Microsoft: Paying (for) Attention

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InfoWorld reports that Microsoft is tossing around the idea of passing search advertising revenue down the food chain to end users. No details, of course…and I may just have attention/identity on the brain…but this nevertheless sounds a lot like MS doing some musing about a cash-for-attention play.

With AttentionTrust and root.net getting a reasonable amount of press, phrases like “attention economy” are starting to buzz around a bit, but as with cookies, there’s a big question that these sorts of offerings have yet to answer for the potential users: what do we get out of it? If I don’t get an improved experience (qualitatively different, I would hope, but I’d settle for quantitatively), with much more of what I want and much less of what I don’t…well, then, what’s the point of playing?

Microsoft’s thinking, then, could be a way to sidestep this question for the time being: maybe you don’t immediately get more interesting or appropriate advertising, but at least you get paid. And in order to actually get paid, Microsoft has to be able to track you — know that you are you, and know what you’re doing — so that your “saw that ad” or “clicked that ad” account can be credited. And this, in turn, means that you’re explicitly agreeing to give them full access to that attention data that all the kids are talking about these days.

I’d be pretty surprised if an actual large-scale “see/click ad, get paid” model came out of this, but it’s interesting to see such an idea being discussed again in 2005. It’s a very different view on the topic than much of what’s out there, but it sure feels to me like another acknowledgement that attention is an issue that everybody doing business on the Web will have to deal with, sooner rather than later.