Zero Sum Games

Susan Mernit and Marc Canter triangulate on Ross Mayfield's musings on personalization versus attention. It took me quite a few paragraphs to crack the Ross code--social networking good, automation bad.
Written by Steve Gillmor, Contributor
Susan Mernit and Marc Canter triangulate on Ross Mayfield's musings on personalization versus attention. It took me quite a few paragraphs to crack the Ross code--social networking good, automation bad. Marc's pushback was more concise, and Susan's more nuanced. Together the three posts illustrate why attention AND human filtering are the disruptive intersection at which the new Web stands.
Forgive me for being blunt, but I need to be to adequately describe how I got to Ross's post. There was a time when anything Ross had to say made its way to the top of whatever aggregator I was using (NetNewsWire most likely or Newsgator when I had my affair with the Tablet.) But Ross's "real" job moved front and center when SocialText was in the funding throes, and the content shifted subtly much as Scoble's did when he first grappled with his growing visibility. Ross's filter became skewed more toward his social networking interests, and away from the less-structured but (to me) freer leaps of insight that didn't suggest a lurking elevator pitch. Like I said, forgive me.
Flash forward to Susan's and the Media Center's conference, where Ross and I absorbed a stunning amount of research and on-the-ground data about attention and its snowballing impact. This was capped by the Yahoo! dinner, where it became clearer to many in the blogosphere how quickly the company was moving to establish an unassailable lead in the RSS marketplace. Scott Gatz and other Yahoo execs were somewhat more transparent about their strategy than Scott has been at other public events such as GnomeDex and in private in conversations for my Release 1.0 report on attention.
Ross had done his usual stellar job of transcribing the meat of Mark Fletcher's talk to the conference the previous day. Mark was understandably pumped in the aftermath of the Bloglines/Ask Jeeves deal, and Ross's post quickly bubbled up in both my Bloglines and RoJo aggregators. Not only was Ross's post the only substantial post in the blogosphere, but he cited several of my comments/questions in the post, which showed up in my vanity PubSub, Technorati, and Bloglines feeds. In these early days of attention management, search feeds are a relatively coarse example of the type of personalization Ross is (too strong a word but...) railing against.
But Ross transcripts, though a great resource (I frequently glance over to make sure he's taking notes at conferences as a backup or an index for my recording), do not rise to the same level as a primal Ross scream unencumbered by business model filtering. So Ross's personalization post would still not have bubbled up to the top of my queue if it were not for Marc Canter's post and Susan's reinforcement.
Follow my "logic" here for a minute. If Yahoo! regards itself as out in front enough to alert the rest of the RSS community to what they're doing, then the Bloglines deal begins to crystalize as well. Ask Jeeves moved from nowhere on my attention list to at least number 4 or perhaps 3 behind Yahoo! and Google. And all the other attention plays move up as well. Marc Canter:
Dude - watch Rojo show you how to build an entire business model around private labeling aggregators.
He's referring to one of Rojo's revenue models--private branded hosting akin to a TypePad for aggregation. But Marc may also be noticing that of all the current web-based aggregators, Rojo's is the most advanced and granular in terms of attention characteristics.
Susan supports the fundamental of Ross's attack:
But--and here's his big interesting point-- customizedpersonalization-- smart, self-adjusting, filtered system--limitsdiscovery (think EPIC).

agreeing with Ross that

the social exchange of info... has a higher value than machine filtering

She adds:
but organic, web-like organizations don't fit corporate structure, sowe'll see those networks grow outside and around the new tools asthey're fitted into the mainstream--and see additional tools (maybe FOAF?) radiate out from their hub.
Well, maybe FOAF, or as Adam Bosworth says about attention.xml, a more ad-hoc and organic version. Whatever, as my 11-year old says. But for me, it wasn't the social network or AI that brought this data into my window of opportunity to absorb it. It was all of the above. The tribal fear that the big boys are circling the wagons and trying to lock the gates behind them? The sounds of the RSS bubble beginning to tear? The veterans, torn but wiser and yet oddly optimistic? Maybe.
But whatever it adds up to, it's not a zero sum game. By themselves, implicit and explicit metadata do not reach the level of trust and authority necessary to rise above a combination of those dynamics. Just because machines can strip out serendipity does not mean that they won't be harnessed to save time. RSS has created a new kind of information overload, one where Newton Minnow's vast wasteland of 500 empty channels has been replaced with a million channels of compelling information.
RSS is about time, and RSS will win. Attention is about what we do with our time, and attention will win. Friends and family are about who we do it with, and we will all win.
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