Tag Archive for 'information-age'

Half the problem has been solved with time spent

On Thursday, I attended the internal launch of the Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook for 2007-2011. It was an hour packed with interesting analysis, trends, and statistics across a dozen industry segments. You can leave a comment on my blog if you are interested in purchasing the report and I’ll see if I can arrange it for you.

One valuable thing briefly mentioned, was the irony of online advertising.
Continue reading ‘Half the problem has been solved with time spent’

Privacy – just like inflation

Privacy is a massive business issue. I’ve commented on the lack of interest in privacy from entrepreneurs in the web space; I’ve tried to define privacy; and I joined the APML workgroup for this reason

Need to know why I think it matters? Well here are three facts:

1) Targeted advertising is the future of advertising. Why? Because it’s most effective type of advertising.

2) Web services, and arguably the entire attention economy, rely on advertising as a revenue model.

3) There is a natural friction between targeted advertising and privacy. You can’t target without knowing who you are targeting – which implies some type of implicit collection of data.

Google, on the strength of its brand, has been able to manage the privacy issue. But no longer. Privacy International has ranked Google at the worst privacy offended on the internet. As 99% of Google’s revenue relies on advertising, with open acknowledgment that they are trying to find ways of better targeting advertising, we can expect to hear more and more how Google’s evil is in the data they collect and the way they control it.

Economic growth is one of the key concepts to how our world works – it’s what companies and countries for example, constantly aim for. But as we have seen repeatedly, if an economy grows too quickly, problems can appear – inflation, infrastructure issues, and fatigue. Greed has a price. In the context of an economy, inflation is the speed-hump – the faster you drive over it, the bigger the hit.

So would it be too far to extend the metaphor, to say that privacy is the advertising equivalent to inflation? If you are relying on advertising as a revenue model, remember that privacy will matter more and more with an interconnected world.

The attention economy needs a consistent base

Okay, enough naval gazing. The journalist in me (by experience), the accountant in me (by education), and the businessman in me (by occupation) is going to synthesise my understanding of the world and propose a new metric for the attention economy. I don’t know the answer yet, but I am going to use this blog to develop my thinking. I can’t promise a solution, however I am sure breaking the issue down into key requirements, assumptions, and needs of what this magical metric is – will add value somewhere for someone.

So let’s start with the most important assumption of all: what are we measuring? As Herbert Simon coined it, and smart guys like Umair, Scott and Chris have extended (at least for my conceptual understanding) – it is called the attention economy. It is important to note however, that the attention economy is an aspect of the Information Sector (see below). And as I described in a previous posting, the attention economy needs a metric for two reasons: monetisation and feedback.


What incorporates the attention economy?
Well, this is a bit like a related problem I had when I first came to grips with what new media was. A few years back, I did some active research trying to understand how a book, a television, a newspaper, and a search engine – could all somehow be classed as “media”. I found my question answered by Vin Crosbie’s manifesto (read this for a recent summary). Take note of what he considers is the key element of new media (the technology aspect).

I am going to propose one of my key assumptions of the future, which will answer this question. It might not happen for another 5, 10 or even 20 years – but I am convinced this is the future. The Internet will act as infrastructure.

I believe the unifying aspect, and the backbone of the attention economy, will be the Internet. All enterprise software, all consumer software, all (distributed) entertainment, all (distributed) communications and all information – will be delivered digitally over the Internet. I think the people at the US Census bureau?Ç? conceptually have already worked this out by defining the information sector of the economy, which classes the above mentioned and more into this one diverse category. The Internet is the enabler of the Information Age, just like how the production line was for the Industrial Age

I’m not saying we are going to live, sleep, and eat on computers in the future. However just think – anything that runs on electricity, can connect to the Internet. And look at the technologies being developed that enable the Internet to live beyond the computer screen like electronic paper and?Ç? dynamic interfaces. Even more powerfully, is that the Internet has brought entire industries to their knees – like the newspaper and music industries – because it is providing a more efficient way of delivering content. If it’s information, communication or entertainment related – then it probably works better in digital format, over the Internet. (Excluding of course the things like theme parks and the like, which are more about physical entertainment and not distributed entertainment like a television programme).

I think this is an important issue to be recognised, that the Internet will the the backbone of the attention economy. By being the core back-end, it means that no matter the output device – whether it is mobile phone, a computer, or a television – it will be providing a consistent delivery mechanism for digital information. For a measurement system to work, it needs to be consistent. The Internet infrastructure will be that consistency. If you can recognise that, then that is a big step forward to solving the issue.

