I have been thinking about how the digital environment behaves. What kinds of properties does it have? How does it differ from the physical world?
One major aspect of the physical world is the economy. You make a thing, you sell it, you get money.
In the digital realm, you imagine a thing, you share it, and you get attention.
Attention is the first currency of the digital realm.
In practice, you expend a certain amount of your attention to e.g. craft a blog posting, and get small slices of attention from others in return. (In the case of a technology review, this may be 4 to 6 hours of my time, for a minute of every visitor's time.)
Attention over time becomes reputation.
Reputation is the second currency of the digital realm.
Both attention and reputation can be converted into various rewards, both monetary and non-monetary.
Attention is transformed primarily into money through ads and other affiliate linking arrangements. The more attention, the more clicks, the more clicks, the more money. I'm not sure whether attention can be exchanged for anything else.
Reputation, at least in the library blogging context, converts mainly into opportunities: it might be a job offer, or an invitation to speak, or a request to write an article.
And of course, money is still a currency of the realm, but I would consider it the third currency.
Upon discussing this at lunch with Steve, I realised that this analysis should be quite understandable to the scientific community, as it is almost directly analogous.
If I write in Nature, I may get a lot of reputation, convertable into grant funding, employment offers, conference invitations, Research Assessment success. But I may not necessarily get much of a fraction of the general public's attention.
If I write a newspaper column on science, I may get a good chunk of attention, but not as much reputation.
And of course, as many people have discussed elsewhere, the reputation-weighted network of scientific citations has much in common with the reputation-weighted network of web links.
In a way, Google can be considered as a reputation ranking engine, and make no mistake, it does everything in its power to measure attention (through ads, Google Reader, FeedBurner, and much more) to ensure that attention is being appropriately converted into reputation.
To me this means that in the digital realm, you have to stop thinking that you're in the XYZ business (the information business, the document delivery business etc.) and start thinking that you're in the attention and reputation business. The number of sites that can use a traditional physical world model of converting things into money is tiny. The rest of us (assuming we want to make money) have to use the primary digital currencies of attention and reputation, and convert them into money.
So you need to ask yourself, how big is your organisation's attention surface? How much digital stuff (blog postings, search results, images, whatever) does it have to attract attention? How is it using its reputation?
Some of these thoughts were inspired by reflecting on Chris Anderson's presentation at Nokia World (video), talking about his upcoming book on the topic of Free.