Experimental Lex

Playing with words.

Personal Attention Databases

A number of years ago, the well-known entrepreneur Seth Goldstein, along with Wall Street legend Lew Ranieri, launched a startup called Root Markets. The focus of Root Markets was the attention economy and the concept was to give users the ability to track their online interests and share that data with Root Markets. The theory was that your attention had value because you were a potential sales lead for various products and services. And therefore, your “lead” data along with everyone else’s could be traded as commodities in an exchange marketplace. Highly speculative definitely and perhaps a little ahead of its time.

It’s probably been a while since I or anyone else has thought about Root Markets. It seems that they quietly closed up their operations and very few noticed. Yet, the attention of Internet users is as important as it ever was and the attention economy continues to thrive and evolve. With the dramatic growth of mobile computing and social networks, the attention economy is expanding along new trajectories.

I bring up this obscure reference to Root Markets to introduce this concept of personal attention databases. One of the challenges that Root faced was storing and presenting your attention data in a useful way for users. While thinking about The Social Content Graph, I have been contemplating this problem – how to track the content and people that you like as you hop across devices, services, social networks, and content publishers. I called it a “complex beast” and that is an accurate description.   To simplify things, I will start using the acronym “PAD” as a replacement for personal attention database.

In the first decade of the Internet, users bookmarked the content they wanted to keep or revisit. Social bookmarking sites like Delicious.com made it easier to manage thousands of bookmarks by applying “tags” to bookmarks and therefore making your bookmarks database searchable. Delicious.com is definitely one of my favorite Internet innovations ever created and I certainly hope they survive and continue to keep my universe of bookmarks at my fingertips. This was the first generation of PADs. And now, we are contemplating the next generation of PADs, capable of mapping the social content graph.

Attention Spaces

This supremely complex goal of mapping attention in your social content graph requires that we toss around some ideas about how it might work. One feature that does not exist today with social bookmarking is the logical separation of your attention “spaces”. For example, work versus home. I use Delicious avidly and it is really the only bookmarking tool I want to use. Yet, I sometimes use Google Bookmarks and Faves.com, because I want to separate the different pools of content.

The need for separate attention spaces becomes more critical when you try to imagine a personal attention database that includes your social graph. A useful comparison is the logical separation of your social networks across Facebook and LinkedIn. Obviously, you want to keep it professional on LinkedIn and not share YouTube videos or party pics, and vice versa with Facebook. Hence, our theoretical PAD design would automatically provide separation of Spaces, like Work Space and Personal Space. (If you have a better name for “spaces”, please let me know.)

Editor’s note: This article has already taken several days to write, so it’s time to wrap it up and come back to it later.

You heard the man. I’m closing out this post and will continue with it later. I’d like to avoid publishing something really dumb while pretending it is not. Next time, we will look at the content types we like to follow and the different patterns of content consumption.


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