Walter Flaat

Chief Data Officer

The jury is still out on FLoCs

Over the last months & weeks, much has been said about FLoC. And, honestly, in my role, I’m itching to do the same. But the reality is, that would be premature. Whether FLoCs will be a good idea depends on some key design decisions that simply haven’t been nailed down yet. Not by Google nor the W3C. Will analyses be on the domain or URL level? Who will police potentially racist segments? How many cohorts will there be? Of what size?

Anyone making definitive statements at this point, in my (ahem) humble opinion, need to do some more homework!

So, what to focus on right now? Brace yourself for a rant!

Attention economy: It was the worst of times… it was the best of times

Here’s a doozy to start that rant with: I think our current version of the attention economy is about as benign as a nuclear bomb. 

Many advertisers and agencies have focused purely on engagement-driven, audience-based buying for the last decade or so. The undeniable logic behind that is this: We shouldn’t tell people what media to consume and where to do it. Instead of selecting content to show ads with, we are going to select the people, wherever they are.

The good part: it works. The bad part: it really works. If you own media inventory in this model, the driving economic incentive is to “collect” people on your platform. And grab their attention for as long as possible. Enduring engagement = more inventory = more revenue. So, all these platforms (you know their names) built algorithms that optimize engagement. To capture your attention.

Now here is the bad part: It just happens to be that algorithmically maximized engagement, actively bypasses our rational brain. They end up hitting either our reward centers or our flight-or-fight response. That’s why filter bubbles pop up which guide you to stuff you already like, or things that make you really angry.

We reward those algorithms with advertising dollars. Which means that advertising bankrolls clickbait, rage content and sometimes fake news. Those huge social issues to a degree are the price we pay for the current attention economy. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

A new Attention Economy: Paying people directly.

I truly believe that for the data (and advertising) industry to stay sustainable, we will end up in a model that rewards people for their data and their attention. People will no longer be the “product”, they will sell their data/attention “as a service”. This totally bypasses the need for content owners to capture their attention first. In short, it bypasses the ugly side of the business.

Instead, I foresee a marketplace where advertisers reward consumers. And consumers reward publishers. An amazing, and already operational, example of this is the BAT, the “Basic Attention Token”, currently implemented in the Brave browser.

The BAT model is quite simple and exceedingly elegant: Create a system where people actively choose to receive ads (“Ad choosers”) and reward them directly for that decision. The resulting rewards then live in an open ecosystem that can be used to trade these tokens or cash them in. In this model, the vast majority of advertising dollars get invested with the consumers you are actually trying to reach, with technology taking a smaller chunk and inventory platforms (publishers, social media etc) cut out altogether.

That last part is obviously a problem. High-quality publishers deserve to be rewarded for the work they deliver and depend on ad income. Well again, there is an elegant solution. In the “Ad choosers” ecosystem, consumers get rewarded for receiving ads; but they then redistribute a part of their BATs back to publishers/content creators, based on what quality content they spent their time on. So, advertisers reward consumers. Consumers reward content creators. 

This whole setup allows these BATs, to follow the flow of actual value delivered. And it works. As this dentsu whitepaper shows, “Ad Choosers” outperformed regular models.

Wrapping up

Is BAT really going to reboot the attention economy? Who knows… but I am convinced we are moving to a privacy-safe, consumer-rewarded, infrastructure. Where consumers are the passive “product” but an active “service provider”. Where filter bubbles and fake news are no longer profitable to sustain. 

At least the Basic Attention Token shows that technically, this is very feasible and that it performs.

Here’s to hoping!