Platforms and the attention economy

Our attention is in high demand — data is the new oil and our attention is fast becoming a virtual currency that platforms are paying top dollar for in fiat currency.

Red dot notifications and an increase in the amount of time we spend connected to digital devices are just two of the factors to consider. Time is arguably our most valued resource — you can lose and make money, but you can’t get back or replace your time (well until someone invents a time travel device).

I love tech — it’s an essential part of my life and I believe that it will help solve many of the problems that we face in our current and modern lifestyles. However, I think that we need to be far more conscious of our attention spans and the structures which platforms are building. The majority of people around the world evaluate how they spend their money and make trade-offs to facilitate certain purchases. Our attention however is dished out far more liberally though and it is easy to let an algorithm dictate your next action.

When Apple launched iOS 12 in June 2018 they included a feature that allowed you to control the amount of time spent on apps on your apple devices. Unearthing this data in a screen time report, shared with iOS users on a weekly basis, made people far more aware of just how much time they were spending absorbed in the universe of the small device help in their hands.

Platform founders and creators seek to capture a user’s attention. They each have their own unique angles for keeping users engaged — developing products to solve problems and tweaking their algorithms to maximise the amount of time they can capture. Being fascinated by the world of data, I spend a lot of time thinking about how some of the most prominent platforms in the world today are shaped for and are indeed shaping our modern lifestyle.

What do I mean when I refer to a modern lifestyle? This phrase obviously needs to be taken differently in varying contexts as people around the globe live in many different circumstances. I classify a modern lifestyle broadly by looking at the way that time is spent and the changes in mechanisation, technology adoption and consumer habits/choices that opt for greater convenience.

The stories feature on platforms has changed the way content is consumed. Short snaps of video and voice are receiving far great levels of engagement that static images. This, I think, is in large part due to humans craving live interaction with one another. Being social creatures, social platform have helped us stay connected and there are various levels of interaction that need to be unpacked. This begs the question will one platform ever be able to ‘do it all’?

Our consumption habits are also changing and this is leading users to make choices as to which platforms they spend their time on.

One of the new kids on the block is a platform called Quibi — providing the ability to watch movie-quality shows designed for your phone. New episodes every day. Your immediate reaction may be to think that this already existed through the likes of YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services. Elements of Quibi are found on other platforms, but their unique fit and the specific mature audience they are targeting offers a lot of food for thought.

Two of the trends that I keep a close eye on are video and voice. Both suit a modern-day lifestyle and can be consumed on the go or in-between various tasks. Podcasts have been around a while, but we have seen a huge increase over the last 3 years. This is definitely a space that brands need to keep of their radar for their content creation and advertising planning.

As we unpacking what the future holds, we need to be asking more questions about what it is that consumers need. With our attention being is such high demand, the strategy decisions made by big tech firms with existing user bases and new players in the market need to be watched closely to identify where the audience you are seeking to reach may be spending their time.

Facebook’s play with Instagram is an interesting dilemma and one that could ultimately derail the brand. The acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp has added complexity to this offering. There is no doubt that the data captured by the Facebook group is incredibly powerful, but do they know where each of these apps fit inside the attention economy? While their user numbers continue to grow, it isn’t clear which of the three platforms is actually spearheading the growth and which has a declining user base.

To wrap up, many will be familiar with Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans framing. With our attention in high demand, now is definitely a time for platforms to consider who they are talking to and why a user would want to use their platform. Trying to be everything to everyone is a decision that could collapse both platforms and businesses.