Monday, April 21, 2008

The Distraction Economy - A little more conversation, a little less lurking

There are too many distractions. I commented in the post Social Networking - a story.. that there are too many distractions out there, too many opportunities to express your status (Facebook, IM, Twitter), multimedia (Facebook, Flickr, Youtube), the latest link (email, Twitter, Pownce), your thoughts and opinions (blog, article comments, forums).

And even more distraction in ingesting this very content – friends status, comments, articles, blogs from my social networks, bookmarks, RSS readers and now via mobile when I’m not in front of the PC.

It’s the attention economy and another economy - the distraction economy - which I believe is the next phase in ‘surfing the net’. It’s sitting on your Facebook profile watching the news feed update on refresh, it’s browsing through your friends myspace photos of some party you never went to, it’s hitting ‘Inbox’ on your Gmail account, waiting for the next mail to arrive, and it’s one of the reason click through rates on banner ads are still up around 0.25% - people are distracted, and people build successful businesses out of distraction.

And what is also happing is participation inequality, in online communities, 95% of people lurk, 9% contribute occasionally and 1% participate a lot, as Mr Nielson’s studies uncovers. Down to 0.1% if we’re talking blogs. Like a game of AFL, there’s only a small fraction of players, and a whole lot in the stands, however you don’t need Jimmy Hird prowess to get a game online. Which is precisely why I’m getting back to more time contributing, less time lurking.

On a side note it’s good to see Facebook pulling back on the less-useful distractions, removing a few features, most recently the Friends Timeline and Facebook Gifts (I want to meet someone who actually bought one of these). I don’t think enough sites are willing to be critical of their existing features, and take a hard line on retiring those that aren’t performing. Every feature is a distraction, the more features, the more you dilute the focus. You don’t want users to get distracted and lose focus on the features that are important.

OK, to practice what’s preached, I just retired Flickr photostream from my blog, since Facebook I haven’t updated it enough to justify it sitting there anyway. That felt good.