How To Win the Attention Lottery

By Philip Bump , written on April 12, 2012

From The News Desk

Part of the promise of the Internet was that it provided anyone with a megaphone. Your blog post or Tweet could be read by anyone, anywhere around the world.

But when everyone has a megaphone, it’s impossible for anyone to be heard. Twitter is awash with mumbled conversation and whispers of opinion; every Tweet to a celebrity is a note in a hundred-year symphony. Over the past thirty years, city-dwelling birds have begun to sing louder so that their songs carry over the urban cacophony. Their Tweets can range in volume. Ours can’t.

Two new tools – projects, really – have recently launched in an effort to rekindle the sense of possibility that comes with a huge audience.

The first is Fame. If you sign up for Fame with your Twitter account, you allow the system to automatically start following one new person at noon every day for 24 hours.

Here’s the trick: that one new person is selected from everyone who signs up. So if you participate, it could be you that everyone starts following some day at noon. Their goal is for the pool of players to grow into the millions – though, as of writing, the system has a still-not-too-shabby 7,700. Meaning that at noon today, some person’s Twitter following just grew substantially. To date, winners have included a British rugby player, a marketing expert from the South, and a guy named John the Bastard. In an interview with Gizmodo, John indicated that not a lot of people stuck around after the 24 hours – but that the process was worth it nonetheless.

Then there’s the Listserve. Created by NYU’s ITP Masters program, Listserve does for email what Fame does for Twitter. Once a day, a lucky participant is allowed to email the group at large, just once. (Important to note: reply all is disabled.) The ITP team intend this to be an experiment in how people choose to communicate – “to see what people do when given a spotlight,” one team member told BetaBeat. To see what people do, in other words, when their megaphone is audible.

Fame and Listserve are attention lotteries. You put in a little attention and may be rewarded with a jackpot of attention in return. It’s still possible that your demure blog post, sitting in the shadows of the Web, could reach the big time. That’s winning MegaMillions. Fame and Listserve are enjoyable little scratch-offs.

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