Attention Economy

Attention is the new currency

The internet has helped pave the way towards an age where individuals and businesses have the ability to freely and easily create and transfer limitless information that is immediately accessible by all.  This has caused an overabundance of information that is, in it's excess, losing its economic value.  As this information assault persists it invariably means that attention deficit prevails, making it more and more difficult to reign in an audience online.  With competition on a global scale, attention has become a scarce resource that is now the single most important determinant of business success (Davenport & beck, 2001).

Attention Economy is a term that was adopted by Michael H. Goldhaber (1997) in which he claims that an economy is governed by what is scarce. Therefore trading attention, instead of information, has become a fundamental factor in the New Economy and rather than focusing on the exchange of information, businesses need to add focus to gaining attention. Harnessing a person’s full attention will then entice them into performing physical actions such as money transactions (Goldhaber, 1997).

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Pay Attention, Mouse and the Billionaire

In this rapidly changing market, it is not often that a business can remain successful by continuing what it has done before or by repeating what others do.  It is necessary to constantly invest into improved methods of capturing an audience’s attention (Goldhaber 1997).  eBay is a great example of a site that receives massive amounts of attention.  Part of the reason for this is because eBay initially received wide recognition through its original concept of an online auction. It didn’t take long to develop a large network of users that were using the site to engage with each other.  It is now the most popular site for people to buy and sell second-hand goods (Caban, n.d.). Their network draws ever-growing amounts of attention due to what Lillie (2006) refers to as a ‘virtuous circle’ where the more buyers there are, the more sellers will be enticed and vice versa.  This can be attributed to the fundamental success of this online business.

One major advantage that eBay has over other businesses in ‘getting eyeballs’ is their content is constantly changing.  This means if a user can’t find what they want on their first visit, they can return a week later and will have a mostly new set of products to choose from.  Gauntlett (2004) suggests that it helps to have good content, but also important to help people find it.  eBay further harnesses attention by implementing a functionality which gives the buyer the ability to customise and save searches with varying levels of preferences and filters.  This not only saves the user time and hassle when visiting the site in the future, but also personalises each user experience and therefore plays a part in retaining their attention.

Where analysts used to be more focused on the amount of hits per page, they are now more interested in the engagement those users are having with their content.  eBay tracks user information such as search activity, viewed products and bought items to make personalised recommendations, either on their homepage or via email alerts, to better serve their customers which play a hand in recapturing their attention.   

It is clear that although eBay’s success was leveraged due to it early foundations in the online marketplace, it is still representative of the attention economy.  According to Lillie (2006) “the majority of eBay users do not consider their labour to be for eBay, instead they believe that they work for themselves” so it is also possible their attention may be based on personal investment.

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