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Are you a modern day information broker? If so, that could make you a powerful figure in the future of media.


Earlier this morning, I was introduced to an 18 minute presentaton by Danah Boyd of Microsoft Research, who recently spoke at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York.

The clip arrived in the form of a blog post, as part of a company newsletter.

I mention this because the way that I received the clip, and the analysis that went with it, is almost as pertinent to this post as the video itself. Here’s the original blog post by Alan Kewley, an Account Director at advertising outfit BCM.

Called ‘Streams of Content’, the presentation likens the flow of information in modern society to a stream. I’ve embedded the clip at the foot of this post.

To quote ‘my primary source’ (i.e. BCM’s Alan Kewley):

That is, rather than relying on centralised tools for disseminating information, she talks about living in the stream and having the ability to add to the information that flows all around us. From a business point of view she talks about consuming and producing content alongside customers.

I can’t help agreeing with Kewley (and Boyd) that this suggests a really interesting development in the way we receive information. And the way we monetise content.

In the words of Kewley:

Not so long ago many industries had a clear creator/distributor model. Program creators developed TV content which was then broadcast by the networks, bands created music that was distributed by record companies, journalists generated articles published by newspapers and magazines and so on.

What Boyd is actually talking about is the collapse of distribution barriers and the power shift to those who control attention rather than distribution.

What I hope to have demonstated here, perhaps a little too self-consciously, through the ample use of quotes, is a living example of this shift – that’s perhaps attributing a heightened kudos (and, therefore, providing a potential commercial benefit) not to the creator of the content but to the person who shared it.

To further emphasise this point, I’d like to once again cite Kewley, who cites Twitter research, to suggest many people consider crediting the person they gained content or heard information from as more important than crediting the author. He didn’t, however, reference the actual research, so I can’t vouch for its authenticity.

But it does somehow seem to make sense. (I believe that many people do now think this way.)

Let’s take this back to Boyd and her ‘Streams of Content’ analogy:

There’s an assumption that if we get rid of the limitations to distribution the power will revert to the creators. This is not what’s happening. Distribution today is making people aware that they can come and get something. Those who get access to people’s attention are a very small and privileged population. What’s emerging is the power of the modern day information broker.

Kewley elaborates to make the following observation:

…attention will become the new currency.

However, this is where I disagree (slightly).

This scenario is not new. Attention will not “become” the “new” currency. Attention has always been the currency of media. The media outlets owned our attention (particularly when the options were so few) and then made big bucks by renting our attention.

Advertisers and marketers (to borrow a perspective from a another source, Seth Godin) would treat these audiences like any other ‘rental’, with a degree of nonchalnce and perhaps disrepect. They didn’t own the attention, so why look after it?

To actually quote myself from Tevor Young’s PR Warrior blog, which quotes me again from a vodcast, Mumbrella’s bi-weekly Mumbo Report (Yup, this is getting kinda freaky and postmodern):

Smart marketers today can create content and attract eyeballs of their own, much to the chagrin of the media proprietors, and this is something, James says, that would be much better for consumers and marketers.

“I think I’d be quite cranky right now if I owned the eyeballs for a really long period of time and somebody suddenly discovered that they could create their own little satellite media companies,” James says, before stretching the analogy into planets with eyeball overlords!

(Eyeball Overlords… What was I thinking? Good grief.)

So, let’s cut to the chase.

Profits have always been made by those organisations that owned the most attention. What’s changing now is that it has become much, much easier to acquire some of that ownership. Kewley says, “Those who can capture and retain attention will be more important than ever.” This, I’m assuming, will be true, as long as these ‘attention brokers’ can find ways to monetise that power.

As for the content creators? How will they get paid?

That, dear Anthillians, is a separate post for another day (yet to be created or brokered).

Now here’s the clip.