Many people have already stolen the attention-scarcity ideas from Herb Simon and said that the most important problem in our information overloaded society is the efficient distribution of attention. What some have called the “attention economy” is nothing more than a re-packaging of this idea.
In business, of course, getting the consumers’ attention is quickly becoming an important aspect of being successful. Traditional ways of getting people’s attention is through advertisement, and we have witnessed a dramatic transformation of how advertisements work in the online world in the last decade, from display advertising to search advertising and, more recently, further to action advertising. Increasingly, we can tie advertising dollars to direct consumer action.
For us, it was not a stretch, then, to start thinking about how the consumer actions are starting to quickly feedback to product design. Thus, we now have people talking about crowdsourced product designs. The most agile companies now listen to the consumers via channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Blog analytics. They do this via services such as brand management consultants and sentiment analysis tools, so much so, they are able to discern tiny changes in consumer awareness of product issues and their desires.
We know also that traditional economic models serves to optimize the distribution of products to people who want them. But these models have also recently been used to optimize the distribution of people’s attention to products that might serve their needs. The two usages obviously goes hand-in-hand.
If we can help companies to serve people attention spots just-in-time with the best products, we would have a highly optimized economy that wastes little energy in distributing worthless advertisements (or spam). In fact, the existence of spam points to the inefficiencies in the economic system.
Turns out that versions of this problem exists everywhere in the Web2.0 world:
- The problem of efficiently distributing the best tweets to the people who want to view them is a version of this attention distribution problem. Any time you see a tweet that was worthless to you is an opportunity for optimization.
- The problem of pointing experts to the most valuable articles that they can contribute to in Wikipedia is another version.
Solutions to these problems might take the form of recommendation systems or filtering systems, but might also be efficient interactive browsing systems (for products in an online store like Amazon, or articles in Wikipedia). Some thought experiments:
- What if we can design an expertise finding system that recommends the best articles for you to contribute to in Wikipedia? Would it increase participation rates?
- What if we analyze your social network everyday and tell you the best tweets that you should spend five minutes on? Would more people retweet more often?
- What if product designers are better tuned to trending topics and needs, would they enable companies to succeed more often? Are companies like Zazzle and Cafepress the prototype examples of lubricating this path?