More on Attention and the Attention Economy

(updated 8/28 @ 6:15pm)

I’ve been working on getting my head around and what Attention.xml is and could be. Short Answer: Mindblowing. Longer answer, potentially a revolution  (like a Web 3.0 size revolution), more likely a big idea that will morph into something  very important (but not necessarily revolutionary) over time.

Your Attention is What You do On the Web
Think about, for example,  example, the OPML file that contains your RSS feeds.
Or, the list of tags you’ve generated at or Flickr. Or, your
My.Yahoo page preferences. Or, your Google search history. Or, the emails you get in Gmail. Or, the list of recent MS Office documents you created on your desktop. You’re leaving tracks all over the internet, sometimes intentionally (the sites you comment on, the ratings you give in Amazon), sometimes unintentionally (the headlines you click on All those tracks are evidence of your interests, what you are paying attention to.

Why is this Important
A couple questions pop out immediately:

  • How are those tracks getting used by site owners? By advertisers? By you? 
  • How much of your site usage should get used?
  • Shouldn’t you own your history and have some control over how that’s going to be used, by whom and when?

Some Assumptions
The importance of your "tracks" or attention, is based on the assumption that the sites either are doing something for you based on your actions (like Amazon’s recommendations and personalization) or should be doing something. If marketing is a conversation, your attention is your half of the conversation. Good sites should be watching your tracks, paying attention to your attention, and improving your experience in a smart way based on what you are essentially telling them. Technorati, for instance should be recommending other feeds based on your preferences. Google could be showing you news based on your search history or RSS feeds.

Most sites ignore your attention, which is a sort of slap in the face. Experienced users sort of assume big companies that know better are using your site usage data, and potentially even your personal data, to modify the user experience. For instance, when you log in to Wells Fargo to check your account, don’t you sort of assume that they’re putting certain links in front of you based on your account balance and accounts you hold? Amazon does, so why should Wells Fargo? Or, your credit card company? That is, don’t you expect that they’re using your attention to help them sell more stuff to you?

The winners in the future will not only create wins for themselves (as Wells Fargo puts that High Yield Savings link in front of you when they notice you have made a big deposit), but they’ll create wins for you, too. So, if the see that you’ve searched their site for 529 accounts a couple times, they’ll provide you with articles or news on college savings. They’ll respect your interests and time, and try to help you out. That’s a win/win.

So, we should assume:

  • Good companies respect your attention
  • Bad companies do bad stuff based on your attention.
  • Average companies ignore your attention

Users Are Paying Attention to How Companies Treat Them
Maybe more than ever, we’re watching how we’re being treated by companies, how they’re talking to us, how they’re marketing to us, how they’re ignoring us. We want to be heard, and treated with respect. We realize we’re making an investment of sorts with the sites we visit, and we want to have a conversation, not get spammed with ads, crappy products, or unrelated recommendations.

A Couple First Steps
AttentionTrust and Attention.xml are attempts at responding to these questions by creating a) awareness that there’s an explicit and implicit shared ownership of users’ attention and b) a technical format for sharing and brokering that attention.

The definition of what "attention" means in this context gets murky, but here’s my short, soon to be edited attempt:

Attention is:

  • A machine readable record of what you are reading, tagging, sending, blogging and listening to
  • Shareable with the public, your social network, or private networks, select sites, or no one/no sites
  • Shared/used based on your preferences and at your discretion
  • Temporal
    • Progressive – in the sense that your interests, habits, gestures will change and progress over time
    • Historic – In the sense that your "attention" is record of what you’ve paid attention to in the past
    • Predictive – in the sense that your past attention is a pretty good indicator of what you might pay attention to (or ignore) in the future

Yeah But…
(in progress)

As I tighten my thoughts on this, I’ll be looking at a couple links:

Any other ideas?


  1. Interesting. As everything that takes place within CyberInterNetics (my term) is two way capable. So everything we do here within this technology open to all.


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