Forget Bitcoin there’s a new currency in town

In the past (by which we mean the very recent past), when we talked about the currency of the internet it was most probably cryptocurrency which would be being discussed.

More recently there’s been a shift in focus to a new much-valued commodity – our attention.

Information vs attention – a hugely imbalanced ratio

Yes, it appears that attention, being a limited resource which is much sought after, is coveted by those who want to present their products and services.  Less limited is the volume of information to be consumed; a plethora of posts, advertisements and notifications which vastly exceeds the collective volume of total attention available; and since over 90% of all information ever produced by humans has appeared in only the last two years (!), it looks like the ‘attention availability deficit’ will only get bigger and bigger in the years to come.

Recent changes to Facebook algorithms have been one of the most obvious signs of a marked change to capture, and keep, as much of our attention as possible.  The algorithms filter, re-organise and serve content to the user, deciding the order in which the packages of information are presented.  Facebook themselves dressed this change as an enhancement to engagement which would make the user experience more sociable.  The fact that it happens to make us spend more time on their site is perhaps just a happy co-incidence.

A new branch of economics

Facebook’s move is just one commonly recognised example of the approach now commonly known as Attention Economics.  This recognises and treats human attention as a scarce commodity and tries to manage information in such a way as to overcome the supply and demand imbalance which exists.  One of the most obvious examples of the application of this branch of economic problem solving is the filtering of information as we search on line.  Something which we all generally accept as ‘helpful’ in terms of reducing our search time, the providers of sophisticated filtering are actually trying to keep us within their application rather than have us ‘move on’ to another as a result of frustration.  So whilst we might get to our desired area much faster (a win for us), we are much more likely to stay longer on their whole site and spend some of our valuable attention on their particular offering (a win for them).

Big Brother watching us?

The most intelligent solutions will also present us with very specific content as a priority, either based on our own previous searches or on intelligent drilled-down demographics.  The element of ‘uneasiness’ we sometimes feel when we open up a new search only to find bizarrely relevant content right in front of our eyes is not a case of Big Brother spying on our activity, it’s simply the application of attention economics to catch, and keep, our attention.  Clever stuff which will, due to the huge values at stake here, only continue to get more and more refined.

Here, at RDZ HQ, we will watch this progression with great interest but we will also continue to advise our clients on how to ‘do their bit’ to maintain the attention of their audience by ensuring that every single piece of content hits the mark every time.