The Economics & The Attention Crisis

17 Comments

Fred has picked up the thread for the looming attention crisis, something I have written in the past, extensively. Fred talks about the number of RSS feeds and how they slowly start to become feed-creep.

At this point, I have over 100 feeds subscribed to in various readers. And I have frankly stopped paying attention to most of them.

cuckooLike Fred, I have been overwhelmed, and have started trimming the feed list. The Ten Must, the 40 next is my motto these days. I agree with Fred when he writes, “I feel in my gut that we are facing a “poverty of attention” and something is going to give.”

Lets juxtapose this with the so-called business model of this blog. Most of the advertisers (including Google AdSense) are based on the 20th century model of CPM, which basically means creating more and more pageviews. In reality, any blogger worth his opinion should be striving for attention. Attention, that is becoming harder to get and retain. I have been chanting the Less is More mantra in recent times, trying to restrict the # of posts, and focus on saying something that gets your attention. So is there an alternate model? I don’t have the answer, but do you?

17 Comments

Pito Salas

I am even getting overloaded with all these articles about information overload. IMHO aggregators need better tools to help the user filter and sort and prioritize and clean up their feeds – I say tools, because I don’t think any kind of automagic interpretation of semantic information and behavior is ever going to work, but better, more powerful tools for the power user are what we need…See http://www.blogbridge.com/archives/2005/11/the_addictive_p.php

Om Malik

interesting points you bring up, and well to be honest with you, i am basically trying to eliminate some of the noise. it is hard to figure out when you are writing yourself, what is signal and what is noise. so perhaps, the rss readers need to help bloggers understand what is being read and what is not being read. i am currently using a blogs only specialized tracker service, and well, coming to the same conclusions.

anyway i think i would love to know more about how your system/aggregator does work.

Fazal Majid

I think striving for attention is the exact opposite of what is required to stand out. What is needed is focus, and a very high signal to noise ratio. Frequency of posting is secondary, or even counterproductive if it leads to diluting your SNR in make-work happy talk.

Another key consideration is original content – merely commenting on the news or other people’s work is not enough, users will find the original source eventually and turn off the middlemen.

I wrote my own RSS aggregator from the ground up to tackle information overload, primarily by filtering, and currently filter out about 30% of my 186 incoming feeds. Currently it is reporting the SNR of your blog at 5%, and I filter out about 30% of your content (not your fault, I tune out useless hype like Skype or podcasting), so one in ten articles you write I flag as interesting.

Contrast this with something like John Gruber’s blog Daring Fireball, which has 1/30 your volume, but a SNR of 43%, or Clay Shirky at 56%, or Bob Cringely at 48%. If at some point I can’t keep up any more, it’s not the blogs on the long tail that are going to be cut, it’s the general-purpose ones that repackage content found elsewhere. Dave Winer’s Scripting News was one such early casualty in my list.

Aggregators are going to become more intelligent about managing overload, culling posts with Bayesian methods or other machine learning techniques. In this brave new world of info-triage, you will compete for sporadic but intense attention, not continuous attention because very few individuals can actually pull it off.

Greg Linden

I think Findory is an alternate model. No need to subscribe to and manually skim hundreds of feeds. Just read news. Other interesting stories are found for you.

Personalization provides discovery in the sea of noise. It quietly shares what others in the community have found and focuses your attention on the things that interest you.

Jeff Blaine

Satish, I am not understanding your comment.

“Whether the thoughts have any merit will not depend upon how hard the man worked to creat the thoughts. It will only depend upon whether the thoughts are in tune with the present thinking.”

I read this as “Merit does not depend on effort, it depends on acceptance.”

“If the thoughts are not in tune with the present thinking it does not mean that the thoughts are not valid.”

And I read this as “If the thoughts are not well-accepted, it doesn’t mean they’re without merit”.

Those seem like contradictory statements to me, so I am confused. Can you explain what you meant better for me?

I think It’s much harder to feel emotion, think about that emotion, investigate it, and explain oneself (or one’s take on a topic) than it is to regurgitate hype.

It starts with passion or emotion, no matter how small. I’ve been struggling for weeks to explain why, from my point of view, I can’t comprehend “social bookmarking”. That started from an understanding of the product and confused emotion about “WHY would someone want to spend all of that time doing that? It doesn’t make any sense without reward.” Etc…

Toby

Srijith, I agree. If Om served up nothing but snacks, his personal brand (to borrow Vivek’s term) would start to look more like Burger King than the fine Sushi(?) dining. That being said, sometimes I just want an order of rolls, and I don’t want them from the mall sushi stand. I think a well balanced “menu” containing snacks and meals (wow this analogy goes far!) is key to a quality personal brand.

