Category Archives: Attention

Vanity Sells

If there is one thing that social networks have exposed about the human condition, it’s that we are much more vain than we presume. All across the internet there are recorded traces of people motivated to share pictures of themselves, seek upvotes, attain badges and farm up so-called “internet karma”. This is by no means an exhaustive list of attainable metrics, but these have been categorically the most effective methods of objectifying vanity. Viewing this from pretty much any lens other than the one that I’m about to provide, usually leads us to the conclusion of “it makes no sense why people want useless internet points”. But they do.

Why on earth do people try to get worthless internet points? 

This question has long plagued us since the dawn of internet point based systems and will continue for a long time. It simply doesn’t make any sense for us to attain points that aren’t fungible – as opposed to say, money, which is. The most visible of these today being “karma” and “likes”. So, I’m offering an explanation:

We are all inherently vain.

We’ve only just recently exposed this vanity by attributing a clearly identifiable objective system – “karma”, “likes”, “points” – whatever you call them. They sound meaningless on the surface, but everyday people spend minutes, hours, and even days on end attaining them, with no clearly articulated goal.

If you’re a mid to late 20′s adult like myself, you may notice that your Facebook feed is littered with baby and marriage pics. There’s a simple explanation for this – they get the most likes. This has less to do with Facebook’s algorithm, and more to do with our own mind optimizing for number of likes. Sounds silly doesn’t it? I think it’s a lot less silly than we presume.

Here’s an example of how vanity is being transferred with the transmittance of real currency as opposed to social currency. Believe it or not, but today people are spending billions of dollars on digital vanity mediums and statuses on popular “free to play” gaming platforms. This is everything from popular mobile apps such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans to the more hardcore e-sporting games such as League of Legends and Dota 2. My favorite explanation of this is by Gabe Newell, founder (and CEO?!) of Valve:

Why do people buy Porsches?

The most important takeaway is, in my opinion, that vanity is no longer about physical products. People will buy vanity and status only if there is a market liquid enough for them to purchase themselves into. What I mean by this is that you can’t simply attempt to sell vanity points to a small community. It has to be at scale. Extend this concept even further as we progress into an economy that will be mostly based on experiences (read -> entertainment) and this gets even more interesting. As the only monetization strategy will be to simply scrape dollars off of vanity seeking humans. What we will see and continue to see for that matter, is companies spending oodles of money creating large scale communities, simply to create a marketplace for new vanity measures. This is the real monetization power.

So next time someone says “well that’s just stupid, because <insert internet karma points name here> don’t mean anything”. Actually they do. I’ll bet you a billion dollars they do.

Your Logo Doesn’t Matter

There’s often discussion about logos. I’m not sure why, but people seem to be obsessed with them. More often than not, designers especially, people will point to poorly designed logos as a reflection of a poor brand. I would argue that this is simply isn’t true. Your logo is simply a easy way for our brains to associate a product experience with a visual representation.

In the past few years a couple of big tech companies have redesigned their logos and another big one is on the verge to do the same. Last year for example, Twitter redesigned their logo with a statement that included this little nugget of creative joy:

This bird is crafted purely from three sets of overlapping circles — similar to how your networks, interests and ideas connect and intersect with peers and friends. Whether soaring high above the earth to take in a broad view, or flocking with other birds to achieve a common purpose, a bird in flight is the ultimate representation of freedom, hope and limitless possibility.

Microsoft also unveiled their new logo after nearly 25 years. From their blog they wrote:

The symbol is important in a world of digital motion (as demonstrated in the video above.) The symbol’s squares of color are intended to express the company’s diverse portfolio of products.

Yahoo is now in the process of unveiling their new logo on the 5th of September by showing 30 days of different logos.

So why do companies change their logo? Most people will say “their logo was outdated!” or “that logo was so ugly, no wonder they couldn’t sell smartphones!”. If you read the aformentioned quotes, you may think “Well of course the logo didn’t represent those things before, so they had to change it.” The reality is that none of this matters. If your brand is strong, there is absolutely no reason to change your logo. It will only confuse. In fact, I still wonder why Twitter changed their logo. Nothing prompted them to do so. It’s too bad, because they probably spent a lot of money redesigning it.

So, if you think a brand’s logo is the problem, think again. You can have the ugliest logo in the world (i.e. Google) and people will still use your product. The only reason to change your logo is when your logo (and therefore your brand) become associated with something negative. This happened with Microsoft, is happening to Yahoo, and will continue to happen in technology as brand perceptions change on the fortnight.

I hope Yahoo does decide to change it’s logo. It has a bad perception problem right now and they need a new logo to represent the new positioning they are trying to take. It’s extremely difficult to climb yourself out of a branding ditch, so the idea with creating new logo is to start on new ground.

If you ever seen The Wire, Stringer Bell tells this story even better than I do:

Breaking Down the Online Publishing and Advertising Industry

One thing I pride myself on is my ability to break down business models. I tend to use the business model canvas as it’s a very simple, effective and concise way of articulating your business model. Quite possibly the most misunderstood business model in today’s web businesses is the advertising and publishing industry. The reason it’s so misunderstood is that because so many people consume it every day, they’re often mislead to believe they are the customer. However, as we all know, if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer. As I’ve written before, I’ve always been challenged to decrease my time consuming and increase my time producing.

It’s first important to understand the cross section of the publishing and advertising industry. The cross-over is called distribution. The term distribution might be an awkward term for many people in the online word because it’s probably more commonly known as sales, but distribution is a little bit more than sales. It’s the whole process of how you’re going to get your product to your eventual users. Sales is just a function of that. The goal of both the advertiser and the publisher is the same – costumer acquisition. Customer acquisition for them is being able to go to another business and sell them user attention. In order to gain attention, they must offer an exchange. Usually there is an exchange between your time and theirs, through a medium called content. Once this exchange takes place – you read an article on their website – then they have now procured their product to be able to sell.

Most people assume that because you use Google’s search engine it means you are a customer. This is simply not true. You’re attention is a product that is being procured. Google’s procurement process is to give you something of value (discovery) in exchange for something you have time (attention). It then sells that attention to someone else.

To make this easier to understand, let’s compare it to a manufacturer’s business model, which is very easy for pretty much everyone to understand.  So, just as a semi-conductor gives something of value to it’s suppliers (money) in exchange for something they have (sand), so to is a publisher giving away something of value (their content and therefore time) in exchange for your time (and therefore attention). It then refines the sand and creates semi-conductors.



Seth Godin has once said:

Attention is a bit like real estate, in that they’re not making any more of it. Unlike real estate, though, it keeps going up in value.

I love this quote. It speaks volume to how large the advertising industry is and can be. It also speaks to how much is at stake – your attention. I believe procuring our attention is the single most important aspect of today’s internet businesses. It’s also quite possibly the most difficult and potentially the most costly. Everything we do is based on a limited supply of it and therefore there will always be a constant battle to procure as much of it as possible.

Next time you are annoyed at an organization for the content they used to procure your attention, remember, it’s your attention. You get to choose what you do with it.