1 Year of Attention
Exactly one year ago to the day, on October 4 2005, I wrote a joint post about the launch of ATX, the Attention Extension, which was the first open source clickstream recorder for the Firefox browser. This was the culmination of a month of heavy lifting to produce the code and create the environment within which it would find an audience of the right people. We were on our way to Web 2.0 conference, where we had a slot in the afternoon to host the first AttentionTrust board meeting, open to the public.
Little has changed since then.
And yet everything has changed.
365 Days: the People
I turned IAG, the Internet Arbitrage Group, into Root Markets and raised capital from a number of investors including Lewis Ranieri, The New York Times, Deutsche Bank and most recently, the Chicago Board of Trade. I also began work on a clickstream Vault, which was set up as the first approved commercial service for ATX. We released the Vault application to users last November, and since then have added a number of additional features such as the ability to exchange clickstream information with trusted people, evaluate your influence, and syndicate your clickstream through blogs. The Vaults now have more than 50 million clicks under management on behalf of users.
Stan James, along with support from Mike Frumin, Tony Lieuallen and others, developed the code for ATX, followed his passion. He moved to Boulder to turn his vision for Outfoxed into the business of Lijit Networks, with Brad Feld and I as his investors and board members and Todd Vernon as his operating CEO
Steve Gillmor claimed victory in the War for Attention and resigned from the board of AttentionTrust to focus his energies on collaborating with Robert Anderson on the architecture and implementation of GestureBank.
365 Days: the Companies
In addition to the narrative of the people involved with AttentionTrust over the past 12 months, there is an equally compelling story about the steps and missteps of companies impacted by the emerging Attention Economy. Here is my brief history of key events over the past 12 months:
December 2005: Del.icio.us sells its users’ tags to Yahoo! for $$$
March 2006: O’Reilly ETech Attention Economy Conference
April 2006: PC Forum Conference, Users in Control
July 2006: Netscape pays Diggers for their gestures
August 2006: Ray Ozzie say of Windows Live “we will monitor” our users
August 2006: AOL Search Breach
September 2006: HP Pretext Scandal
September 2006: Facebook “Redesign” Fiasco
October 2006: ?
AttentionGate, August 2006: Defendant #1, AOL Search
In August, AOL Search broke the thin glass that separated Thelma Arnold’s personal search history from the rest of the world: “Those Are My Searches”
From NY Times August 9:
Buried in a list of 20 million Web search queries collected by AOL and recently released on the Internet is user No. 4417749. The number was assigned by the company to protect the searcher's anonymity, but it was not much of a shield.
No. 4417749 conducted hundreds of searches over a three-month period on topics ranging from ''numb fingers'' to ''60 single men'' to ''dog that urinates on everything.''
And search by search, click by click, the identity of AOL user No. 4417749 became easier to discern. There are queries for ''landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,'' several people with the last name Arnold and ''homes sold in shadow lake subdivision Gwinnett County Georgia.''
It did not take much investigating to follow that data trail to Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, Ga., frequently researches her friends' medical ailments and loves her three dogs. ''Those are my searches,'' she said, after a reporter read part of the list to her
From NY Times August 22:
Nearly 20 million discrete search queries, representing the personal Internet hunting habits of more than 650,000 AOL customers gathered over a three-month period last spring, were posted by a company researcher, Abdur Chowdhury, on a publicly accessible Web site late last month.
No user names were attached to the query data, which was intended for use by search engine researchers in academia. But word of the data - which provided an intimate, sometimes disturbing look into what Americans search for on the Web - spread through the blog circuit and immediately began raising questions about the sort of privacy consumers were entitled to when they used search engines.
Within moments, amateur SQL hacks around the world had downloaded the 500mb .tar file and begun to extrapolate from the large pool of data thousands of unique individual streams of identity. Insofar as it is unique and can express its lookingforness (ie search history) freely, an anonymous ID is imminently identifiable. The expansion of social media across more and more online behavior means that it is increasingly likely that each one of your gestures will find a public outlet for expression. The distinction between sanctioned and unsanctioned, public and private, open and closed will continue to erode because new forms of passive data expression increase every day. This is the drama of anonymity, which is now a form of content in its own right.
This is precisely why we need to recognize and support the integration of Gesture Bank into AttentionTrust, which Steve Gillmor and Robert Anderson have gifted to our organization. Thank you Steve. Thank you Robert. I am not sure anybody fully appreciates how important this will be to our future as free digital citizens.
