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The attention economy

Some alongside considerations to the exciting panel discussion with Luca De Biase and Enzo Rullani today at the State of the Net conference.

Luca made a strong point (and paved the way for Rullani’s great speech) in telling that there is a strong and urgent need to reject the idea of decline, to find new ways to imagine and narrate the future, and finally to spread the knowledge that – at the other end of a paradigm shift – a different definition of happiness might exist. This difficult, epic task would probably involve forgetting the usual way to intertwine happiness and measurable success, finding new definitions for the latter.

The network, because of the people who are using it, enables a larger (and more composite) community to have a say in this. But this is not the only reason for which the network (and blogs in particular) are at the centre of this paradigm-changing opportunity.

A significant part of the blogosphere is fueled by Google AdSense text ads, and similar revenue programmes. A way to use money to measure the value of "eyeballs", trading content for advertising space. I remember few years ago, when this kind of measurement was part of the dotcom bubble and it is somehow happening again. The valuation for Facebook calculated on the basis of the slice acquired by Microsoft, eBay writing down the value of Skype two years after its acquisition,  YouTube acquired by Google for $1.65 billion…

I do not think that recent history will repeat itself (not exactly, at least), and it is not my intention to discuss the possibility of a "web2.0 bubble burst". On the contrary, I think that there are lots of differences and even if the current enthusiasm will be followed by a shrinking phase, the whole cycle can be seen as a progressive refinement of a way to use money (and, generically speaking, traditional financial instruments) in measuring the value of attention.

This sort of attempt to embed the attention economy in traditional finance might succeed (I don’t think it did, so far), and knowledge/trust/happiness economies might follow. Or, perhaps, will finance itself give way to other societal drivers, and dilute its influence by means of a redefinition of public interest? Back to the beginning, I think that the answer to this question probably lies in our (the most extensive "our" you can imagine) ability to redefine the way we imagine the future.