You use email filters to limit what comes into your inbox, right?. But what about phone calls? I’ve been using Google Voice for a little while and have found it handy at filtering which phone calls come to my attention.
First of all, what is Google Voice? It’s an alternate phone number from Google, complete with texting and voicemail. You should sign up for one, to use as a home phone, an office phone, or just an alternate number to give people. In any case, the methods I describe here work with both your new number and the number you already have.
When you sign up for GV, you can associate it with a number of phones, which means that when someone calls your GV number, it will ring on whatever phone(s) you want. You can also use GV’s voicemail features with your old number.
Once you’re set up, go to Settings, and Voicemail & Text
Then go to Groups
Here you can set up different behaviors for different groups. For me, most people get my default message, telling them they can email or text me if they like (thus freeing up my voicemail and eliciting potentially quicker result). But my friends get a shorter message, and some groups can get screened. Others get blocked altogether.
I find this happy for blocking bill collectors or solicitors, and sending them straight to voicemail. If you want to be more restrictive, you can send everyone straight to voicemail except people in your “Friends” group, ensuring that your phone rings only when someone you know calls you. Everything else can wait.
Another cool attention saving feature is voice transcription. It will transcribe each voicemail and either text or email it to you, so you see the vm before listening to it, which also saves time. The transcription is often terrible, but you can usually get the main idea from it.
Adam Penenberg’s Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves is an entertaining and useful read. Much of the book is stories of some of the most successful companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, Ning, Paypal, and many others, that used the “viral expansion loop,” to gain success. The premise is that these companies use the design of the site to create word-of-mouth, with each user inviting other users, until the site hits critical mass, and, eventually, a percentage of the market that leads to such dominance that the service cannot be easily displaced by competitors. He goes back to Netscape and Hotmail as early viral companies, and moves into the present, giving examples of stackable viral loop companies, like Paypal, which built itself on the back of eBay, another viral loop company.
The stories in the book may be familiar to you, as he draws a lot from other published accounts in addition to interviews, but the style is engaging and a pleasantly readable. Interspersed with these compelling stories are relevant numbers , complete with charts and graphs, revealing the some of the statistics behind viral businesses. One good example is the viral coefficient, which represents how many new users each new user brings to a site. For a site to go viral, it must have a certain coefficient. Penenberg does a good job explaining how these different companies got to this number, and why others failed.
What I like best about this book is that Penenberg does not pretend to have all the answers to the conundrums facing some of these (and future) services when it comes to making money. The book is exhaustively researched, and he puts forward some ideas about how viral companies might succeed in the future, but he is optimistic without being dogmatic, which is a refreshing stance these days.
I ran across this post by Tateru Nino about the attention economy and would like to respond to/elaborate on some of the concepts there.
Attention, per person, is a finite resource and many business models these days are trying to obtain some share of that.
I agree that this is the major tenet of attention economy, that attention is scarce, and therefore valuable. Information is abundant, so the trick is to get people to pay attention to your information. Attention is finite, but how finite? I have still not seen a good method of measuring attention (eyeballs, time spent, circulation of ideas..?)
Nino concludes that one needs two things to get attention: attention and value. It is the first that interests me:
If you don’t give any attention to the market, you don’t reliably get any.
There’s a second part to that. You not only have to give attention, but it also has to be visible. Give attention, get attention. It’s one of the basic social transactions, and it’s as applicable to the relationship between a market and a business as it is to the relationships between individuals.
Sure, giving visible attention is a good way to get some back, but is it strictly necessary? For example, Apple gets a lot of attention from the media, from consumers, from bloggers, without giving each of them attention itself. If it were a one-to-one exchange, there would be no accumulation, and every transaction would be quid pro quo. This is where the finiteness of personal attention brushes up against the idea of the accumulation of personal attentions.
Just some thoughts. The blog this post comes from is new to me, and seems to revolve around Second Life, which is actually a pretty good model for attention economy is some ways.
A few weeks ago danah boyd posted an insightful entry on 4chan’s emergence “ from complete obscurity to being recognized by mainstream media as something of significance”. The site, probably most famous for being the genesis of rickrolling and lolcats, is primarily an anonymous imageboard with, well, just about anything imaginable.
boyd claims that “4chan is ground zero of a new generation of hackers – those who are bent on hacking the attention economy,” and “these attention hackers are highlighting how manipulatable information flows are.” If today’s hackers are turning their attention to attention, even while maintaining anonymity, they are truly hijacking the economics of attention, not to sell product, but, in true hacker fashion, to explore and exploit holes in the system.
While marketers try to harness the power of viral ideas, these attention hackers spread memes just for laughs. I find the popular equation of the attention economy as “attention = money” deeply dissatisfying, because it talks about the power of attention as important only insofar as it fits into the current capitalistic system, which elides difference and erases dissent, reducing everything to its potential to create profit under current conditions. A new economy based on attention might be radically different, and, ideally, embrace difference. Do the 4chan hackers embody this possibility? Probably not. But they do point out the possibility of embracing, manipulating, and possibly thriving in a more radically pure attention economy.
