Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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What’s the Big Deal about Attention?

In response to my “Unbundled Opoportunities” post, Joshua Porter asked, “what does attention have to do with it?” When Joshua says “attention,” he’s referring to it in terms of AttentionTrust, who’s mission is to give people back their attention data. Basically the idea is that whenever you visit a site your giving your attention in the form of metadata. When you’re on Amazon they know what you click on, what you’ve bought, and so on. They use that information to make recommendations for you. Google has different kinds of information and so does Netflix. Those who believe in AttentionTrust believe that you should have all that metadata and that in the future it will have value to marketers who want to understand you better. (For those in the know, please critique that description, it’s how I understand. Here’s Joshua’s description to compare it to.)

Anyway, when Joshua made the comment, he was asking specifically what the role of attention is in terms of unbundled media. After spending a lot of time thinking about it, I think I have more questions than answers, but I want to at least try to get my thoughts down on paper (or blog as the case may be).

Question #1: What about the aggregators?

As I understand it, there’s currently an implicit agreement between aggregators (including your average television station) and consumers saying, “you give me content or services I want in exchange for my attention.” A media company pays to make that 30-minute show because they know that they can sell portions of your attention to advertisers. An RSS aggregator like Bloglines offers you the service of bringing together your multiple feeds in one place in exchange for the fact that they know everything you read (disregard the fact that they don’t sell ads at the moment). I’m pretty sure this is understood by AttentionTrust, being that one of the three points in their mission is to, “Educate people about the value of their attention and the existence of “attention data”. However, it’s important to point out that the idea of “attention” is not entirely new.

Question #2: So where’s the value?

So now that we’ve established that attention data exists already, the real difference between AttentionTrust (from now on to be referred to as AT) and the status quo is that AT wants to return that data to it’s rightful owners: US! But my big issue here is that once attention data’s been removed from a context, doesn’t it lose a great deal of value? I mean, yeah it’s great that I know that you visit XYZ.com, XZZ.com and ZZZ.com, but if you’re trying to convince me to buy that data, then you better tell me how I can make money off it and right now, just knowing that doesn’t really help. Yes, it is great if I want to spend the money to talk to you one-to-one (and I will discuss these possibilities a bit later), but other than that where’s the value? I still don’t know when to put the message in front of you. Unless I put it together en-masse, where’s the value to marketers? And if I do combine it with the attention data of others, what makes it any different than market research? (Not to say market research isn’t incredibly valuable, but if AT is pushing glorified market research, then there’s a whole lot of hubbub over nothing.)

With all that said, there are possibilities . . .

Idea #1: One-to-One

This seems like the biggest opportunity, you sell me your attention data and I know just what to give you to sample. Whether it’s a new website, or product, I can understand you well enough to put something in front of you that you’ll actually appreciate.

Other than that, at the moment I’m having trouble envisioning how AT could really change the world. Yeah I would like to own my attention metadata and know everywhere I go and everything I do on the net. And yes, I could sell that data to a company in exchange for some services, but I don’t completely see how this is flipping the model we currently have on its head. I mean, they’d be able to build one hell of an application and I’d spend a lot of time there and they’d know a lot about me, but so does Bloglines . . . Of course, I could just be missing something obvious, but what’s so revolutionary about this?

Update (11/19/05): Right after writing this, I read this entry by a brand planner about inverting the marketing funnel. In it he suggests that the funnel may have moved from “awareness – familiarity – attitude – action” to “intrigue (among a small group) – co-option – investigation – consideration/opinion – publicity”. Thinking about attention in that context, attention makes a lot of sense to marketers as a way to identify opinion makers (the “small group”) and hit them with free product. Just an idea.

Update (11/20/05): Alright, so I did some more AttentionTrust homework and am starting to get my head around it I think. I started with Seth Goldstein’s entry, “Media Futures: From Theory to Practice”, which explains how AttentionTrust and ROOT Markets came to be and followed that up with “Following the Lead to a More Transparent Future” over at ClickZ. One clarification I’ve gotten is that AttentionTrust is about lead generation. It’s about delivering qualified customers to companies. As I understand it, in some way it makes advertising a bit irrelevant by connecting customers directly with companies (of course those companies still need to close the sale). What’s more, from Peter Caputa’s comments on a Jason Calcanis entry on Attention, I began to better understand some of the benefits that can be offered to publishers:

If it squeezes “traditional publishers” or “blog publishers that have adopted traditional business models”, so be it. But, what Seth points out, is that this is a huge opportunity for publishers too. If the ad serving technology on engadget could be customized based on the visitor’s wish list or what products they’ve browsed on amazon.com, and the ad would be more likely to result in a sale or a lead that makes engadget $20. Now, if that happens 5 times per thousand impression, you’ve made a bit more than you are making now.

November 20, 2005