Blair & ID cards
Memeorandum & TailRank

Attention, Reading Lists, RSS, etc, etc

Attention continues to get my attention. David Sifry, in his recent update on the blogosphere and its staggering growth, says:

We track about 1.2 Million posts each day, which means that there are about 50,000 posts each hour. At that rate, it is literally impossible to read everything that is relevant to an issue or subject, and a new challenge has presented itself - how to make sense out of this monstrous conversation, and how to find the most interesting and authoritative information out there.

Alex Barnett posted on this issue:

The live web discovery problem is different type of discovery problem to that the traditional search engine space has been trying to solve. Companies such as Technorati, Icerocket, PubSub, Memeorandum, Tailrank, Digg, FeedDemon, Rojo, and Bloglines and many other start ups that have cropped up in the last couple years recognize this and are helping us navigate the torrent. However, in my view, what's missing from the current generation of the aggregators, feedreaders and live web discovery engines is the ability to scope these services against my attention data. Some of these services provide tag and keyword RSS search subscriptions and have some personalization features.  These are steps in the right direction, but we've got a long way to go.

(There's a podcast available with Alex, Joshua Porter and Steve Gillmor discussing attention.) Which makes me recall Herbert Simon's words:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

Reading Lists, as I've blogged before, are hot and are being talked about in the context of an 'attention-based recommendation system'. (Listen to another of Alex's podcasts, here, with a discussion between Alex, Danny Ayers, Joshua Porter and Adam Green about Reading Lists.) Dave Winer's guidelines are lucid and helpful (and see his OPML Editor doc) and I have really enjoyed Danny Ayers' take and this comment by Darren Chamberlain:

I think I don’t get the idea of a reading list. Is it just the portion of a blogroll that you’ve been reading most recently (the blogroll’s intersection with your attention data)?

dd's comment points to a key significance of Reading Lists, their dynamic nature. EirePreneur has a post touching on Reading Lists but focusing on Feed Grazing and (wait for it) Web 3.0 that has set me thinking, and Danny Ayers' comment there ('the near-future of the web is going to be a generalisation from a Web of Documents to a Web of Data') is my excuse for not yet blogging about last week's conferences.

Alerted by Alex and Robert (and Greg Linden's comments on the latter), I'm playing with Megite (my personal Reading List here; not a good idea, it seems, for me to have included the BBC News feed — it swamps everything), and have now also gone back to Findory and TailRank. (There's a post about all this by Richard MacManus, too.) Alex:

Megite is going letting me do what I've been asking Memeorandum (or anyone else that will listen) to let me do for ages  - to pivot off my own OPML file. The feature isn't switched on for everyone yet, but I've pinged the Megite developer, Mathew Chen, so hope to hear from him soon. … I'm more convinced than ever that the ability to render a personalized experience based on Attention data is where its at. And I'm not talking about just clickstreams. Your OPML file (specifically your list of RSS subscriptions) is one example of this Attention data set. It says a lot about you: the topics your interested in and the people you listen to, and much more. There is plenty more Attention data that can be leveraged though. My tags, my wishlist, the books I own, etc. We're just at the beginning of the Attention Engine race.

In the comments to Alex's post, Greg Linden says: 'Thanks for trying Findory! The relevance rank is not random nor is it solely based on your OPML file.  Findory decides what is relevant based on the articles you read. Play with it, click a few articles, and watch how it focuses in. Findory learns very quickly'. And Kevin Burton: 'TailRank has had this live for 2 weeks now'.

Swarming media has a post on some other, related implications of all this — the way we're projecting our deterritorialized, multiple identities in cyberspace:

The obvious unwanted social implications extend to surveillance and impersonation, but culturally, we are creating selves outside ourselves. Many-tendriled projections.

Compare James Governor on Declarative Living.

Meanwhile, FeedBurner's FeedFlare API (the release of which coincided with last week's Future of Web Apps conference) has got my attention:

The really big idea … was … the notion of providing a universal framework/API to enable any third-party web service to integrate with a publisher's content, without concern over what content management system the publisher is using.

The 101 ideas FeedBurner published for FeedFlare underscore the role of RSS as a way of gluing things together. Mitch Ratcliffe on the original FeedFlare announcement:

Using metadata this way will allow greater integration of intelligence in the management of feeds. The announcement talks about more browser-friendliness, which is a big plus, but RSS is fading into the communications between applications and, I think, that's where it will take deepest root.

Kevin Burton:

(FeedFlare) should allow more innovation in the space.  For example I could add TailRank features directly in FeedBurner.  Other smaller companies could add plugins for their content as well.

In a year or two, what will be the place and nature of RSS aggregators and these rich RSS feeds? Richard MacManus has a post today declaiming, 'Personalization + Clustering is the next big step in RSS. If 2005 was about Aggregation, then 2006 is all about Filtering.' Danny Ayers focuses on the technicalities behind this and in the comments adds: 'the smart aggregator (with hooks into things like the Technorati API and a bit of P2P) is probably a quicker route than trying to put all the processing online'.

Union Square Ventures invested in FeedBurner believing that RSS will become mainstream, but they, like Fred Wilson, know there's some way to go yet. Matt McAlister's gloomier still. Me? — I think Lloyd Shepherd has it right: 'the fact is that RSS is gluing all sorts of things together at the front end and the back end. … it’s entirely understandable that the RSS front end is still a bit squishy and unfriendly - people are still trying to get to grips with the possibilities of it at the back-end. Not because people are stupid, but because those possibilities are just so huge'.

Back to Attention. The Guardian picked up on this last week and advertised AttentionTrust.org. I joined this a while back and am now beginning to see its value through using the AttentionTrust approved service, Root Vaults. You can download AttentionTrust's Attention Recorder extension for Firefox here and you have the option either to record your attention data direct to your hard drive, or to Root Vaults or ACME Attention Service.

These are some of the things to do with attention, RSS, etc that have been crossing my radar recently. (There are others, but I'm sticking here with the ones that have really preoccupied me. Companies like Attensa are on my screen, too …)

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