Steve Gillmor Wants Attention

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ZDNet International contributing editor and AttentionTrust.org president Steve Gillmor spoke at San Francisco’s Syndicate Conference on attention and its worth online.

Attention as metadata – the future business model for monetizing one’s time online, or a concept ahead of its time? Tell us your theories at WebProWorld.

“When you pay attention to something (and when you ignore something), data is created. This “attention data” is a valuable resource that reflects your interests, your activities and your values, and it serves as a proxy for your attention,” Gillmor’s AttentionTrust lists in introducing its principles. At a Syndicate session, Gillmor explained via an Internet video hookup to attendees (including our publisher and chief note-taker, Rich Ord) about the importance of attention.

“Attention is an attempt to create an anonymized pool of meta data. Who views the feed, the item and for how long,” Gillmor said. “Those 3 pieces of information can derive a tremendous amount of information from these gestures … over a wide variety of people.”

Gathering that attention data in a way that users can trust is the function of the non-profit AttentionTrust organization’s Recorder, a plug-in available for the Firefox browser and soon for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer too. The mission of the organization aims to empower and educate people about the value of the attention they pay to content, whether it is a web page or an item on a RSS feed.

Ed Batista, Executive Director of Attention Trust, said: “The recorder captures data on your activity online. You have the ability to turn this on and off at any time. You can blacklist any domain. The features built into this reflect the goals of Attention Trust.”

That attention possesses a great deal of value. “To me it nails the customer and user to everything that matters. You can have my money but you can’t always have my attention,” Syndicate Conference chairperson Doc Searls said at the session.

Right now, the money that funds the Web 2.0 model, according to Gillmor, is advertising, and he rhetorically asked if that model will last. “The reason I have been focusing on attention is because I started using RSS feeds. The RSS platform has largely taken over my attention. RSS is fundamentally different that the old publishing model. The user is in control.”

Gillmor makes a point similar to one that Sun CEO Scott McNealy made about privacy, in that it doesn’t really exist online.

“Well, guess what kids, they already know this. The free services from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc, already gather this data and use it for themselves,” Gillmor said. “I don’t think privacy is a concern. What we do at Attention Trust is alleviate the community from dealing with this concern.”

Once users begin to manage their attention data, they gain control over who get that information, rather than the big online players simply taking it. “This will encourage the vendors to return some of the profits to the users…in effect pay for their attention. That is in fact what Bill Gates said in New Delhi a few days ago,” said Gillmor (Gates also said this back in October as we noted here.)

“We will see if they follow through with it,” Gillmor said. “It is still clear that Bill Gates believes that at least a copy of this meta data is owned by the users. That is the fundamental principal of the Attention Trust.”

Now that Attention Trust has this structure in place, the ability to collect that attention data, what do they do with it next? Gillmor related a function of the Google Reader, that could be a hint at the future of attention data.

Gillmor observed that “Google Reader has a relevance setting that bubbles up to the to things that are more relevant to you. What I want to do is that when I send it gestures I would like to see the results of that. This is all fundamentally about time.”

To save consumers time, by giving them control of their attention data, means Gillmor and Attention Trust have to convince people of the value it has. “What I’m imagining that we have to open up the equity. People have to feel that they own equity in the entities that are profiting from using their data,” he said.

“What I’m imagining that we have to open up the equity. People have to feel that they own equity in the entities that our profiting from using their data. The user in control will create an economic model…very powerful economic models will develop.”

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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