Playing with Attention Trust

(I sent a similar version of this text to a closed mailing list the other day and basically received a non-reaction, so I’m wondering what will happen if I put it here.)

Attention Trust is starting to become a “thing” and I’m trying to understand it. I wasn’t able to get a good grasp on it from reading the website text, so I installed their Firefox plugin a few nights ago.

From what I can tell, the plugin basically writes a log of your browsing activities (i.e. all http transactions; not sure what else) into a log file formatted as invalid XML (yes, really).

You can sign up to become a member of AT by agreeing to these principles. If they seem rather mysterious to you, you’re not alone. They’re written in such a way that I’m inclined to agree with them not because I necessarily agree but rather because agreeing seems kind of harmless.

  1. Property
    You own your attention and can store it wherever you wish.
  2. Mobility
    You can securely move your attention wherever you want whenever you want to.
  3. Economy
    You can pay attention to whomever you wish and receive value in return.
  4. Transparency

    You can see exactly how your attention is being used.

It’s unclear what you do after that point. You get your name on yet another website, which may be important to you.

It seems like there are some services that will capture your browsing history via the browser plugin (off by default) and send it to places like Root.net (cool domain name, not sure about the service).

This service provides you with reports as well as the ability to sell your browsing data. It reminds of a version of Eudora that may even still exist that used to make lots of reports based on your email activities. Or maybe it’s more like the client-side equivalent of doing apache log analysis.

The AT website is quite flimsy in terms of clarifying what it is that “attention” data is all about. Root.net is much easier to understand and gives you a glimpse of what is actually possible. A subversive interpretation is that the .org website’s purpose is to legitimize the commercial activities of root.net by providing a blogosphere-friendly front for something that none of us would otherwise ever agree to.

It’s not all bad, though.

I’d like to get reports on how I wast^h^h^h^h spend my life in front of my computer, how many times I’ve visited /. in the past week, how many times I’ve broken my new year’s resolution not to look at CNN.com anymore, etc.

It strikes me that this would be traditionally done as a client-side plugin for my browser. And there would be no controversy in tow. I would immediately install and start using such a thing.

Being able to share my data with advertisers and other people that I don’t want to hear from in exchange for money is a new twist on the old problem of being able to filter out signal from noise. Being paid to tolerate more noise doesn’t strike me as interesting, but I’m very Amish when it comes to this kind of thing.

I don’t mean to sound negative. It may ultimately be a Good Thing. I’m just exploring right now.

Your thoughts, please.

Update: Seems like I’m not the only one wondering what on earth this is all about.

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