• Has the ‘Attention Economy’ become a moot-point?

    by  • April 3, 2009 • Web / Internet • 3 Comments

    …or is ‘Trust’ the last line of defense?   (part #1)

    In 1971  Herbert Simon wrote:

    This precient observation from the Nobel Prize winning economist sits like a corner-stone underpinning a wealth of brilliant work that has attempted to characterise both the phenomenal collapse of the cost of duplication in the digital economy, fermenting what Umair Haque calls the “Cambrian Explosion in micromedia” (blogs, podcasts, twitter etc)


    with the rapacious business-models that: “work by treating consumer attention as the property of the search engine (in the case of paid inclusion) or the publisher (in the case of advertising networks).” [Src Wikipedia]

    Kevin Kelly reminds us that: “In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times.” and that: “companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying, [and] …The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.”

    However, its all too obvious that the web is far from egalitarian or homogenious. It is stratified into the have-nots and the have-lots… But curiously like the gold-rush era, the perception and the reality of rags-to-riches overnight miracles are legendary.  For every mould-breaking ‘open’ and inclusive new social-media trend that succeeds in capturing our imagination and highly valued attention, there is an army of profiteers scrambling to convert our collective attention be it in the form of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’, (the new trophies of web credibility) …the race is on.

    attentionMuch of this buoyancy and fecundity in the general web marketplace can be put down to Google’s ingeniously magnanimous and enfranchising paid-inclusion system: Ad-Words which sells the user’s attention-data to Google’s own Ad-Sense system for publishers in a classic two-sided-market.

    (Obama’s nominee for antitrust chief, Christine Varney, recently described Google as: “a likely antitrust problem” [and as] “…having acquired a monopoly in Internet online advertising.” Joe Nocera from the NYT, puts the phenomenon into a more internet-savvy context by saying: “…the issue isn’t that Google is a monopoly. It’s that Google has become the marketplace. It’s where we all go for information. It’s where advertisers go for us.”

    The fact that Google’s business is built directly on freely-given ‘attention’ and ‘interest-data’ is an axiomatic truth that should never be forgotten

    In Kevin Kelly’s classic article “Better than Free” he continues with his discussion of: ‘The Internet as a Copy Machine’

    kevinkelly“When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.

    When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied. Well, what can’t be copied?”  “There are a number of qualities that can’t be copied. Consider “trust.” Trust cannot be copied.

    You can’t purchase it. Trust must be earned, over time. It cannot be downloaded. Or faked. Or counterfeited (at least for long).

    If everything else is equal, you’ll always prefer to deal with someone you can trust. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value in a copy saturated world.”

    So how important and how fragile is the value of ‘trust’?

    One only has to consider the quagmire that the ubiquitous and highly respected serial investor and serial Twitterer Guy Kawasaki has got himself into by his very public admission that he uses two or three ‘Ghost Tweeters’ to augment his prolific ‘tweets’ (writing through his Twitter account on his behalf). When Dave Fleet interviewed Kawasaki on the controversy via email, after promising to identify his ghost tweeters, Kawasaki responded to Fleet’s final question: “How do you feel about the ethical issues raised by ghost writing using social media tools in general?” by saying: “Surely, there are more important things to think about.”

    The problem with Guy’s glib response to the big ethical question is that he has patently underestimated what his own brand-promise has come to represent in the eyes of the people who have bought his books and attentitively absorb his presentations. (it didn’t take long to find the following proposition)


    The problem can also be seen in Guy’s presentation on ‘Slideshare’ ‘Twitter as a tool For Social Media’right there on the first slide Kawasaki states: “Nobodies are the New Somebodies”. i.e. in this new digital landscape that Kawasaki is soooo excited about, the very people he is marketing to; those who Clay Shirky identifies as: “the loosley coordinated groups [which] will have increasingly high leverage over the next 50 years,” are also the ones he is denigrating.

    But let me close this off by quoting Guy Kawasaki from his ‘Art of the Start’ presentation: “My final tip is that you ask women – and only women. My theory is that deep in the DNA of men is a “killer” gene. This gene expresses itself by making men want to kill people, animals and plants. Hence…


    mtsmall50k_biggerBecause as blogger Michelle Tripp has pointed out in her sensitive almost ‘bleeding-heart’ piece on the issue: “…if it’s not really you [Guy] behind the curtain, your account doesn’t have AUTHENTICITY. And I’ve lost a little trust in you.” [original Twitter post:http://tinyurl.com/cfz8k8]

    3 Responses to Has the ‘Attention Economy’ become a moot-point?

    1. April 3, 2009 at 4:44 pm

      Actually, I introduced the words and notion of the Attention Economy in the 1980’s when I pointed out that attention is not only scarce but highly desirable. Simon was interested in attention in only avery narrow sense, and thus missed the key point. Your essay also takes a very limited view of the importance of the desire for attention and thus misses the key point as well. Attention inherently involves and creates trust.
      For much more on this topic, see my 1997 article on the Natural Economy of the Net http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/519/440 and alos mnay post on my blog at http://goldhaber.org

    2. admin
      April 4, 2009 at 10:40 pm


      the link to your 1997 article doesn’t work. I briefly looked at your blog, and I can see that you have spent a lot of time considering these issues, and perhaps the problem is I have not absorbed it all in depth, but I get the sense that we are defining ‘attention’ (and using the term) rather differently. For instance, I have a fair bit of trouble following what you mean when you say:

      “…increasingly, money tracks attention. Those with a great deal of attention can easily obtain money, should they want it. Those with little attention will have a much harder time obtaining money.

      and the general push to tie ‘money’ with ‘attention’ i.e. (‘attention-money’, industrial-money’, finance-money’) makes me question whether the underlying premise of your treatise is (shall we say) sharable. (no disrepect intended)

      However, happy to continue a discussion…


    3. August 25, 2009 at 11:10 am

      Very good article indeed, some random thoughts I contribute to it
      The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free,
      So I guess a respected internet information curator is what will be really valuable if we based ourself mostly in credibility.
      Besides trust that is a new currency there are also the new kinds of social networks rankings like the one for twitterusers, for blogs, or for facebook members, for example the new eigenrummors, or eigengossip techniques can be used.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *