The Attention Data Promise and Difficulty Technorati icon

February 16, 2007 | Filed under: Software Development

Technology begets technology. It was only a few years ago that my tech news each day consisted of reading the CNET News.com home page. Now I have about 100 feeds, Google News Alerts, etc. I recently needed to establish a discipline to prevent looking up a midday and wondering where the morning went.

Randal introduced me to Chris Saad and his marvellous work with Touchstone. Touchstone is a tool which filters the signal from the noise. Not only is it a very beautiful piece of software (which counts for more than some people recognise) but it is the most useful attempt at productizing the idea of Attention Data.

Attention Data is a bundle of data that somehow represents what you have been paying attention to and, therefore, what you want to pay attention to today.

Touchstone takes OPML digests of your RSS feeds and optionally looks at your hard drive periodically to determine your interests. It then shows the news that is important to you in the form of a news ticker and/or a popup message. 

We need Touchstone and other software like it because the infospace is just going to get noisier, not to mention be joined by audio visual content.

There appears to be two major difficulties to address:

  • Defining 'Attention'
  • Privacy

The 'Defining Attention' difficulty is two-fold. Firstly, how does the algorithm determine that a certain file existing on my PC means I am actually interested? I guess this will be one of those things that becomes a special secret like for products like Touchstone like Google's PageRank. Secondly, will it be so effective that my horizon of information is limited to only the things I am 'paying attention to' putting me on an info-treadmill, cursed to walk the same ground every day as I have found sometimes with Techmeme

Privacy is the big one though, and this is presumably why the Attention Trust is making such a big deal about it. This needs to be more than words and rhetoric though. It is one of those things that must abide by Lawrence Lessig's idea that 'Code is law'. From what I can see of the Attention Trusts Recorder, it sends up entire histories of websites you have browsed to. Now real people can look at that data and do stuff with it. I just have to trust them. I think the code needs to make it impossible for people to violate that trust. Like Touchstone is doing, the attention data needs to stay on the users machine and be owned and explicitly deployed by them alone.

I liked this concept from pc4Media:

"We can make them pay for it, lease it, scream for it "show me the money", barter for it, whatever. The important point is that we get to decide who has access to it, how long they have access to it, and what we want in return."

But even then, there is a little bundle of data that crystalises everything that is important to me live on the Internet when that data is deployed. How does the user stay in control?

Can anyone point me to some useful sources to dig into these things more deeply?

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Posted by Phil Morle at 4:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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