Posts tagged as google

The fight for attention

Wednesday September 6th, 2006 in , , , , , ,

Historically we’ve seen how software companies used proprietary data formats to achieve vendor lock-in, thereby exerting control over their customers. Fortunately, recent years have given us open formats such as XML, which makes systems integration and data exchange simpler. The interesting questions is what caused this development? Did the vendors suddenly decide to embrace open formats?

The vendors relied on their lock-in to stay in business, and would not willingly give up this advantage. So what happened? The customers got smarter, that’s what happened, and they started to make demands: “we already have 20 systems that can’t talk to each other. We are not adding any more systems until they start talking together!”. So, integration became a selling point that vendors would have to deal with to stay in business.

Fast forward to 2006. A lot has happened. We’ve got tons of new web 2.0 services launching each day, massive amounts of user generated content, social networks, feeds, you name it. All of which are fighting for our attention. Although I primarily see this development as a positive thing, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that we are dealing with a brand new kind of lock-in: Attention data lock-in.

Even though attention starts with the user, who expresses his or her intentions as gestures that generate attention data, vendors currently have the upper hand when it comes to these data. They are hiding it in huge silos secured behind huge walls. Why? For vendors such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, the attention data that their customers generate is the most important asset they have. It’s what gives them a competitive edge - they surely don’t want their competitors to get their hands on it!

Where does this leave us as customers? Currently, most of us aren’t in control of our own attention data; the digital representation of who we are, our identity. The fact is that our attention data is scattered across these different locked silos, and something has to happen before this changes. Let me give you a few examples:

  • You searched countless times on Google for a specific topic, and clicked search results. Can you take this with you to Microsoft Live, Yahoo or other search engines?
  • You rated, bought and did all kinds of stuff using your amazon account. Although amazon is great, Barnes and Noble might have other books you would enjoy. Can you take your list of books, likes and dislikes with you?
  • You’ve spent countless hours building buddy lists and social networks. Along comes a new exiting service that adds that killer feature you just got to have. Can you take your “buddies” and your shared connections with you?

We spend all this time and attention to create the content, the value, yet we don’t have control over it. We can’t take it with us. This is how the majority of current services work, but Flickr is leading the way by opening up their API for direct competitors that are willing to do the same.

A new kind of playing field

What we’re seeing with Flickr is the beginning of a totally new kind of playing field, where customers and users are more in control of their content; pictures being the example of attention in this case. But giving up some of the control will seem frightening to most vendors, since customers can chose to take their content and attention elsewhere.

On the other hand, history has shown that vender lock-in couldn’t withstand the pressure of customer demand, e.g. in terms of integration. I think the same thing will happen in the case of attention data lock-in. Services become more valuable to us when we have control of our attention data. In direct competition, giving users control of their attention data will become a selling point. It provides us with a sense security. We won’t have to worry about loosing time and attention spent on one specific service, we can even get additional personal value from the same attention across different services.

The question that remains is who will take us there and when will we arrive…

How Mr. Search Engine came to know You

Friday September 1st, 2006 in , , , , , , ,

Search engine companies are getting a lot of attention right now by the media (no pun intended). To name but a few articles:

  • We’ve seen AOL release identifiable search history for 100.000s of users
  • Microsoft is adding the third dimension to search - the users
  • Yahoo announced they use complex models to analyze user behavior
  • Google holds multiple patents for a technology they call Profile Rank

As expected this means that tools for private browsing are getting more focus. Some work by deleting browser history, cookies etc. on the client computer, while others attempt to mask the real user behavior by performing random searches on behalf of the user. It will be interesting to see how this battle for privacy develops, but let’s look at how we got here in the first place.

Ok, so what does every modern search engine need?:

  • Hardware - processing power, memory, storage, network equipment
  • Infrastructure - secure data centers, massive bandwidth and power
  • Talented people - the web is a large place and users want relevant results in less than a second
  • Huge sums of money -  to pay for the three items above

As users we’ve come to expect unlimited free access to search engines. Using them has become so ingrained that I’ve caught my self shouting “the web just broke” if is down. I couldn’t do my job without search engines - something I would imagine a lot of people share with me. Interestingly I’ve never paid as much as a single cent to use the search engines. Instead, I give them a considerable amount of my attention almost every day. Each time I search I’m stating my intentions, what I’m interested in, but in return I get instant access to relevant information across the world.

Seeing as we have reached 1 billion Internet users, and that advertising on search engines is already a $14-billion-a-year business, the attention of the average Internet user is currently valued at $14 per year. I personally think that this figure indicates that we’ve only just begun to see search engines tap into the value of attention. Why? Every day the results from search engines help people make important decisions, stay informed and buy the right products. From this perspective $14 seems almost insignificant.

Where does all of this leave us? As I see it, the price of attention will continue to be directly linked to the quality of search engines. For this reason, search engine companies will continue to develop technology that gets inside the heads of its users. We will get even more relevant results and be served ads that anticipate what we want before we know it. The one question that we all have to ask ourselves is this:

  • Mr. Search Engine: Enjoyed your stay?
  • You: Yes, thank you. I found what I was looking for
  • Mr. Search Engine: Will you be paying in cash or attention?

Make the choice…