Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Attention XML and finding relevance

Dare Obasanjo (PM at MSN) makes some great points ([1] [2]) about Attention XML and managing information overload. First, on what we'll see in the next generation of feed readers:
    The attention problem is the problem that ... eventually readers get overwhelmed by the flood of information hitting their aggregator's inbox. Some have used the analogy "drinking from a firehose" to describe this phenomenon.

    Ideally a user should be able to tell a client, "Here are the sites I'm interested in, here are the topics I'm interested in, and now only show me stuff I'd find interesting or important". This is the next frontier of features for RSS/ATOM aggregators.
Current feed readers are too cumbersome for the mainstream. What we need is a relevance rank for weblog posts that helps readers find the news they need.

Dare then turns to Attention XML and whether it helps solve this problem:
    After talking to Steve Gillmor I realize another reason I didn't like the attention.xml spec; it ignores all the hard problems and assumes they've been solved. Figuring out what data or what algorithms are useful for determining what items are relevant to a user is hard. Using said data to suggest new items to the user is hard. Coming up with an XML format for describing an arbitrary set of data that could be collected by an RSS aggregator is easy ....

    If anyone figures out how to do this right, it is unlikely that it will be made available as an open pool of data. The 'attention.xml' for each user would be demographic data that would be worth its weight in gold to advertisers. If Bloglines could figure out my likes and dislikes right down to what blog posts I'd want to read, I find it hard to imagine why the Bloglines team would make that information available to anyone including the user. For comparison, it's not like Amazon makes my 'attention.xml' for books and CDs available to myself or their competitors.
Unfortunate. I've looked at Attention XML several times myself. Steve Gillmor and I seem to share the same goal, managing information overload. But I agree with Dare that it's unclear how to get this data sharing format adopted or if we even need to get it adopted to move toward our goal.

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