Understanding the attention economy

My iPad (which decided to stop connecting for a couple of weeks, but has now returned from its sabbatical) has made me appreciate anew the importance of good design and using media to grab people's attention. This was brought home first by the Flipboard app, which takes your Twitter & facebook feeds along with other feeds to convert social media into your own glossy magazine.

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The result is that it provides me with another 'in' to the stream. This isn't the only way I interact with these sources but it's a pleasant interface and pulls me into looking at links and articles I might otherwise miss.

Bloglines is a similar app (which I found via John Connell), here I add in my favourite blogs to create a nice bookshelf. Again it probably isn't the best way to handle hundreds of feeds, but it provides a nice window on some of them, meaning again I might read things I would otherwise skip.

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What both of these apps demonstrate is that by adding a nice layer of UI, the way you interact with these sources can be subtly altered. For a start it seems to elevate them somewhat – these are now nice articles to be read with a coffee and a bagel.

Day #95 a modern tea-break

But more significantly it highlights the importance of grabbing people's attention. This usually means by adding in some media – a post with a nice image is more likely to make me open it from bloglines (Jim Groom's Bavatuesdays wins here). Or it could be an intriguing title. There are also variables such as posting at an optimal time (weekends are rarely useful, and afternoons in the UK will get some American traffic too).

These may seem like trivial, superficial aspects for academics to be concerned with, and certainly trying too hard to get attention has the opposite effect. But in an information saturated context we can't assume good quality will always be found. As we send our little thoughts into the digital world we need to at least give them every chance to survive. I wonder if understanding the online attention economy will be a digital literacy?

5 Comments

  1. Stujohnson says:

    So substance but with style too? I think you’re bang on. Difficult to master both skills though, don’t you think?

  2. Jim Groom says:

    Martin,
    Only you can make me want an iPad. Your voice of reason and critical acumen are always a tonic for me. Moreover, how can a screen shot from The Birds not appeal to everyone more generally? That said, the UI is important, but it is also important to be talking about stuff that moves beyond the specific edtech concerns of the gadget and education. That’s always been my larger concern about the iPad, not that its useless or even unattractive, because the design is slick and the seamless aggregation through apps is valuable.
    What kills me about it is the idea of the inevitable, and more than that, that it is always already the killer education app, even before it was out. It’s not so much the iPad per se, but a sense of everyone bum rushing it, and quickly mocking those who wonder what an apple regulated web might look like. And there is the questions about flash, and all that, but the larger concerns for me is like everything with apple, the way things work is mytified, and mystified in a means to make you pay.
    Does this make any sense?

  3. Ij64 says:

    Agree! I think it’s true to say content is king, but like it or not good design (clean, clear and easy to navigate) is often what determines the success or failure of media adventures.
    On a slightly different note, I find it ironic to see how many new media apps these days try to replicate “old” print media design (magazines/books on library shelves, newspaper layouts etc), the screenshot of Blogshelf above is a good example. Is this because at the end of the day we prefer things to look tactile and pickupable, or is it just retro-design for old techies? It was the other way round 10 years ago, with print media (especially mags and supplements) desperately trying to imitate the most aggressive, in-yer-face elements of what was then called “web design”.
    BTW, Love the mug! Used to go down the Hayes and buy me Angelic Upstarts singles in Spillers when I was a nipper. Then off down Caroline Street for chips! Nice to hear it’s still resisting!
    Great blog! Toodle Pip!
    Ian James | @ij64

  4. Sam Kinsley says:

    Funny you should bring this up, we ran a conference on the attention economy only last week! http://payingattention.org/
    Some would argue that attention is more fundamental than a literacy, that in fact it is something like a re-wiring of our brains (think neuro-plasticity rather than Nicholas Carr). Indeed, Tiziana Terranova argued, in her talk at the conference, that attention is, if figured as a scarce resource and thus a commodity, an issue of biopolitics: she argued that in the web 2.0 economy there is a desire to revitalise the consumer/producer’s attention but an ambivalence about its value. Following Terranova, attention is the process by which the production of value is inseparable from the production of subjectivity. These are produced from the invention and diffusion of common desires, beliefs and affects. The argument is more nuanced, so – check out the website(!).
    In short then(!), I agree with you -the understanding of how the processes of invention and diffusion of those desires, beliefs and affects operate is pretty important. So, beginning to unpack those issues around your use of your iPad, and how your attention is channeled/directed, should be of interest to (some) academics. It also asks interesting pedagogical questions of (us) academics too, particularly those of us who deliver courses online, for example… Or: just call all of your posts “Top 10 ways to bring traffic to your academic blog” đŸ˜‰
    Terranova’s talk:
    http://payingattention.org/2010/09/07/tiziana-terranova-the-bios-of-attention/

  5. Martin says:

    @Stu – yes, but I think it’s not difficult. I have bad design skills but the addition of media is easy enough and what these tools do is add a layer of aesthetics over your content – you just have to give them enough to work with.
    @Jim – yes makes perfect sense! I didn’t intend it to be a pro iPad piece, more about the interesting way 3rd party tools can take your content and put into a more attractive context. Suddenly my post is part of someones glossy mag (or could equally be part of their ‘smug gits’ collection – you can’t control it). It adds weight to the argument about sharing also.
    @Ian yes it is interesting. I guess it’s part of that we map new tech onto old ways for a while & the magazine or bookshelf is a useful visual metaphor – as was the Desktop.BTw Spillers have moved recently into the arcade but are still going strong. As are the dodgy food outlets in Caroline St
    @Sam – thanks for the link, this looks like great stuff, and a much deeper analysis than my superficial take on it. I may use some of this in my book. Need to book a visit to come & visit you

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