I just finished Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. Some thoughts: Links on the web are essentially a way to redirect attention in a very fluid way, hence the web with its multiple social layers is an enabling infrastructure for an emerging, full-fledged attention economy.
That much is clear, but what drives the clicking? What exactly shapes peoples clickstreams on the micro level? I think a significant driver is trust in various forms. Think about it: Almost each and every little cognitive process that forgoes a click is actually about evaluating trustworthiness, solving a mini trust dilemma if you will. Some links need almost no evaluation at all, whereas others need a lot more.
At any given time we are positioned somewhere on a long tail, surfing up- or downwards. Our attention wanders along the myriad of mini tails of long tails. In our excursion, we put our trust in algorithms, people and institutions.
It seems that trust, in various shapes, plays a part at virtually all levels of long tail markets. The key to making these markets work is to make them accessible to consumers. At least 99 per cent of the music in the product tail of a music store are not going to be interesting to a particular music consumer, and hence needs to be filtered out in some way. One could argue that the most effective filters of this kind today are trust driven. This is especially true when there is no significant head to drive demand down the tail.
What do I mean by that? I’ll let Chris Anderson explain. He contrasts the failure of MP3.com with the success of iTunes Music Store in the chapter entitled “The Short Head”. A key factor in the success of ITMS, he argues, is that the store’s long tail of music has a solid head (all the major labels) to serve as a sort of foundation for the tail. ITMS thus provides consumers with familiar points of entry in the form of artists and labels they know.
From a “trustoconomy” perspective however, myspace is far more interesting than ITMS, since it solves the problem that brought down MP3.com. It enables a long tail market with a much less significant head to function through a trust-driven social network. Users travel the tail in a serendipitous wander guided by trusted peers and niche authorities, rather than by mainstream musical “heads”. Last.fm works in a similar way, although with less focus on people and more on algorithms.
So does this mean that the future online music store should be a social network? I think it does–and the key is leveraging The Long Tail of Trust.
Last night Eric and I took our first little field trip out to Silicon Valley. We hopped on the Caltrain with our destination set for Palo Alto and the, in geek eyes, almost mythical PARC (previously Xerox PARC) to check out the BayCHI monthly program meeting.
The first presenter was Christopher Allen who spoke about unstructured trust and the Dunbar number. As I see it, unstructured trust is the type of trust that occurs within smaller social groups where the relationships aren’t formalised. This works since in smaller groups people are able to keep track of the group as a whole thus not needing a formal organisational structure. When the group scales and the number of participants exceed the amount of people that one can keep track of the need for a structure becomes apparent (e.g. in a company you might have a formal organisational hierarchy). When we formalise and make explicit the nature of our relationships the trust also changes. I believe that in a smaller group setting, intimacy makes it possible to direct larger attention to each individual within the group and therefore enabling trust to be “direct” between you and another member. In a larger system that doesn’t afford the same amount of attention for each individual, you instead place trust in the system making interpersonal trust indirect, and in a sense mediated by the structure itself.
The second presenter was Michael Goldhaber who I believe was actually the guy who coined and started the whole movement of the attention economy. The talk contained an interesting comparison between feudal, market-money-industrial and attention economy as systems. Something that made me think was his point that today when most people talk about the attention economy, they are simply mapping attention as a resource onto the existing capitalist system, i.e. they are putting a price tag on attention. However, as Goldhaber states, the prerequisite for the attention economy is the abundance (post-scarcity) of material goods; therefore making the monetary system unnecessary altogether. In a future attention economy, attention is not worth money, attention is currency and money is simply dead.
We’ve had some questions about the name “Trustmojo” so I thought the Oxford American Dictionaries might help shed some light on our choice.
Trust “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something /…/ acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation”
Mojo “a magic charm, talisman, or spell”
“I’ve got my mojo working but it just don’t work on you” / Muddy Waters, 1960 Even though I have objections to the definition of trust (especially “firm belief” as I think it trust can be loose) I think the definition of mojo works well. Trust is intangible, fuzzy, often implicit and generally hard to grasp or explicate adding an almost magic-like quality to it. Thus Trustmojo is about the “magic” of trust and in a sense, an attempt to demystify the aura surrounding it.