The Changing Attention Economy

It has become apparent that we are fast approaching an era of information overload. Things have started to get very fast. The speed of information over the past hundred or so years has moved from the pace of a messenger on horseback carrying a letter from town to town, to that of an email – an electron zooming through fibre optic cabling at near the speed of light. And the receptors and points of distribution for this information – smartphones, digital outdoor, connected TVs – have multiplied and burrowed themselves deep into the urban landscape around us, permeating every facet of our lives. Flow and consumption once lived in a state of equilibrium, harmonising with our inner pace, but it seems we have now reached a state of imbalance. Information moves faster, but our capacity for processing it barely waivers.

The accelerative effect of the Social web on the flow of content and data becomes apparent when you take a step back and watch your Twitter feed re-stack itself with an everlasting roll of idle snippets and egregious musings, occasionally punctuated with something of meaning and relevance. We find ourselves in state where we are curating the story of lives just for the benefit of followers, circles and avatar friends. The attention that at one point was devoted and engaged becomes torn and fragmented across the multitude of platforms and channels.

For a long time we bought people’s attention, we used insightful little tools to work out where and how they consumed things and then went into those spaces and shouted about our benefits and relevance to them. Then Social came along, and all of a sudden shouting wasn’t enough, we had to earn their attention. But with the Social came the ability to amplify ad infinitum – to like, to retweet, to republish in set of conditions where space is boundless and reach and scale can be gained with relative ease – we are now only 2.5 connections apart from anyone in the world, apparently. Like a sponge, the accelerations soaked up that pool of attention that we used to freely dip into when we saw fit.

So, we now move to a state where attention becomes the desired commodity. It becomes a scarcity, and as by basic principles of economics, scarcity creates value, and thus attention becomes the luxury item whose value has grown exponentially over the years of Digital Social expansion, and the item whose importance remains un-waivered and central to the success of our business.

What are the implications for us in the new attention scare economy? Just plastering banners all over websites doesn’t deliver the same impact and cut through as previous. Really we need to place a new value on the time spent with brand. I think the below might a good starting point:

1. The Fair Exchange – The parameters of the deal we had with consumers have shifted, it’s not enough to say the advertising makes the content affordable in a system whereby consumers are now content creators. For example, Facebook provide the platform, but we provide the content, yet they draw unfathomably large profits from selling ad space next to something their pen did not ink. There is a need to embrace models that pay back the consumer directly. In New York they are about to start trialling cash machines give the user the option to waiver the banking charge in return for watching an ad. GamesthatGive uses the same mechanic, but rewards those who watch with a charitable donation.

2. Slow down – The fluvial torrent of status updates and tweets needs to be curtailed and governed by a greater understanding of the emotional state of the consumer – when and where can we be relevant and meaningful, when do I apply the frequency cap. Trickle is a great example of how information can be reduced to a drip feed, it simply takes your Twitter stream and display each Tweet one by one in a large font.(It’s also a great example of how a dormant screen can be used to capture secondary attention)

3. Unplug – We will see an increasing number of people creating their own “Digital Downtime” and simply disconnecting from net activities. The pace information is grossly out of sync with our ability to consume it, switching off will become the tool we use to readdress the balance. There will likely be a forthcoming of slew of simpler media that nurtures this desire, Michael Hazanavicius’ The Artist is good example of how layers can be stripped away to create a more elemental experience.

This shift away from constant connectivity forces us to place a new value on reaching the consumer that demands greater understanding, relevance, creativity and meaning. Much like Web 2.0, when the ability to become a publisher became open to all, the new attention economy has shifted the paradigm yet again, further empowering the consumer. As Marshall McLuhan once said, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself” and in this new world, we are becoming very close to losing ourselves.


Hugo, Scorsese and Melies

For the first time in a long time, I found myself walking into a cinema to see a film I knew nothing about. I was coerced in to seeing Scorsese’s Hugo, which I assumed to be a cartoon of the Happy Feet ilk that would be please cretins and young children alike. I was quite wrong and taken aback by an epic tribute the history of cinema, a desire to preserve and in particular to the work of Georges Melies and his pioneering special effects in the service of fantasy.

Fittingly and coincidently this was Melies 150th anniversary, and Scorsese using the 3D for the first time tries to recreate something of the making and viewing of these early films that audiences would have experienced in the early 1900s. Through countless cinematic references to the period and films within films, he tells the tale of how Melies, once a magician, applied his practice to celluloid and shaped the things to come, then was swiftly forgotten as the cultural climate changed in post war France.

