Attention engines not just for the geekosphere

The attention conversation keeps going.  Latest post by Scott Karp:

"The idea that we’re living in an “attention economy” is nothing new. But unless the media/technology industry starts listening to Umair and focuses on creating new ways to help people efficiently allocate their attention in a world of infinite options, the bubble will pop. And it won’t be pretty.

So let’s focus on the user. What the user needs is help allocating a finite amount of attention. And solution needs to be personal — perfectly tailored to each user’s needs. The user needs a personal killer app."

Scott refers to Umair of Bubblegeneration.  I love Umair's stuff.

One related post I came across yesterday by Noah Brier makes his show-stopping observation:

"But here's my widespread adoption issue: the general public don't think they have an 'attention problem.' If you ask people how much television they watch, they'll tell you less than they actually do. Most individuals have no clue what they actually spend their time doing and they're totally fine with it. Yeah, RSS puts all this information at your fingertips and creates an attention problem. But that's only for us geeks who are subscribed to 300+ feeds. I mean, yeah new technologies will force people to split their time more and more, but will they notice/care? I think it's really important to remember that the average person has no desire to sit around and read all these RSS feeds then blog about them. In fact, if you showed someone how I spend my attention online, they'd probably think I was an idiot who was wasting time."

Is attention really only a problem for the 'edge cases'?

Well, Google doesn't think so: Google News with personalization based on clickstream is a product designed for the masses. Any personalized news service is targeting the attention problem space. And there are a few - are they designed exclusively for the geekosphere?

The idea that only geeks - and not the 'average' people - want to have a more efficient way of finding content that matches their interests seems way off to me.

My wife is not a geek. She doesn't blog and she doesn't use an RSS reader. I don't know if that makes her 'average', but hey.  Anyway, she is interested in things.  She does use the internet to find news stories of interest to her - celebrity news (oh well 😉 and info related to her profession.  When I asked where she goes to get her news, she mentioned six or seven sites she visits for about an hour in total throughout the day, each day.  And she has to 'find' the stories each time.  So I'd say she is the perfect example of someone who would benefit from having a service that would bring her the news that matches her interests, regardless of who generated it.

I described to her a service that sounded like an attention engine and asked if she would use it, and she said yes. You see, her 24 hours are as valuable as my 24 hours.


Related - my attention writings



Comments (14)
  1. Noah Brier says:

    My point was not that everyone doesn’t need ways to better spend their attention, rather it was that there’s not the same self-awareness to how attention is spent. Sure everyone can use a way to better focus their time, but unless you realize that you’re not spending your time as effectively as possible are you apt to give it a shot?

    Most anyone would be interested if you told them you could give them a tool that would automatically point them to things they might find interesting. Turning that interest into action, however, I expect might be a little more difficult.

    Just my thoughts. I do think there’s a place for this attention data, I’m just trying to work through to find the real opportunity like the rest of us.

  2. anonymous says:

    It is only a problem for people who need problems so they have something to talk about and focus their time on.

  3. MSDNArchive says:

    ‘anon’ – the troll hole is two doors down the corridor and first left. Go down the stairs, turn second right and there will be a big neon light flashing with a big red arrow pointing downwards. The sign reads: "Brave". Go under it and stay there.

  4. Paul Dundon says:

    I think there are two different "attention management" problems which merge in the geekosphere – managing attention as a psychological resource and managing attention as an asset in exchange for content. There’s a bit more at

  5. MSDNArchive says:
  6. TechTrader says:

    Why does this conversation assume a "one-size-fits-all" solution? The answer to this discussion is that you’re discussing different demographics which will require their own solutions. Of course the blogger geeks need RSS feed readers. Will the masses this year? Nope. Next year? Probably not. But you can use the same principles packaged in different ways: put "RSS functionality" on TiVo so that users can watch Internet videos based upon keywords that they designate. I could see that getting serious traction in the larger market. Or this idea: Have the NYT create its front page based upon user requests/needs/interests/clickstream. You know, a nice MyYahoo. They could make a printable version each morning for people to take on the train with them. (Do people even take trains anymore? Does Amtrak even exist? Kidding. Sort of.)

    Or even better, create an overlay for bloglines or or that formats the results like That will make it more accessible beyond the techies.

    So, as I ramble on, I realize that the answer to this issue is probably within the domain of "mass customization". True, the general public isn’t very introspective and may not explicitly realize their needs. But a profitable business that leverages the new technologies to "mass customize" the media (which is what blog aggregators do, if you think about it), will likely find willing buyers in the mass market. Just a tip tho: I wouldn’t call it RSS – it’ll scare’em. I’d market it as the world’s first customizable newspaper/magazine (news from your local, pick your front-age sports, pick the industry and stocks you want in the business section and op-eds from left, right or botswana) and we’ll make it look like the newspaper format you’ve always known and loved.

  7. I think you’re onto something mentioning TIVO, but not just for watching net videos. Think back three years, if you asked anyone if they would want a DVR, they would have asked what the benefit was over a VCR. "So, I can record stuff and watch it later, big deal." It never occured to the user base just how much a device would change their viewing habits until someone actually gave them an interface that allowed them to take control.

    Give people just a wee taste of real control over their data-flow, and then, my friend, step back from the tracks, ’cause that train is coming into the station!

  8. Danny says:

    I reckon you’re generally right here.

    Sure, the geeks may be the first to hit the attention problem. But next there are "knowledge workers", and after them, everyone everyone else. Ploughing through irrelevant information is a waste of time, what’s more it’s no fun. What is relevant to a particular individual will vary widely (how a company is doing on the market, favourite cartoons). Put this way *everyone* is an edge case. Getting at that in a huge data source like the web (with media extensions) requires person-oriented technology, and that means attention. (The TIVO example is good, yep).

    Attention info is a valuable asset to the individual, and as it’s machine-codable, potentially of value to any data/content provider. I expect the first commercial applications will be oriented towards advertising and market research, but that’s just the thin end of the wedge. After all, money is just another datatype in the information economy 😉

  9. Alex you know I love your posts – here is a manual trackback because I just had to post about this one on our little blog!

    Keep up the great work!

  10. Matt Baldwin says:

    Alex, I pitched the same concept to my wife and she liked the idea of an attention search engine, but she also brought up that there are times where she strays away from what her attention is historically focused on and would like a method to peer beyond her attention. Alas, she finds the celeb news intriguing as well. 😉


  11. When Joshua Porter and I started our non-formal podcasting efforts a while ago, we made list of the people

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