Attention the Media
Michael Goldhaber constantly reminds us that there is only so much Attention that we can pay. And we have yet to promise all of our future Attention away. Our future media commitments remain up for grabs, depending upon a variety of factors that have yet to be determined. Because our choices as to what we pay Attention in the future remain contingent, there are great media territories still to be colonized. This is why, with breathtaking speed, media and technology companies are competing in an arms race to conquer the Attention of their users. The noble aims of Google, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and others are all based upon free market social media capitalism. It assumes that people have free choice in the media technologies that they use.
In 2000, Josh Harris, the founder of Jupiter and Pseudo, pursued self surveillance as a form of media to its logical extreme. His “weliveinpublic.org” was an open view into his SoHo loft, with live cameras embedded in virtually every surface. He and his girlfriend moved in, turned on the record button, and in a matter of months she had left him, and he was rumored to have purchased an abandoned apple orchard in upstate New York. Right up to the end of his experiment; however, Josh kept pointing me to an animation that he created and was most proud of. It featured an imaginary, 2nd Life -like landscape filled with dancing people who had TV’s instead of heads, and the TV’s were broadcasting their faces. As these TV-headed people pranced around, they called out to the audience: “let us show you how we show you how to live.”
Strange things happen when physical gestures turn into electronic signals. Signals can be exchanged and valued, prompting intricate auction mechanisms that allow people to "trade" media. The logic of trading is not governed by traditional media and advertising structures, but rather by the mercurial but ultimately efficient market dynamic. But the broader “you” is missing in this transaction, outside of the fixed number of data fields that you fill out to indicate your interest in a commercial relationship. This is some strange math: entirely focused on optimizing your response and yet structurally uninterested in anything you might have to say outside of narrowly defined response parameters. Within these new markets enabled by Internet arbitrageurs and data brokers, there are billions of micro markets where a query or a unique user path comes into contact with one of more targeted advertisements. A tension emerges between the mission of the user who intends to find or do something and the sponsor of the link who, like a mercenary bounty hunter, is trying to lure the user into a proprietary commercial environment.
In 2000 I was at the TED conference in Monterey and had the opportunity to hear John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins talk about his experience working with entrepreneurs. He said that there were two types, mercenaries and missionaries:
What distinguishes companies led by mercenaries from those led by missionaries? While the two might seem similar at first glance, they are in fact very different, Doerr points out. "Mercenaries are driven by paranoia; missionaries are driven by passion," he says. "Mercenaries think opportunistically; missionaries think strategically. Mercenaries go for the sprint; missionaries go for the marathon. Mercenaries focus on their competitors and financial statements; missionaries focus on their customers and value statements. Mercenaries are bosses of wolf packs; missionaries are mentors or coaches of teams. Mercenaries worry about entitlements; missionaries are obsessed with making a contribution. Mercenaries are motivated by the lust for making money; missionaries, while recognizing the importance of money, are fundamentally driven by the desire to make meaning."
This description has stayed with me over the years and has has become a core mental architecture. Reflecting on this, I went back to my original post entitled Media Futures: from Theory to Practice from November of last year announcing the launch of ROOT as a lead exchange:
One final observation: the Internet business path is about to split. One direction leads to an open approach to data, governed by the principles of transparency and publicity. The other direction leads to a closed approach to data, focused on privacy and opacity: the black box. Both directions have legitimate and consistent end-user benefits and economic rationales. The danger is getting stuck in the middle: (1) looking to increase your edge but not locking up the information it is based on; or (2) promoting your open-ness but not sharing data back to the system.
I believe this is even more the case now than when I wrote it last year. There is no middle ground between the black box and the transparent bundle. Most users are simply apathetic about the value of their attention data. This apathy needs to stop. Now.
There are too many parties out there who do not respect the four principles of AttentionTrust. These folks, pardon my Algerian, can go f--k their Attention-colonist selves.
Dear Mr. Search Engine, I regret to inform you that my search history is no longer your solution for a cleaner India...
Dear Mr. Behavioral Network, I regret to inform you that my clickstream is no longer your solution for civilizing the new world...
From now on, I will tell you and all of the companies behind you who are bidding for your inventory (aka my attention), when and under what circumstances I am willing to expose myself. My commitment to the principles of AttentionTrust threatens the practices and behaviors of any body who profits in-between me and those who desire my Attention.
As users in control, we have a responsibility to lead the industry with vision, to grab the mercenaries by the scruffs of their necks and force them to recognize the missionary values we operate upon.
The more they take, the more we give
The more they steal, the more we share
The more they lie, the more we tell the truth
The more they spy, the more transparent we become