We are Family

Listening to Dave Winer's podcast with his parents the other day, I was as usual struck by the mysterious DNA that establishes our course through life. Last night as I held my sleeping 4 year old daughter Ella, I marveled at the synthesis of my wife's and my lines, the subtle flashes of our parents, and on up the tree into history.

Listening to Dave Winer's podcast with his parents the other day, I was as usual struck by the mysterious DNA that establishes our course through life. Last night as I held my sleeping 4 year old daughter Ella, I marveled at the synthesis of my wife's and my lines, the subtle flashes of our parents, and on up the tree into history. I am not good at recognizing familial signatures, but can detect in some unspoken way those cues in others.

So it was I heard an essential Dave-ness, not just in his father's quick mind, but as well in his mother's silence and strategic intervention in the conversation. For the life of me I can't tell you what it is I noticed, or how to quantify it, but once again it brings to mind a phrase I've been hearing over and over again in recent weeks: I'll know it when I see it. In Krishnamurti-speak (or my version of it) it's getting closer to expressing the unknowable by defining what it isn't.

Dave's recording was hard to hear over the sounds of the restaurant but not hard to absorb. The effect was less like eavesdropping as much as tuning in and out of a family conversation as it suited you. You get the gist, if not the exact details. An impression, as Adam Curry called out in his conversation about radio advertising with Steve Leeds. In this age of explicit tagging and folksonomies, another implicit vocabulary is forming in the spaces between dialogue.

In the almost three months since the Gillmor Gang went dark, what have been the stories we missed? The fundamental one, of course, has been the reboot of mainstream media. The Gang did a good job of handling that hot potato, albeit with some pushback from gang members who favored less navel-gazing or more focus on the enterprise. But somehow I got pigeonholed as an evangelist for attention, or as Doc Searls called me recently, a journalist fergoshsake, and I thought it might be better to shut up and let the ideas do some talking.

Thanks to Susan Mernit, who sent me a draft of a post about attention for comments that turned into my long post on the subject, and Robert Scoble, who bootstrapped that post into a video chat, I've had a chance to move the attention ball forward. In recent weeks, I've seen a noticeable uptake in attention about attention, from Yahoo!'s public experiment to back-channel communications from other major players that may or may not lead to progress in their parts. Even Google's Web Accelerator initiative looks more to me like a proprietary attention play than spyware.

The main problem with spyware is unauthorized access to attention metadata. But like Rojo, and less efficient attention farms such as Bloglines, you know upfront that you're delivering metadata to a proprietary cloud. With Web Accelerator, apparently you're teaching Google to intelligently cache your pages based on look-ahead link farming. That by itself will produce some broadband acceleration, some Javascript autodelete errors, and a wealth of attention metadata about who, what, and when you read. So far so good--for Google.

Unlike spyware, you have agreed to provide this metadata in return for a service--acceleration, lack of latency, perceived real-time responsiveness. Google gets a larger footprint that expands upon search to the fruits of search. The more intelligently it mines this metadata, the more usefully it can predict what information you are looking for, not just the knowable links but the discoverable ones. This is the doorway to broad opportunities--the Google Office desktop suite, and the offline synchronization model that will push this to the enterprise.

With GMail extended to calendaring and RSS, a persistent and discoverable store for events and their corollary byproducts--tickets, babysitters, rentals, hotels, t-shirts, vertical iPods--is enabled. Predicting desirable events based on disruptively synchronous sales events (a low-fare rountrip to London and a Cream reunion RSS item with high bubble-up priority) will offer attention-derived value to users in return for their comprehensive metadata. Surely this is the monetization path for Accelerator.

The good news for us attention junkies is that the only way forward into that virtuous circle of metadata is API access. Just because attention may start or prosper in a proprietary space doesn't mean it will remain locked there. One look at craigslist tell us that an open marketplace of attention metadata will emerge as the glue between these private gardens--a kind of forever wild preserve owned by the users. In this context, Bloglines is good, Rojo is better, Web Accelerator potentially even better, and all of them plus an attention garden the best.

It's this aggregation of trust, affinity, and interest that we call our family in this virtual age. Attention is not automation; it's the aggregation of gestures that model our instincts, hopes, and ethics. Cars extend our reach, but then we get out and walk up the steps to our destination. With attention and its fruit, we can turn search on its head, empowering ideas to find the people they need to spread their wings. Don't worry--we'll know it when we see it.