What's AttentionTrust.org all about?

The commodities in short supply for anyone who has moved fully into the digital world are time and attention. So much data, interaction and transaction, so little time and filtering.


The commodities in short supply for anyone who has moved fully into the digital world are time and attention. So much data, interaction and transaction, so little time and filtering. We have the benefit of instant access to information of all kinds and billions of conversations, but primitive ways to sort out and act upon what would be most meaningful and useful. At the same time, some people are asking how a person's accumulation of data online, not just identity, should be safeguarded and valued in economic terms.

In his blog posting entitled "AttentionTrust.org: a Declaration of Gestural Independence," Seth Goldstein writes, "Attention is the substance of focus.  It registers your interests by indicating choice for certain things and choice against other things.  As Steve [Gillmor] reminds, the establishment of value in the attention economy is a dual register of what one pays attention to and what one chooses to ignore (or unsubscribe, turn off or tune out)." The post is more of a treatise, citing people like Georg Franck and Michael Goldhaber, on the meaning of attention in modern, networked society. Goldstein takes it a step further in declaring a basic set of rights for attention:

Property:  I own my attention and I can store it securely in private.

Mobility:  I can move my attention wherever I want whenever I want to.

Economy:  I can pay attention to whomever I wish and be paid for it.

Transparency:  I can see how my attention is being used.

These represent our rights as attention owners.  Our attention data is ours, each of us individually.  In the wake of the behavior of credit card companies, credit unions and data brokers, it is vital that we recognize our right, and our responsibility, to govern ourselves relative to the use of our private information.  There are careful distinctions between data, meta data and attention, that I am still trying to figure out.  In any case, by virtue of recognizing the above-listed rights, members of the AttentionTrust (both individual and corporate) express their participation in a free, open market for exchanging their attention.  Our attention establishes intention; and our intention establishes economic value.  Once one recognizes the value of one's attention, it is shocking to see how cheaply most people offer theirs to companies looking for their business.

Goldstein cites Google use of personal data (the "selfish algorithm") and its privacy policy as an example of encroaching on a user's basic attention rights. "Our challenge as consumers in the age of paid search and performance marketing, therefore, is whether/how to wrest control back from the machine that has begun to anticipate our intentions for its proprietary gain," Goldstein writes. It takes a few read-throughs to connect the dots and grok attention gestures (basically, the information you shed when you interact/transact online, indicating your "intentions"). Should you own and control of the use of your data (sure), but I am still not clear on associating economic value (pay me for listening?) with attention. Goldstein apparently is looking to brew a business out of his principles of AttentionTrust. For starters, we need ways to make better use of time by developing better filters for finding what should command your attention and how you manage your personal data and clickstream. Anyone have any good ideas?

To further the attention cause, Goldstein, Hank Barry and my colleague Steve Gillmor hatched AttentionTrust.org, a "non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the basic rights of attention owners." They already have a logo, and I would guess T-shirts and mugs are soon to follow. First, they have to get some financing, and they are soliciting now. There is something interesting, if not important, going on, but the Web site so far doesn't have much meat on its bones beyond Goldstein's posting, which isn't directly accessible from the site yet (use this del.icio.us tag). Steve told me he plans to expand on the AttentionTrust topic in his blog soon.

For another viewpoint, Steve passed on a very funny rant by Andrew Teman that takes issue with Goldstein, AttentionTrust.org and all "self-proclaimed, self-important bloggers."

In a separate matter, AttentionTrust.org has drawn the attention of Wikipedia editors. It's a good example of self-regulation on the Web. The dialog is out in the open and civil...