Though awash with subtle references to James Joyce and Dali, Hugo plays upon the cinematic stereotypes of the era – gendemaries with flat topped caps chasing clowns in Allo’ Allo’ like ways. Melodramas revolving around orphaned little boys made so by the drunked misgivings of guardian, and the slapstick comedy of those who put their feet through musical instruments. An explicit reference to Harold Lloyd’s Safety First!

“Happy endings only happen in the movies” the film proclaims, but builds a narrative that defies this through a set a of punctuating films within films that recall a prolific history, and then a change of the broader shape – governed by fate and cruelty – to reflect Melies late recognition after a period of near poverty in which he was award the Legion d’honneur by Louis Lumieire in 1931.

There is such distinctive visual imagery that comes with Melies and Scorsese bathes this in a colour palette of bronze and soft but radiant blue. I had always wondered what had inspired the art of Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness by the Smashing Pumpkins:

It is like Hugo; a homage to Melies and in particular Le Voyage Dans La Lune: 

This is probably a garbled way of saying it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised in cinema and see a great create a fitting and emotional tribute to another a great. Preconceptions can be a destructive thing and I’m certainly going to make more of an effort view without colour of other opinions in future.

5 Cool Things

A bit mash up this time round



We’ve got a ‘Mash Up’ theme to this weeks 5 Cool Things, looking back over the last year at a few good examples of how brands have used API feeds from different sources to create something new and innovative.

Volkswagen get LinkedIn

Linked In opened their API earlier in the year and Volkswagen in Holland were the first to use it to build a branded experience. ‘Nogal vol van zichzelf’ (‘Quite full of himself’) uses the system to measure arrogance. Challenge your network (who has the most connections? recommendations?) and your avatars head swells with each win.

Foursquare Location Fun

Foursquare allows for rich streams of location data to be passed back for use in all sorts of creative ways.  German dog food makerGranataPet created a check-in controlled billboard that dispenses product sample, Nokia have created check in based gifting machines and Foursquaropoly is a concept using check ins as a new way to play Monopoly.

Twitter Technology

There have been a wealth of great campaigns powered by just a 140 characters. Last Christmas Samsung customized wrapping paper with Tweets as part of their Boosted campaign, and Volkswagen invited to people to a Twitter powered treasure hunt mash up with Google Maps.

Maps, maps, maps…

Google Maps has enabled brands to mesh location and real time with rich features like Street View to create quite interesting experiences. Recently, Volkswagen have tracked the progress of their new car with the BlueMotion Roulette and Mercedes have created a new world and interactive game within Street View with Escape the Map.

Making Music

Both Spotify and Youtube give the ability to mash up social data with a catalogue of music. Spotisquare is a neat blend that lets users check music in to locations and Forage builds a personalized music playlist for you, based on the people you follow on Twitter using Youtube videos.

John Martin: Apocalypse

I  took a trip to the end of the world the other day, to see John Martin’s Apocalypse at the Tate Britain. It is an impressive chronology of the the 19th century sensationalist painter’s most epic works. Martin, and his sublime depictions of fantastical myths and legends toured the English speaking world and had been seen by over 2m people by the time of his death in 1854. Exhibited were the extraordinary tales of men watching the last of the sun burn out in a vibrant red hue, the fires of Vesuvius engulfing Pompeii, the decadence of Babylon falling as well as countless visualisations from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. 

The exhibition has been curated so as you have been passed through The Book of Revelations and then Exodus, you reach The Last Judgement triptych, adorned by frames of egregious brass and swathed in erubescent light they sit in triplicate and ownership of the last gallery space.

The triptych, comprised of the The Last Judgement, The Plains of Heaven and The Day of His Great Wrath is an effulgence of varied of emotion. In stasis, they tell a rich tale of The Last Judgement inspired by St John the Divine’s account in Revelation. They express the “sublime, apocalyptic force of nature and the helplessness of man to combat God’s will”

and, lo, there was a great earthquake’ and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; | And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. | And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (Revelation 6:12-14)

However, what was most interesting was exactly how they told that tale and how culture over the years had created stories around it. They are staged upon grand scenes in a way that asks for enquiry, but essentially represent a fragment or screenshot that is part of something wider, something with a history and with a future. So, people starting placing the works at the centre of storytelling sessions, weaving in and out of past and present and referring back to different elements within Art to frame and guide.

