Tag attention economy

Facebook newsfeed rollups: Attention hoarding behavior

Noticed this on my minifeed recently: 

94 items from Twitter? This may well be an unintentional consequence of rolling up message updates per Facebook Application. Lord knows there are a lot of apps out there like Farmville that produce an incredible amount of noise. The natural way to limit the impact of other apps on the overall Facebook experience is to collapse these.

But at the same time, it is quite a profound way to greatly limit the effectiveness of other apps on the platform. 

Facebook is well within its rights to do this. It certainly isn't new, too. It is advantageous behavior. Facebook activity is regarded as premium and gets more attention. As Twitter consolidates power and cuts out third parties from the attention stream by telling people not to create twitter clients anymore, it makes total sense that Facebook incentivize use of its own authoring tools. 

Anytime attention is pooled together, there's value. Like water in a desert, creators of apps of all kinds will seek that attention anywhere it can get it. Whether it is after a Google Search or on a habitual reload of a StumbleUpon page, cmd-tab to Twitter App or dopamine-seeking Facebook visit.

It is a profound metaphor. As app creators, we seek this attention, and to pool it, to divert it, and to control it... Attention, like water, as life-giver. Attention, like water, as enabler. Attention allows us to create our cities and charge rent on the whole thing. 

It so happens that some of the nicest cities to spend time in are created out of the public good (Craigslist and Wikipedia), while others are twisted up corporatocracies (examples left as an exercise for the reader). 

Harvesting our amygdalas? Or trying to make the world a better place?

Jim Stogdill at O'Reilly Radar writes about Facebook and how they're actually farming our amygdala for information about our preferences and future actions.

Your mind is advanced enough to experience a self, a self that you think has intrinsic value. But that's just a construction in your head. Your actual extrinsic value, I'm sorry to say, is just the sum of your known behaviors and the predictive model they make possible. The stuff you think of as "your data" and the web thinks of as "our data about you — read the ToS," is the grist for that mill. And Facebook's shiny front room is just a place for you to behave promiscuously and observably. While you're farming, well, fake carrots or something, they are farming your amygdala.

It's a cool idea. Yes, our preferences are being recorded and mined. But I don't dig the sentiment that absolutely and necessarily a bad thing. How about saving us time, money, and effort? Isn't that the point of technology anyway?

At the risk of sounding like some sort of technological libertarian... well, yes, there is a certain invisible hand here that guides our actions and aligns our incentives. Clearly as human beings, we DO STUFF. And if the tools (whether Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, or some other communication facility) help us do that stuff faster, better, and for cheaper, then by all means.

We are still adjusting to the advent of new communication technology. Every major advance will result in a backlash. While new communication technology can be used to surveil and control people, I hardly think this is the aim of Facebook or any other innovator here.

The smarter systems get, the better we live. That's the point of technology. Lets not tilt at imaginary windmills. Especially if those windmills are out to get us.