I’ve written before about attention profiling as one of the major trends in the online world. One of significant initiatives in the space is APML (Attention Profiling Markup Language), an open standard for how people’s attention profiles are described. Having this as a standard will, among other things, enable applications to refine how they provide information to users based on their interests, and allow people to publish their profiles so that they are better served by suppliers and information providers.
Bloglines, the top or second placed feed reader, has just announced that it is looking at supporting APML in future releases, while Chris Saad, a founder of APML, says that they expect a number of other similar announcements from major players over coming months. While Bloglines has not yet included APML support in the product, voicing its interest indicates this is very likely, and is no doubt intended to spur other companies to follow suit. There is little value to an open standard unless it is widely adopted.
One of the interesting things about APML is that it operates at a fairly high-level, giving a framework for people’s degree of interest in topics on a scale of +1 to -1 (accurately reflecting that people have negative interest (revulsion?) in some topics). Anyone who uses APML can use whatever means they wish to uncover what people’s attention profiles are. In this case, whichever companies are better at determining attention profiles will win, while the standard for sharing those profiles remains the same.
There are many implications to APML being widely adopted. The first that springs to mind is a potential reinvigoration of the concept of infomediaries, first proposed by John Hagel in 1997 in his Harvard Business Review article The Coming Battle for Customer Information and later amplified in his 1999 book Net Worth. The basic idea is that there is a role for “infomediaries,” which mediate between consumers and companies. This recognizes that information on consumers’ interests and behaviors is valuable, and consumer information should only be shared with companies when there some value given in exchange, financial or otherwise. While we haven’t seen infomediaries emerge as a major sector, there is certainly still a strategic role to be played in protecting and gaining value from detailed information about individuals. People now recognize that value, and don’t want to disclose information for free. In this context, it is very useful to read what John Hagel wrote in late 1995 about return of attention, attention profiles, and infomediaries.
In today’s online environment, in which ad networks are central to value, it strikes me that attention profiles could become central to the way that advertisements are served. In our Future of Media Report 2007 I described some of the dynamics of the value of advertising relative to personalization. Click on the diagrams below for more detail.
If advertisers have access to individuals’ attention profiles, using for example APML, this would allow them to present extraordinarily precisely targeted advertising to individuals. Yahoo’s SmartAds program is one of the most advanced initiatives in “behavioral targeting” of advertising, based on extremely rich information on their users’ online behaviors. Yet this kind of approach could be put in the shade by the development and sharing of highly refined attention profiles using the APML standard.
I think there is massive positive potential for APML, in helping people to deal with information overload, and find what’s most useful and relevant to them. Open competition for creating better attention profiles will mean this is likely to be readily achievable. As such, I don’t want to scare people by talking about the advertising applications of APML, where the creepy factor comes to bear. So this where the underlying concepts of the infomediary are so valuable. People will share their profiles, but only when value is created for them. It is up to the ad networks and other online advertisers create clear value for users. In this case, they will be given access to some of the most valuable possible information on what they find interesting, and will cut through the media mire to grab their attention.