SEO + Attention Economy

A new friend of mine asked me an interesting question today.

I had just told her that I manage many hundreds of sites. She asked: “Wow that’s a lot. Why it comes to that?”

When the Internet started becoming popular, some people made wrong assumptions about how information is organized online. These errors have been propagated to the present day, and in some cases they have even been intensified. For example, many people pay a lot of attention to so-called “leading” companies such as Google, Facebook or Amazon. Usually, people like this believe those companies to have better information than small businesses or individual people. They also believe the leading companies will give away this better information for free.

I don’t believe any of that.

I think if people want to communicate, share ideas, collaborate on projects, etc. they need to use a common language. Brand names like Google, Facebook or Amazon are not useful for communication using a shared natural language. Sharing ideas with one another requires agreement on linguistic norms — primarily the vocabulary and meanings of words, the contexts words are used in, and so on. Talking about Apple and Orange as interchangeable concepts only leads to confusion, misinformation and failure.

I want to network with many people in many ways. On some days it might be about business, on other days it might be about pleasure. On still other days I might be more focused on health, science, literature, sports, or many other topics. As Ludwig Wittgenstein argued (I’m paraphrasing here), the limits of my attention are closely linked to the limits of my lexicon. My level of focus is paramount.

What some leading company wants to sell me, on the other hand, is by and large irrelevant.

If our focus is similar, I expect we will ultimately meet in some similar locations — similar ideas will run through our minds, we will use similar words to describe what we mean, or there will be some sort of compatible relationship — such as “supply” and “demand”. We will become involved and engaged with one another on corresponding marketplaces of ideas, as buyers, sellers, developers, designers, spectators or whatnot other kinds of participants. Each arena of engagement will be more or less focused — more or less well-defined. All levels of focus and all definitions are valid. We can pick and choose the level we wish to engage at.

All we have to do is pay attention.