OPML Editor or TechCrunch Plus or Writely have against Office? After all, Office already owns the Blogosphere with its built-in RSS editor. You know, Vista, NewsGator, Attensa, Pluck, oh, there isn't one.

But wait, says Ray. We've already lost the war. If Google can write a calendar tool, goodbye Outlook for real. If they can write a drag-and-drop outline/presentation tool pulling in graphics from Riya and podcasts from anywhere, goodbye the only parts of Word and PowerPoint I still care about. So what if we cut our losses and pay users for their attention with free software, says Ray. You know, the bloggers, casters, taggers, and mashsters formerly known as the audience. Cut our losses, sell the '00 Hairball and trade up to an '06 Hybrid.

So what's the Office Hybrid run on? Advertising? A personal note: I use Google for spellchecking. For searching my virtual harddrive for documents. I use Rojo and Delicious and Gmail for storage, backup, for virtualizing the operating system. I use search only as a last resort. Only as a Desperate Housewife who has run out of friends to ask for recommendations. What camera did I buy? I followed Simon Phipps around a Singapore electronics mall and let him ask the questions. When Woz saw what color I picked (black), he bolted out of the lounge at Tokyo and came back with the same model plus a two-gigayte flash card.

Word of mouth trumps advertising at the beginning. Later on it accelerates the street choice. Eventually it yields to the next word of mouth. On the Net, word of mouth is driven by attention. Attention not only to the choice but to the people who make the choice. And crucially, to the people who wait, who remain silent, who opt out of the dialogue. But in doing so they send even more powerful gestures--gestures that operate in the enormously valuable domain of time efficiency.

Gmail saves time, and more importantly, the perception of time. Folders are gone; I just type in unique words and invariably the information appears. The relevant phone number is there in the header, don't have to open the message. When I work on an email, the cloud autosaves it and tells me so, within a few seconds. The auto-threading eliminates first in-last out, scrolling down, repetitive actions that send the unsubtle message over and over: IDIOT. Instead, the software tells you the answer has arrived. You don't ask the software to tell you; it alerts you when new information has arrived.

Of course this is the RSS model. I don't care about what hasn't happened yet. But I do care about what my friends care about, and some of my friends know about stuff that if I knew about it I would care too. This is discovery, and it is why we are called Americans. And attention is about harnessing that small circle of friends. Pure and simple. That's what led me down this road with Dave Sifry, Esther Dyson, Hank Barry, Mary Hodder, Greg Yardley, Stan James, Ed Batista, Robert Scoble, Nick Bradbury, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, and especially Seth Goldstein.

And Bill Gates.


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