New measurement systems need a purpose

Chris recently proposed a new measurement system for attention, after yet another call to arms for a new way of measuring metrics. This is a hard issue to gnaw at, because it’s attempting to graple at the emerging business models of a new economy, which we are still at the cross roads at. Chris asked us on the APML workgroup on what we thought of his proposal, which is interesting, but I thought it might be better to take a step back on this one and look at the bigger picture. Issues this big need to be conceptually clear, before you can break into the details.

Television, radio, and newspapers are the corner stone of what we regard as the mainstream media. For decades, they have ruled the media business – with their 30 second advertising spots, and “pageviews” (circulation). Before the information age, they were what the ‘attention economy’ was. None of those flamin’ blogs stealing our attention: content and advertising flowed through to us from one place.

The internet is enabling literally an entire new Age of humanity. A lot of the age-old business models have been replicated, because we don’t know any better, but people are abandoning them because they are realising they can now do so much more. So the key here is not to get too excited on what you can do – rather, we need to think why what we need to do.

Let me explain – advertisers sold their product on a TV/radio commercial, and a newspaper page, because it guaranteed them that a certain amount of people would see it. Advertisers advertise because they want to do one thing: to make money. It’s just how capitalism works – profit is god – so do what you can to make higher profit.

But back then, the traditional mainstream media was the only way they could reach audiences on an effective scale. However advertising on the Sunday night movie is the equivalant to dropping a million pamphlets out of a plane, hoping that the five customers you know that would buy your product, end up catching it. Back then, no one complained – it was the best we could do. It sucked, but we didn’t know any better.

The internet changed that.

Advertisers can now target their advertising to a specific individual. They don’t care anymore about advertising on a mass scale; what they would rather is advertising on a micro scale. Spending $20,000 on 10,000 people you know that want to buy your product, has a much better Return on Investment than $2,000,000 on 1,000,000 people – of which 10% don’t speak the language of your ad, 20% aren’t the target group for your ad; and 30% are probably offended by your ad and will ruin it for the 40% they you were targeting in the first place.

Sound crazy? Well Google making $10 billion dollars doing just that is crazy.

So now that we have cleared that up – let’s get back to the issue. We now know one of the reasons why we need measurement: advertisers want to target their advertising better. Are there any other reasons? Sure- sometimes people want to measure what their audience reads for non-monetary reasons – they could just trying to find out what their readers are interested in, so they can focus on that content. Statistics like that is not narcissism – it’s just being responsive to an audience. Or then again, it could be pure ego.

So when it comes to measuring content, there are two reasons why anyone cares: to make money, or to see how people react to your content. However it’s the first type that is causing us problems in this issue. And that’s because how long someone spends on your content, or how many people view your content, is no longer relevant as it was in the mass media days. What is relevant is WHO is reading your content.

I don’t think you can have a discussion about new ways of measuring the way content is consumed, without separating those two different motives for measurement. I like Chris’s proposal – knowing how long someone spends reading my blog posting is something I would find interesting as a blogger. But that’s pure ego – I just want to know if I have a readership of deep thinkers or random Google visitors that were looking for a picture about shorts skirts. (As an aside – one of my pictures is the number one Google image result for “women in short skirts” – thank God it goes to my Flickr account now, the bandwidth that used to eat up was crazy!)

So before we come up with new measurement systems, lets spend more time determining why we are measuring. Simply saying we are better measuring what consumers are giving their attention to, is only part of the problem. We need to first determine what value we obtain from measuring that attention in the first place.

The power of feedback

Validation of a persons self-worth is a key aspect of being human. Why do we like praise, but not criticism? Because the former validates our self-esteem, the latter contradicts it. Insecure people tend to seek more validation from other peoples opinions – because they need other peoples opinions to validate their self-esteem. Wonder why the modest don’t boast? It’s because their validation is not derived from having to tell you so that you know. They already know you know, and if you don’t agree, they don’t care – they’re self validated.

However no matter how secure you are with yourself, everyone loves a bit of validation – it’s just some people need it more than others, or possibly, we all have different ways in how we validate ourselves. Some fish for compliments on their looks; others validate themselves through great achievements. Validation of who we are, is what drives almost everything we do. That’s why an atheist should never bag out religion to a believer – the argument about whether God exists is irrelevant; what is relevant, is that by criticising the existance of a religious establishment, you are actually criticising a person’s self-identity that has been built on that establishment, by effectively de-validating their belief system.

Motivation systems are complex, and I by no means claim to be an expert – but I do know, that the power of feedback is one of the most effective ways of motivating an individual, especially when it comes to content creation. In the context of web-services, recognition and validation are key: people will stick around on your site, if they feel a greater sense of self-worth because of it.

