Institutions

Attention

Lorcan 1 min read

I linked to bubblegeneration.com on the ‘economy of attention‘ a while ago. Simply put, he argues that in the Media 1.0 era production and distribution were more scarce than attention. In other words, given the expense of creation and distribution there were a limited number of materials available through a limited number of outlets. Think of scarce shelf or spectrum space. We watched a few TV channels or went to a bookstore to buy a book. In a Media 2.0 environment, production and distribution have become cheaper and attention has become scarcer. So, for example media are now available in multiple ways – single TV programs and tracks are available as downloads; we have an extraordinary range of media outlets; there is an explosion in ‘prosumer’ content available through blogs and so on.

These economics create competence traps for media incumbents in a 2.0 world: since attention is now relatively scarce, economic advantage flows to whichever players can allocate attention – not production – most efficiently. That is, to try and make sure, wherever possible, each viewer, listener, or reader is consuming media where, when, and how they derive the most value from doing so. [Bubblegeneration Strategy Lab]

Think about libraries. The dynamic may be different in academic and public, but there are some similarites. Think of pictures of the traditional scholarly communications chain: it shows a small number of channels by which published research reaches readers. Think of how this has changed.
Where attention is scarcer one wants to provide engaging experiences that encourage people to return, one wants to place services where they are most needed in the reader’s workflow (think of the commuter interest in audio, for example, or the learner’s interest in seeing library resources in the course management system), one wants to have a clear well understood offering, one wants to project custom services into specific user environments (think of placing a metasearch of subject-specific databases in a course-page).
I think that one of the underlying themes of the much discussed OCLC Perceptions report is precisely this: how does one create recognized value in a world where attention is scarce and where materials for research, learning and personal fulfilment are more common and flow through more channels?

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