ROOT is fascinating. ROOT is creating a vault and a market for your attention metadata. Get some context from CEO Seth Goldstein’s talk at ETech. The interface looks like Ajax-y Bloomberg, which shouldn’t be surprising. Goldstein’s blog tagline says it all: “Somewhere between Wall Street and Madison Avenue lies the future of both.” ROOT is Madison Avenue meets Wall Street via Silicon Valley. There are plans to capture attention metadata from websites to videos to music to, well, just about anything that can leave behind metadata breadcrumbs. That data is yours to be stored in /Vault and can be “sold” via /Market. That’s when it all gets fuzzy to me.
Doc Searls added a new wrinkle in the attention economy discussion by looking for intention. See Umair Haque, Scott Karp and Richard Giles for more reaction to ETech06 and the economy of attention/intention. The thing everyone appears to agree upon is that this centres on the buyer with an intended need/want/desire, not a seller with a need to sell. For further seminal thinking on the attention economy and the end of scarcity that goes all the way back to 1997, see Michael H. Goldhaber, “The Attention Economy and the Net”.
ROOT probably couldn’t exist without AttentionTrust.org, which acts as a nonprofit organization to create trust around this new marketplace:
When you pay attention to something (and when you ignore something), data is created. This “attention data” is a valuable resource that reflects your interests, your activities and your values, and it serves as a proxy for your attention.
AttentionTrust and our members believe that you have the following rights:
1. Property: You own your attention and can store it wherever you wish. You have CONTROL.
2. Mobility: You can securely move your attention wherever you want whenever you want to. You have the ability to TRANSFER your attention.
3. Economy: You can pay attention to whomever you wish and receive value in return. Your attention has WORTH.
4. Transparency: You can see exactly how your attention is being used. You can DECIDE who you trust.
When you give your attention to any entity that’s an AttentionTrust member, these rights are guaranteed.
This vault of attention data appears at first glance to raise all sorts of privacy red flags that would make it ripe for abuse. Having a nonprofit organization to act as an overseer to attention economics is an interesting solution, although nonprofits and NGOs have their own accountability problems and clearly the two boards (AttentionTrust & ROOT) are related. With that cautionary proviso, I like the principles around Property, Mobility, Economy and Transparency. I like the idea that I own my attention data, which is valuable, and I should be able to extract value from that data on my own terms. Part of that data includes data about what I ignore or what annoys me. And as far as attention abuse goes, the current broadcast-interruption model of advertising, data brokers, spam, unsolicited calls and invasion of public space is pretty much at saturation, so I welcome innovative alternatives. But it is unclear to me how ROOT will use my data, how I will be able control it in the market, and what problem is being solved at this point.
Clearly mass media advertising is ripe for disintermediation, with the huge market inefficiencies stemming from billions in wasted ad dollars being deployed to interrupt people’s attention to the things they like in order to persuade them to buy stuff they don’t want. With eyeballs drifting away from closed network TV screens to open network web media, there is the prospect of a big problem: Bob Garfield’s “Chaos Scenario”. What happens to the $250 billion US advertising market if the old model breaks before a new model is ready to replace it? Garfield’s scenario is epic in scale, but tells a cautionary tale of what could plausibly happen if a new marketing model for the open network attention economy is not built soon. It’s an apocalyptic vision of the end of the consumer-industrial society as we know it, which some would welcome but many fear.
It looks like ROOT is the first serious attempt at creating a market for attention that can support such a new marketing model. I’ll be watching with interest.