The information age is building an attention based economy. As the internet leaves it’s infancy and enters a more mature phase, it’s use has changed. Now users can easily produce informational content in addition to what they consume. As a result, there is more information available than ever before. So much content now exists that it is now more challenging to build an interested audience.
Audiences are built by providing value and the primary value driver is the attention of consumers.
There are only so many hours in a day that a person can spend consuming information. Because of their limited attention and an increasing number of digital product producers, the ways with which content is produced have changed. Punchy sound bites and click bait hooks are common tactics used to captivate an audience.
The attention based economy is built around the concept that time is value. And time spent interacting with content is valuable. Clicks, impressions, and ultimately purchases are the value drivers in the information economy. But going a little deeper reveals other patterns that hold this economy together.
The internet changed how we consume everything. Before it was widely adopted, manufacturing relied on economies of scale to produce products with decent margins and mass appeal. Communities were too spread apart and silo’d to provide customized options for smaller audiences. With the internet, preferences of smaller and niche communities became profitable.
These long tail opportunities fractured traditional consumption practices. Consumers no longer had to rely on standardized products. Instead, their was a surge in demand for unique products, services and communities. The internet provided affordable means of finding communities large enough to support custom and niche products at scales that supported profitability that never previously existed.
As a direct result of the internet, there was a Cambrian like explosion of culture. New ideas, products and services boomed into existence to serve every possible desire and subculture. After a time, this explosion of ideas created unintended consequences. It became harder for individuals to make choices in the face of so many options. How can I choose between 17 different types of books on the same subject I’m interested in?
As our choices became crowded and our attention restricted, producers needed to develop tactics to dominate these crowded markets. Competition for attention and ultimately sales dollars became fierce. It laid the foundation for a power structure in the information age that battles for attention. The primary weapon of each faction became the sound bite and the click bait headline. Propaganda tactics surged into markets that had never seen them used before.
Competitors can offensively cherry pick content that lacks nuance and reframe it to attack it’s creator. Injecting artificial context to alter a consumers view of the company or individual narrative. In the Information Age the goal is not only to gain consumer attention but to develop influence over a target audience. By using nuance to infect niche audiences, influencers of the digital age hope to steal attention and gain further influence.