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Attention Data – The Rest of the Story

February 19, 2009

So a few days back I wrote about my new love for Twitter and how I think Twitter could be used to re-imagine aspects of training and development.  There was a lot more I wanted to write, but in case you haven’t noticed, I blog long.  I’ve decided that I’m a “go big or go home” sort of blogger.  I’m ok with that so you should be too.  Ok, so where was I?  Yeah right, there rest of the story on Twitter.

I think Twitter is the beginning of the shift toward “People RSS.”  With Twitter, I can follow Aaron’s thoughts for the day.  If he chooses to post them, I can check out sites that he might have included in a tweet (seriously, we need to get over the baby names in this space).  But what I don’t see are his Delicious tags, or his blog updates, or his latest podcasts, or stuff he Dug through Digg, or his Flickr updates.  I think the next big wave is in this Community stuff is new kind of feed aggregator, not the Netvibe or Feedburner kind that feed multiple OPML and RSS files to me, but a true people feed aggregator that can track a specific individual’s activities across multiple Web 2.0 services (the ones he or she chooses to make public).  Imagine that I get a single feed of all the stuff Aaron touches, visits or updates – sites he tags, sites he Diggs, Flickr updates, Facebook updates, blog updates, Twitter streams – all in one consolidated view or mashed together with all of my other people feeds.

Five years ago, we all checked web pages manually.:  “Oooh, let me go see if there is an update to my favorite news site or blog.  Ok, what about the next one?  And the next one?”  Today this seems hopelessly archaic and we just feed it all to our favorite aggregator.  Yet today, if I want a comprehensive picture of Aaron’s public activity, what do I do?  “Oooh, let me see if he updated his tags.  Ok, what about his Facebook account?  Ok, what about his Diggs?  Ok, what about Flickr?”  You get the idea.  Sure, I could RSS the hell out of everything Aaron does, and we could connect through 12 different services and technologies, but why?  Why can’t I just RSS him?  Five years from now, I think we’re going to find it surprising that we went to multiple sites to connect to people.  When you think about it, it’s kind of insane.

So instead, imagine there is some sort of service that manages all of Aaron’s privacy settings across all of the popular Web 2.0 public sites.  This service could deal with all of the RSS details, consolidate it into a single feed, and then feed it to whomever wanted to subscribe.  Nothing about this is terribly hard; you could probably even manage a hack of this via Yahoo Pipes today.  And as more and more of us start living more public, “out there” lives, it’s seems obvious that we should automate the consolidation and distribution of individuals’ attention data – in other words, RSS of People.  This extends my previous argument about the value of Twitter within organizations, and I think it extends the value of Twitter for thought leadership as well.  Partial presence of my thoughts and ideas is super.  But Twitter-like, partial presence of all the meaningful stuff that I do online is something else entirely.   This could be a profound shift in the way we think about sharing and modeling, and could deeply change the way we interact with experts and thought leaders.  We can become “fans” of people and follow them, not just in Twitter but across multiple services and solutions.

So in short, I think Twitter is the first movement toward a complete rethinking of RSS, Social Networking, and online communities, from Content-based RSS to People-based RSS.  Flock and 8Hands seem to be a move in this direction, though I’m not a big fan of either.  I like the consolidation of the data, but I find the interfaces and the experience to be less than optimal.  8Hands is too little and Flock too much, forcing me to go to a specific place to see my feeds.  What I think we need is a version of Snitter that does what Flock is trying to do.  What do you think?  Am I crazy or does this resonate with your experience as well?

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