If there were a way to quickly glean the density of a post before actually starting to read it, I could allocate my reading time and attention better. As it stands now, quite a bit of my time is dedicated to browsing for the appropriately dense article for the amount of free time I have.

SATISH BHARDWAJ

I just noticed the Comments of Om Malik on gthe Comments by Jeff. I disagree about Om Malik about how hard one has to work to express his thoughts. Whether the thoughts have any merit will not depend upon how hard the man worked to creat the thoughts. It will only depend upon whether the thoughts are in tune with the present thinking. If the thoughts are not in tune with the present thinking it does not mean that the thoughts are not valid. Presently the thinking is VoIP and Wi-Fi. If you do anything to promote these two thinkings you’ll not have to work very hard to promote these thoughts at all. If you work to questiom these thoughyts it’ll make no difference as to hw hard you work. You’ll have little sucess if any.

SATISH BHARDWAJ

People get what they ask for. If you just subscribe to feeds without regard to subjects and then blame RSS for the feeds you get it is the subscriber that must get blamed. Not the Feed. If you subscribe to a feed, based on the subject you understand, you should be willing to change your thinking if the feed questions your thinking, instead of blaming the feed. The feed is meant to spread the thoughts of various people on the subject. You can’t blame a feed if your thoughts are totally different from the thoughts of a feed.

The feeds don’t distribyte the thoughts that they are meant to distribute. They distribute according to how they think the thoughts will be received. If the thoughts are not deemed to be received well not many publishers will carry the feeds.

For example if the feed relates to the application of wi-fi hotspots to the cellphone calls all the feeds will carry it. If the feed relates to the development of a new method of surfing of the web as is discussed at

http://www.newerawisp.blogspot.com/

only a few feeds will carry it.

But you can’t blame a feed for carrying the most popular thoughts if you deem these thought to be junk. You must protest the plicy of the feed and strive to get the feed publisher to change its policy.

Srijith

The problem with what Toby proposes is that when I see a lot of Om snacks, my brain tunes itself to the ‘fact’ that snacks are the only things Om can serve. Thus the next time the three course meal comes through, snacks would have ‘filled’ my perception and I would throw it away without eating it.

Less is indeed more for me.

Vivek

Your right Om. The span of attention is very less these days , its probably beacause of the options available , where one has option of looking at various resources and figuring out which one makes more sense to you . I guess a personalized contextual RSS feader which knows what I like reading , would be probably a better idea :) .
These days one needs to differentiate his content from a myraid of blogs or information to gain the attention . But I realised over a period of time , the more the differentiation is being put forth , the more they look familiar.
My personal opinion is one , should be very contextual and precise to gain reader attention and confidence to explore his content further. I guess the time is gone where you write a 2-3 pager articles and wait for audience to go through it , which isnt possible unless you have build your own brand over period of time. And those who have build their personal brands , dont write too often and thats why people wait for their content and read it with a different mindset , like taste of my kind of coffee which I enjoy.

Rajesh patil

I don’t have the time to blog, but I do have the time to comment:-) I enjoy reading quite a few now. As a beginner last year, I kept reading a lot of blogs, now after a while, a few of them have become my favorites (Om’s blog is one them) and I know the list is not going to stay the same as time goes by.

It’s like a bunch of my favorite TV channels, fav. TV sitcoms, fav. TV news, fav. scotch, fav. foods … As of now I’ve just a few fav. blogs and that’s all I read now.

Scrivs

I think there will be an attention crisis once a large number of blogs hit the top 20% of the web with regards to traffic. Till then I think what you are experiencing is a content crisis where all content is simply being recycled 100x over and therefore our feeds start to look pointless.

Toby

I think that proper labeling of content (for the consumer) goes a long way to help focus attention. So instead of you as the content producer creating less high quality content, I would prefer a steady stream of whatever came to your mind as long as it was labeled something like: Om 3 course meal, Om light lunch, Om sugary snack. That way I could check out a few sugary snacks while waiting for my girlfriend to finish getting ready, or a 3 course meal when I’ve got a fresh mind and 20-30 minutes to spare. Maybe if NetNewsWire indicated the length of the content of a post graphically without clicking on it, that might help. Although I think there’s more to “heavyness” than content length.

Om Malik

that is very kind of you to say that jeff. i do feel that one has to work harder and harder this days to retain attention, not just attract attention

Jeff Blaine

A blogger worth his opinion doesn’t have to strive for reader attention. Reader attention is a result of a blogger’s work being worthy of it.

The attention deficit in readers is not for writers to address.

That’s how I feel at least.

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