August 27, 2008

Is the Web Moving Towards a “Participation Economy”?

With the Web becoming one big glop of information, especially with bits and pieces coming from the users, business pundits have observed that personal attention has become one scarce resource. And whenever there is a scarce resource, economic theories apply. Thus the term “Attention Economy” was coined.

It may come to a surprise that as early as the 1970’s, experts have observed the deluge of information from various sources have outpaced the span of human attention. Herbert Simon wrote about this phenomenon in a 1971 journal from John Hopkins University, and was followed up by Michael Goldhaber in 1997 during the advent of the Internet in his article The Attention Economy and the Net. The blogosphere has also taken notice of the Attention Economy.

Web 2.0 has undoubtedly accelerated the pace of information creation and codification in the last half decade and if was hard to get people’s attention then, it surely is harder now, even with new ways of interrupting and distracting people from their digital lives.

But from what I observe, there is something that has become crucial today for the web these days– it’s Participation. This could very well be the new “P” of Marketing for this generation (with Product, Price, Place and Promotion being the other “P’s” of marketing.)  Participation for the Web 2.0 world creates the most value for web platforms. If attention is akin to money, as said by Goldhaber, then participation is the gold and silver being traded in the London Bullion Market.

Participation is the activity that creates the customer experience and would ultimately determine his or her satisfaction with a web application. Think about it– it’s easy to notice a website, but think how much a site or social application must do in order to get you to participate? Taking this further, once you have participated and felt satisfied, wouln’t you be feel more engaged? I came up with this simple model to illustrate my point:

Attention-Participation-Engagement Model
I’ve called this model the “Attention-Participation-Engagement Model for the Web” where attention leads to participation which then would lead to user engagement.

There are probably around 80 million blogs today and that number will grow. Each will vie for your attention, but how many will you engage in conversation with?