Standardized Attention

AttentionThose clever beavers at Touchstone have stirred up something new which I find pretty interesting: standardising attention information so that is can become more transparent, interchangeable, and above all, more useful.

What we pay attention to is a surprisingly useful, yet fragile thing. I may be interested in Raymond E. Feist as a writer, but only Amazon knows it. Coldplay is a great band, but only iTunes knows I like them. These applications and services know a great deal about what I’m paying attention to, unfortunately it’s limited in both its scope, due to the nature of who is holding it, and in usefulness because it is so splintered beyond my review or control. If I visit another bookstore they have no idea what I’m interested in. What if that information was something I could take with me from site to site? What if I could look at inferred attention with a view to improving it?

Now Touchstone is taking a relatively brave, but well intentioned step towards a standardisation of this type of attention data. Their APML specification was recently released with a bold predication to encapsulate all attention data into an umbrella format that could one day be adopted by any number of web sites or applications.

The most likely course this will take will be sites choosing to display inferred attention information to users with a view to them having more control over what the site thinks they’re interested in. Some sites will hopefully elect to display that information using an APML-based microformat. From there on it’s only a matter of time before we can automate the movement of that attention data. By the way, attention data isn’t alone in this; most standardised data on the web will be exposed in this way.

It’s early days for APML; in fact, it doesn’t even solve the problem yet. But standards can be a vehicle to drive off the envelope, and I applaud the Touchstone guys for just throwing out the idea early and seeing what happens. They have my support, if only for showing everybody else something they should have been paying attention to.

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