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Managing privacy and information overload;

sustaining journalism in an Attention Age



In less than a decade, we have moved from a world of relative information scarcity -- access restricted by a variety of technical choke points, such as presses, to a world of such information abundance that the average user's challenge is not how to access information, or even how find it, but how to personalize, trust and make sense of it.

The Internet has shifted control of this raw information largely from publishers to consumers. As a result, the defining challenge for news organizations in the 21st century is no longer managing proprietary stories, but helping the public knowledgeably manage our attention to and sharing of ubiquitous, disaggregated information.

The Internet needs a new trust, identity and information commerce overlay.

Four trends enabled by worldwide open networks are transforming the future for journalism, participatory democracy and communities.

  • Mass-market advertising is changing. It is no longer sufficient to sustain journalism in print or on air. The two have come almost unglued.
  • The success of social networks shows there is business and civic value in network collaboration and sharing rather than hoarding or silos.
  • An emerging Attention Age treats human consideration of abundant information as a scarce and valuable asset, which can be curated.
  • We now consider our ‘personas’ – use-specific demographic profiles and interests, to be valuable. We assert that value with the concept of “privacy.”

The attention economy represents for journalism institutions slow death, or a chance to experiment and thrive beyond mass-market advertising. They must become better curators and agents, or “information valets,” for their users. Trust, identity and information value are core issues, affecting access, convenience, privacy and personalization.

The next newsroom will originate news, aggregate news from others and deliver this to individuals based on their persona – a unique combination of age, sex, race, income and education, their values, attitudes, interests, lifestyles and their physical location on earth. There is convincing evidence that:

  • Information has come unbundled, and no copyright laws will change that
  • Journalism is expensive, and mass-market web advertising alone will not sustain it.
  • Sustaining journalism requires rethinking mass-market advertising, and news as a service rather than a product.
  • Advertising is giving way to targeted, permission-based, direct marketing
  • Publishers in the old gatekeeper role won’t control the marketing loop
  • Consumers are aware of privacy and the value of their attention
  • Trust and identity are building blocks of the new information ecosystem
  • If general consumers pay, it will be for trusted curation and community

Needed ingredient: The Information Trust Association

The basic Internet lacks a common solution enabling the convenient sharing of trust, identity and information commerce. It needs a world-focused Information Trust Association (ITA), guided by publishers, broadcasters, technology companies, account managers, trade groups and the public. It would develop a common playing field where consumer privacy is respected, business rules are transparent and the consumer can easily move among competing options.

An ITA can steward the trust, identity and information commerce marketplace that is open and multi-party. It will allow the sharing of users and value among news, advertising, publishing, entertainment, technology, public and philanthropic services. Publishers can experiment and cultivate customized, one-to-one relationships with users, providing them personalized information, and get paid for doing so. ITA can:

  • Flexibly support continued operation of closed, proprietary, “siloed” systems by publishers and other enterprises with direct consumer account relationships.
  • Support convenient, trustworthy, personalized services for individuals to find and transact for vital information. Value can be given or received, depending whether the individual needs the information or a marketer needs to reach the individual.
  • Foster and transparently govern a new openly governed, four-party system for consumers to go outside their chosen “silo,” connecting and exchanging value with other content with identity and privacy under consumer control.

Whether as a new entity or the initiative of an existing public-benefit organization, the ITA’s non-equity governance structure would recognize the interests of at least four parties: (1) end users, (2) rights-holders and publishers (including authors, artists, information providers and aggregators), (3) neutral authenticators, loggers and aggregators of transactions (the ITA or its contractors) and (4) information agents, or “infovalets” -- account managers (banks, telecommunications companies, publishers, billers etc.) whose primary allegiance is to the user. The initiative could:

  • Vest greater choice, control and economic value of their privacy and personal information in the hands of individual citizens through voluntary standards.
  • Foster and govern multisite user authentication and microaccounting services.
  • Support web wide tracking and billing for “atomized” content.
  • Simplify the open, competitive exchange of value among users and information suppliers.
  • Guarantee one-account, one-ID, one-bill simplicity from any of multiple participating trust/identity/commerce providers (“InfoValets”).
  • Contract or license with one or more for-profit entities, funded by investors, to operate elements of a shared-user network for privacy, trust, identity and information commerce.
  • Assure the trustworthiness, and neutrality of enabling technologies.
  • Operate transparently within existing antitrust law to provide a platform for competition, which benefits the public.
  • Research, test and commission key technologies.
  • Sanction protocols for sharing users and content.

(Author: Bill Densmore)