Pay Attention, Class!

If you haven't heard about the Attention Economy, you are working too much. Let me explain.

We live in a thick forest of content, where consumers must chop through the brush as they decide where to spend time and attention. Unwittingly, the data trail left behind from our electronic gestures is up for grabs. And since we are so focused on going forward, forward, forward, we forget to consider the value of the trail at all.

The irony is that the latest machete, the search engine, both empowers consumers to blaze rapid trails and creates many new sets of data for the taking. So who should own your search data, or any data for that matter? The engines? The SEMs? The brand marketers? The government?

To be completely honest, I have long left the "marketing data=good? marketing data=bad?" question tucked away in the inner recesses of my brain--simply because I did not have a response satisfactory to both consumers and marketers.

That is, until I attended Root Markets' Vaultstock event in late January. Seth Goldstein, the firm's founder and CEO, and I recently discussed how Google's "free" services aren't really free at all--the consumer pays via data. In this sense, search engines are really "attention grabbers." Root aims to level the playing field by honoring the value of attention and giving consumers the tools to collect, control and eventually monetize their own clickstream data.



It didn't take long to get past my inner geek and realize that it is just plain weird that consumers currently don't have easy access to their clickstream data, and that a trading platform for the pricing and exchange of real-time consumer data could be the next great marketing equalizer. A client of mine, also in the business of monetizing attention, adds that some day we will look back on this time and laugh at how naively we gave our data away free, just as we now mock how people used to believe everything they saw on television in the 1950s.

And since an industry is not an industry until it spawns a nonprofit trade organization, AttentionTrust has fully validated the movement. I spoke to Ed Batista, its executive director, about the four rights its members have:

1) Property. You own your attention and can store it wherever you wish. You have CONTROL.

2) Mobility. You can securely move your attention wherever you want whenever you want to. You have the ability to TRANSFER your attention.

3) Economy. You can pay attention to whomever you wish and receive value in return. Your attention has WORTH.

4) Transparency. You can see exactly how your attention is being used. You can DECIDE whom you trust. When you give your attention to any entity that's an AttentionTrust member, these rights are guaranteed.

The organization offers a Firefox extension called the Attention Recorder which, well, records your attention as measured by clickstream and browsing history. Users can store this data locally or send to an approved service, such as Root.

Still not convinced? Take it from Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media. He has announced that the theme of this year's O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference is, but of course, the Attention Economy.

Class dismissed.

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