Nicholas Carr has been making the rounds with his new book, The Shallows, which started as an article in 2008 called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and which claims that internet use is training our brains to be more shallow, to flit here and there in a constant state of distraction. He uses cognitive psychology to argue that screen-based technologies are limiting our ability to think deeply, and causing us to neglect long-form reading, such as novels.
The New York Times ran a few articles last week on the theme. Others have jumped in, asserting that the our brains weren’t wired for reading in the first place, that the internet is different, and we must find its native expressive power, or as Stephen Pinker asserts, that Carr’s views of neuroplasticity are flawed (Carr’s response to Pinker is also worth reading).
My instinct on this tells me to seek a middle ground. Web browsing may indeed encourage distraction and shallow thought, but that does not necessarily mean our brains will change forever, creating a culture of people who cannot think deeply. The ability to think deeply is something that must be learned, and we should cultivate that ability alongside the ability to gather large amounts of information, and, more importantly, to sift through and filter endless amounts of information into something meaningful or useful. Although Carr’s his position seems to be alarmist and reactive, I don’t think he is advocating destroying the internet and reentering a print-only culture. Nor is anyone suggesting we burn the books and live on the internet (okay, there probably are people who are saying this, but they are on the fringe). I find that as my screen consumption goes up, I often feel fatigued, irritated, scattered, but I also find immense value in the fruits the internet and screen-based technologies bring.
I suggest that a practice of moderation, of reading long, paper books, of meditation, of long walks in the woods, of gardening, in addition to the shallower world of twitter and facebook and online research and video games will cultivate both the deeper, sustained attention that Carr longs for, and the ability to communicate and learn quickly and effectively, skills required in a networked world.
Much discussion of the attention economy centers either on fame or advertising (in terms of “eyeballs” in online ads, etc.). In the former category, the idea is that famous people can leverage their fame to get stuff for themselves or others. In the latter, I generally see advertising hacks talking about gaining attention for a product or site via various means, such as social media, glittery ads, and whatnot.
But what about those of us who are not famous and who do not necessarily want to sell advertising? The problem of paying for content (does anyone want to, how much will they pay, etc.) is currently plaguing the world of journalism, as well as blogging, and perhaps also music and other intellectual or artistic pursuits.
Until the day when Whuffie becomes viable, one solution is micropayments. The relatively new service Flattr, created by the Pirate Bay curator, is an interesting service that allows users to appreciate posts and sites by clicking a button, which then distributes a piece of the user’s monthly investment to that site. To participate, a user must deposit at least 2 euros, which will be split up at the end of the month and given to the sites the user flattrs, or whatever the verb is for this. This system will rely on widespread adoption by sites and users. Without users, it is nothing. The service takes 10% off the top of any deposit, which seems a bit steep to me. I will check it out, probably putting it on my personal site, and report back.
Another service is Sprinkle Penny, which, apparently does the same thing, but automatically distributes the funds.
I think this type of tipjar style micropayment system may be a good solution to the problem of getting paid for intellectual and artistic work. I suspect people want to pay for good content, but voluntarily. The ease-of-use and breadth-of-adoption of such sites will be crucial to success, but if they can surpass those hurdles, we may have a viable method of paying with attention.
When I read Wired Magazine or a book about the internet, I often poke fun at the fact that I’m reading a paper version of these modern concepts. It’s anachronistic, but I find myself less distracted when I read them than when I’m online. Coincidentally, I learned why this is so while reading Kevin Maney’s book, Trade-Off.
Basically Maney says that there is a trade off-with successful products- whether they’re computers, cell phones, books, jewelry, coffee shops, etc.- in that their companies tend to aim for either high fidelity or high convenience, and if they aim both with a product, they’ll succeed at neither and fail.
If I were to apply this concept to attention theory, I suggest that to a company high fidelity is a “pull” concept; build it and they will come. The consumer pushes toward the higher quality they seek. As Maney says about fidelity, it’s something the consumer loves.
Conversely, to a company, convenience is “push.” Make the product ubiquitous and cheap. Get it out there in people’s faces. The consumer doesn’t love you, but they need the cheap prices and convenience.
Fidelity would be what we actually choose to pay attention to. Convenience would be what you have to pay attention to or makes you pay attention.
And how this applies to my continued desire to read books, Kevin Maney says in Trade-Off:
p. 196 “Competition is intense for people’s attention, and book reading- or brain channeling- requires enormous amounts of attention compared with other media such as movies, video games, magazines, websites, live events, and TV shows.”
In other words, books are no longer needed, but loved. People push toward them. We could weigh the attention needed to process what is being read as being higher fidelity. High fidelity attention. There is more to it, but I’d digress.
On the other hand, music playing on a popular radio station takes little attention. And it’s everywhere. Walking into a store, getting in a friend’s car, watching a baseball game, gardening, working out. It’s convenient music. Attention by convenience, more of a secondary sort of attention where you can multi-task. For example, you can listen while reading or driving.
In a way, high fidelity stands out as intended attention. Convenience is paying unavoidable or unintended attention. And, isn’t that a form of freedom- being able to pay attention to what you want, to pay high fidelity attention?
David Foster Wallace from This is Water:
p. 120 “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”
If only I could find high fidelity attention driving So Cal freeways.
DFW, rest in peace.