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Your Attention May Be For Sale

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-05-17

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Attention may be just another metric that can be assessed as one of many factors in marketing, or the most valuable commodity a consumer owns; two notables discussed the topic at the Syndicate Conference in New York.

Their viewpoints differ somewhat on the main topic of the session, "Selling Attention: Two Differing Views," but Attensa CEO Craig Barnes and Root.Net CEO and AttentionTrust.org member Seth Goldstein see attention as an important part of the economy, when it comes to Syndication. But how to approach it?

Barnes listed ways his firm, developers of the Attensa RSS feed readers, use attention to get worthy content to their users: observe behavior, prioritize content automatically, and recommend content.

Their use of predictive ranking measures what people do online and when they do it. Barnes said their objective is to minimize information overload, all too common in this time of multiple outlets for content.

Barnes also cited Attensa co-founder Eric Hayes' observation that the whole view of attention as seen today has become too static and heavy. That's when the Gillmor Factor, as in Steve Gillmor, came into play.

With attention streams progressing on without stopping, and growing more complicated in the bargain, the need to put the user instead of the publisher in charge of that attention became more important.

Attention is for the user, not for the publisher of ads. The pro-attention folks promote an open pool of content, not the silo method they decry as the province of Google and Yahoo, who collect content and share it only within their networks.

Barnes sees the potential for RSS overload to exceed the email problem. The hard part comes when people subscribe to a few hundred feeds. That's why they will need something to bring the most relevant content to their attention, out of that cloud of information.

A better understanding of Goldstein's perception of the issues concerning attention may be found in a series of posts he made last year on Media Futures. For this talk, Goldstein touched on how people deserve to have the rights to any attention data about themselves.

AttentionTrust.org focuses on four principles supporting that position: property, mobility, economy, and transparency. All of those factors contribute to how people's attention matters to others, and should matter to them.

Goldstein cited the Goldhaber theorems on attention, to reinforce why it is important:

- Attention is scarce and we want as much of it as possible
- In order to get attention, you need to give information
- Influence measures the amount of attention you get relative to the amount of information you provide

People can get an idea of their web usage and attention by trying out the Root Vaults tools at Root.Net. These capture one's online activity, ideally to help maximize the value of one's attention.

Our managing editor, Mike McDonald, brought up an aside about the Root Vaults: "So I made the observation that this neat little gadget to enable and empower the individual to own and understand all of his or her own data is great and good and all that.... but why couldn't the boss just say, 'Wow, ok, all employees must sign up for this thing so management can see what your surfing every second of every day.'"

Scary thought.

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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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