Gillmor’s Theory of Everything (podcast)

About half an hour into our podcast with Steve Gillmor:

Attention Podcast with Steve Gillmor, Joshua Porter and Alex Barnett (58 min 14MB) (Alex’s notes)

it became clear to me that Steve’s ideas on attention aren’t just a view from 50,000 feet. No, it’s more like a view from space, where you see a butterfly tapping its wings in Borneo and visualize the tsunami that might occur in Cuba – three years later. RSS, Attention, and Gestures, Steve’s three muses, are not just cogs in a nice little theory he’s working with to explain why he’s having trouble keeping up with all the information he wants to read. Instead, this is Gillmor’s Theory of Everything.

About half an hour into our podcast with Steve Gillmor:

Attention Podcast with Steve Gillmor, Joshua Porter and Alex Barnett (58 min 14MB) (Alex’s notes)

it became clear to me that Steve’s ideas on attention aren’t just a view from 50,000 feet. No, it’s more like a view from space, where you see a butterfly tapping its wings in Borneo and visualize the tsunami that might occur in Cuba – three years later. RSS, Attention, and Gestures, Steve’s three muses, are not just cogs in a nice little theory he’s working with to explain why he’s having trouble keeping up with all the information he wants to read. Instead, this is Gillmor’s Theory of Everything.

The big curiosity for me was that Steve sees a small localized effect like the use of RSS (still a very small percentage of the online world), becomes confident that it will grow to a larger scale, and then declares dead whatever it is replacing. This is what he seemed to be doing with RSS, which he says is the lingua franca of the Attention economy, which we are all in now, even those who don’t know it. Even my Father, who doesn’t know what RSS is, has never used it, and only interacts with Google by using Search or possibly clicking on an Adsense ad.

Steve’s position is certainly interesting. In translating his world into mine, I found myself beginning to see what he means, but feeling uneasy about his earnestness that it has already happened.

Take his Model of Attention. If we are to assume that Google is aggregating attention data via RSS, which they are to some degree (but it could be argued endlessly to what degree), does that mean that RSS is the new step #1? That it is where the value is, despite the vast majority of relevance still being calculated by HTML links and by a vast majority of attention gatherers (like my mortgage broker) who haven’t a clue what RSS is? My gut tells me we should we look at how Google is actually aggregating our attention data, which is certainly from our search queries, our clicks from results pages, our Gmail accounts, and all the other services they provide. To me, it seems like RSS is but a small part of all of this.

Regardless of whether RSS is the lingua franca, I certainly agree with Steve that there is an arms race on to aggregate attention data in the form of gestures. As Danny Ayers described, it seems like gestures are the unit of attention. So how do you measure how much attention someone is paying? You count, prioritize, and weigh their gestures. Gestures in this light are easy to find: linking, clicking, commenting, subscribing, mentioning, NOT mentioning…all these things are gestures that can be aggregated. And some are more important than others.

So assume that there are services that aggregate our gestures. What next? The next step, if I’ve deciphered Steve’s comments correctly, is that the services who best leverage that data, who can give us improved information flow, are going to win. And then there’s the kicker: to do this you have to put the user in control. Steve used the term “community of the user-in-charge”, which I like a lot.

Steve’s vision is deep. He sees the whole art gallery, not just the Van Goghs. However, when Alex asks about his ideas concerning Gesture Bank, he sidesteps, fearing that he’ll give away too much. This, of course, was the reason why we asked him, of all people, to come talk to us. He doesn’t give away quite enough.

Enjoy the podcast.

Published: February 9th, 2006

Hi there. So...I'm trying an experiment. I'm experimenting with product design and growth hacking strategies on a new project called What to Wear. It's a super simple service that sends you a daily email containing clothing recommendations based on the weather. My focus is to make it really useful, and it's free to sign up. Let me know what you think!