The Tate took this heritage and moved it on, forward into our Digital age, and used projection mapping techniques to overlay a replica image onto the paintings and then various effects to highlight and animate different components and aid in fragment, a booming apocalyptic voice over that spoke of our impending doom. Whilst perhaps detracting from the finer technical points of the art works (like the fact that it is a painting), it felt like a camp fire experience, with the paintings at the centre, but with technology to enhance and not detract. It is no wonder they inspired the likes of Star Wars, a lot of Ray Harryhausen’s work and Alan Moore’s falling society.

Gamification Inverted

Gamification, a slightly over tired principle which spoke of overlaying gaming tenets on to real world situations as a means to solve problems and engage audiences. Foursquare, EPIC Win, task based loyalty platforms etc etc..All good and a logical way to make the mundane become seemingly interesting.

Today I came across what feels to be Gamification inverted – taking real world occurrences and placing them within a system that adheres to gaming principles. Tweetland, created by WHY Ideas and Tree Interactive is being touted as “the first videogame in the world that plays with reality. The game feeds real life experiences from people all over the world via Twitter to create content inside the game that will affect both gameplay and player”. It takes the tweets of the real world and turns them into events with the game. How?

“For example, if a person in New York sees a traffic accident on 5th Avenue and reports it on Twitter, the ”car accident” could  happen on TweetLand. On the other hand, if at the same time in Australia, someone sees a shooting star and comments it on Twitter, a shooting star will appear on TweetLand. Same thing will happen when people tweet about events such as an earthquake, a tsunami, etc.”

The game takes a live feed so it essentially becomes about the input of social experiences in real time. Why use a complex algorithms to simulate and predict what might happen in the real world when you take those occurrences from social channels and feed them in live. The real world is far more interesting and unpredictable.

As you can see from the above, visually it’s pretty basic. The question how far will developers be able to take the idea of real world interactions generating virtual content within games, and then in turn, just how blurry will that make the line between worlds. Just as directors like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh made Social Realism an accepted genre within cinema, are we likely do see the same within gaming? As said by Tree “We do believe there isn’t a better way to replicate our reality than by gathering the collective experience that a society like ours offers nowadays”

Tarkovsky’s Time within Time

Today I started reading Andrei Tarkovsky’s Time within Time, a selection of his diaries covering his early work in the Soviet Union with Mos Film, all the way through to his exile in Europe and the late and deeply personal films he made about his longing to return. They purport to be the insight into the mind of one of cinemas true auteurs, The Sculptor in Time, the one Ingmar Bergman described as being “the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” and the visionary who moved film from document to pansophy. I made my way through the preamble and following on from a short monologue about his desire explore the life of Dostoevsky in film. I reached:

“Last night I got drunk and shaved off my moustache”

Some things are better left untouched. Leave your idols on their pedestals.

5 Cool Things

Another weeks worth of interesting:


A big vision from Microsoft, a couple of nice bits of technology innovation, an emerging consumer behaviour and Nike pushing the boundaries of Projection Mapping make up this week’s 5 Cool Things. 


Microsoft’s vision of productivity in the future

Microsoft have created this future facing video, which visualises just how technology will make our lives easier and more productive in the times ahead. It looks at how devices seamlessly intergrate with one another and how content can flow freely between. Looking at the way things are moving and the astounding rate of progression, this vision may be a reality in the not too distant future.

Second Screen apps

People like to talk about event TV programmes. Smart Phones and Tablets have enabled them to do this whilst they are watching them. X Factor flooding Twitter at showtimes being the most potent example of this. The Zeebox iPad app and Yahoo’s IntoNow that launched last week are great examples of a new trend of apps that bring these conversations together around TV events. 

More Mind Control

Toyota have developed a concept bike in partnership with Parlee cycles, which enables the user to change gears using purely the power of thought. It uses a helmet that tracks brain impulses and turns them into actions that can shift the mechanics of the bike.

3D Projection Mapping goes Further

Projection Mapping outfits need to constantly evolve to make sure videos like the above are as consumable and sharable as possible. Nike have moved beyond just projecting on to iconic buildings and actually using water splashes synchronised with the 3D animation as the backdrop.

Turn anything into a touch a screen

Omnitouch have developed technology that combines Microsoft Kinect style sensing with a projection, meaning that virtually any surface can function as a touch screen. A great example of how this could be brought to life is in the iPhone 5 concept video, shame it was a fake.