Wednesday, September 14, 2005

May I have your attention?

It's amazing how you can come so close to coming to a conclusion, then have it blasted to pieces by some other pieces of information. However, here's what I'm thinking about now. For full background, you'd need to read the following thread: start with Deconstructing the "Conversation" (Part 1), then read Markets aren't conversations?, and finish with Talking markets. That's actually only a small bit of background, but I haven't even read the whole Cluetrain Manifesto, so I do not expect you to ;o)

In short the topic for today is markets as conversations. My main disagreement with Dave Rogers is not with his assertion that vendors are seeking to find advantage in a transaction; I think we could all agree with that. But Dave assumes that this inequality in the relationship precludes conversation. To suggest that conversations can only exist between two parties with matching objectives, is to negate the majority of conversations that occur. Transactions revolve around a conversation between parties with opposing objectives within the transaction, but a common interest in completing the transaction. Buyers communicate their preferences about product features and the price they are willing to pay for these products. Sellers communicate the price at which they will sell products with a particular feature set. Hopefully, a common interest point is found where supply and demand meet, and a transaction occurs.

I also think that he brings up a valid point about authority, but he exagerates the reasoning, which weakens his argument. People do not keep a job simply because they are worried that they would be 'considered "homeless"', they worry that they would be living on the street. Furthermore, I believe the post confuses two distinct types of authority. There is authority that is exerted and authority that is given. An army can exert authority through force, but this is the less common and less interesting form of authority. The other variety is the type of authority that a doctor holds over his patients. The patient who comes willing to the doctor and invests authority in the doctor is engaging in a conversation that communicates that there is a trust in the doctor's abilities. Whether this is because of faith in the doctor's ability or faith in the system that qualifies medical professionals, the point is that the patient cannot be forced to accept the authority of his doctor, but the patient finds it in his best interest to identify a doctor that he can invest authority in.

Finally, the post from Dave Rogers concludes with "And note that I'm not trying to sell you anything either". Of course he is! He's trying to sell us his ideas, so that he can gain authority in the ethereal sense. Blogger's Blog to be read. As readership increases, so does the quanitity of authority gained. But this is a mutually beneficial exchange. I consume his written perspective on the topic in exchange for granting him some measure of authority on the topic. Then I synthesize my own ideas to post back into my own blog. This way the collective wisdom of our combined intelligence is gaining authority through commentary. It is analogous to how scientific ideas gain authority through peer review.

However, my original seed of thought that ties this discussion with my previous thoughts on attention (I know I said specialization, but it was leading to attention already) is how attention and authority come together. I have been very aware of the limits of my attention recently. There is vast amounts of information that would hold my interest, but I am faced with the reality that I cannot consume it all. Obviously there are certain sources that I deem entertaining and humorous. But in addition to these items, there is a vast array of topics that I would like to stay informed on. Lately I have found that I have actually reduced the number of blogs that I subscribe to in order to make the number of entries managable. However, I use these subscriptions as both an information source and a jumping off point. I find interesting links within these items that can generate a thread for further consumption. Currently my subscriptions center around various members of the Gillmor Gang. I invest my authority in these people because I have found over a period of time that doing so increases my efficiency. However, at some point in the future my list of "trusted" sources might evolve to include new members, perhaps at the expense of one of these members.

But the difficulty that arises is that the number of posts or even the length of the posts does not necessarily reflect the authority of the post. I automatically go to any new entries from John Udell before any other items in my aggregator, because I know that I place more authority in these items than the length of time I spend there might suggest. This also is not dependent on the frequency of his posts. So, I assume that this type of preference would be lost in the attention model as I understand it. Maybe I am wrong, but the focus seems to be on mining frequency and time. I would suggest a very non-dynamic, non-sexy approach to this issue: user ranking. I'm not saying that you only rank, but you also rank. If I know that I give a particular source more authority, then I should be able to idenitify that fact in any attention system.

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