There are two ways people feel validated on online communities: analytics and responses. Analytics in the sense of statistics: page and profile views, unique visitors, popular content. Most bloggers arn’t really making money out of their blog – so why is software that provides statistics on their readership so popular? Because knowing people read your blog, is a form of validation. A bit like how an insecure teenage girl feels validated by the attention she myspace profilegets from sleazy older men. Right now, I am writing this blog entry because a reader asked if I could write more about the interaction between psychology and successful web start-ups. His comment validated my opinions, spurring me to write more on the subject.

Likewise, Myspace users will post a “Thanks for adding me” comment on a new friend. Why? Because it means more people will visit their profile. The reason I can say there are ulterior motives to just thank someone, is because they could have said “thanks for adding me” as a private message. So it then begs the question of why do they want more people to visit their profile? Because people get an ego boost seeing their page count go up.

Statistics to something you’ve created, are a quiet form of feedback. The more views, the more validated you feel by that. Popularity is a great feeling!

A second type of validation, is a bit more direct: it’s through the interactions with people. When people create content – photos, blog postings, whatever – nothing is more satisfying for them than a comment.

Features like Flickr’s recent activity are also apparently, what makes it so addictive. Again – it’s a form of validation. By responding to something someone has created, you are giving value to that creation – that feedback can make someone justify the effort, by providing recognition.

Sometimes the most powerful way a boss can keep their employees satisfied, is by a simple “thank you”. Recognition for effort expended by someone, can sometimes be all that someone needs to keep going.

Think you have a killer web2.0 app? You might. But unless a user feels like they are getting feedback on their existance and content creation, their first visit will likely also be their last. Feedback feels good. People want to feel good. So go and make them feel good about themselves.

How to become the next Google

During the industrial age, information was a scarce commodity. The flow of information was controlled by the mass media – books, newspapers, television – were the sole distributors of information. The media during this age had a huge influence on society because the mass media was effectively the "gatekeeper" of information in society. Supply, or rather the distribution-capacity to supply information, was limited.

Criticism of these gatekeepers occurred for their power on what information they distributed, a thing the internet changed. We now live in the Information Age, which has come on the back of the internet. This has opened up the distribution points of information ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú access to information is no longer dependent on the mass media – and availability is no longer confined by physical constraints (the internet has potentially an infinite storage). No longer do the traditional gatekeepers control the flow of and access to information.

The consequence of losing the old gatekeepers is that information is now plenty and consumers face information overload. Due to an environment of limited distribution in the Industrial Age, the mass media by consequence filtered information for consumers. Now with infinite information available, consumers are finding it difficult to filter information: identifying quality information was a role that wasn’t totally appreciated before. The cost of consuming quality information is being bourne by the consumer, as they are forced to identify it themselves.

The attention economy has risen as an important factor, as consumers only have limited attention to view the now unlimited amount of information. The new scarce commodity is no longer information, but the attention of consumers. Demand for information is now limited – people only have so much time to sift through the abundance of information.

Why search and aggregation services are valuable to consumers
The 1990s saw the development of search engines as a solution to this problem. Search engines have now become the new gatekeepers of information, as they provide consumers a means of filtering information and returning only what is relevant. Search works as a filtering system because consumers identify what they want, and a search engine simply needs to associate pre-indexed information that best matches that request. Innovation in search is about increasing the relevance of information to that request.

Other technologies have also been developed, which allow for the filtering of information. "Aggregation" services similar in role to what newspapers for example traditionally did – help pull together information from disparate sources. The value of these aggregation services, is in the value of relevant information to the consumer – a similar scenario to search. Search engines help consumers pull information; aggregation services push information, with what they think a consumer would want.

With both these "pull" and "push" technologies, consumers are reverting back to an industrial age concept of trust in brands. Google’s search for example, has impressive technology. But so do its rivals. User experience aside, the biggest advantage Google has is that users trust its brand more for the quality of information provided. Users trust Google to provide more relevant information – relevance is quality. The same reason why consumers used to trust a broadsheet newspaper over a student newspaper, is in the credibility of that brand to provide quality. The brand was and still is a way for consumers to filter information – or rather, trust others to provide information they can rely on.

The future

If you are looking to start a new search engine that will beat Google: don’t. If you think you have a brand new of way identifying quality information: spend your efforts there. Remember the reason why search, RSS, and profiling aggregators are important to consumers, is because they help them find the best quality information, in the shortest period of time.

You can’t beat Google at search. And if you do, by the time you do, it will be a waste of time because the industry will have evolved. Innovation on the internet and the Information Age, is about understanding why the traditional gate keepers were so effective in what they did. The last decade has seen some clever innovation – but we still have a long way to go.