Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yahoo and its attention study

One of the advantages of consulting with an agency with Yahoo! as a client is that you can easily get at the inside story.

The Yahoo! "Return on Attention" research is really interesting.

The survey of 1015 adult UK internet users between the 21stJuly and 25thJuly 2008 showed that people thought they were busier and working longer and 80% think they are living in an age of information overload.
Well, that’s not hard to believe!

There are some serious issues associated with the findings when
• 51% of respondents suffer from three or more symptoms of Information Fatigue Syndrome.
• 54% say that information overload makes it more difficult to concentrate
So it is not surprising to find that 92% of respondents value their time now more than they used to and the gap between information available and information consumption is growing.
Yahoo! quotes research that shows overload creates attention poverty and this has economic consequences and competition for attention becomes a crucial element of business strategy (Sullivan 2006; Burns 2007; Brown and Davis 2006; Goldhaber 1997 and Hagel 2001.
The research also looked at motivations for use of online content and found that:
• 79% want something of value in return for paying attention to advertising, even if it just makes them smile or tells them something new
• 67% think that advertising can be really innovative and engaging
• 88% consciously screen out information and advertising that they think won’t be worth their time
• 66% wish that there were tools that could help organise the information in their lives
• 88% think that technology will continue to improve and will develop in new ways to help accomplish tasks --or do them outright
This brings to mind Kevin Kellys thoughts on the next 5000 days of the internet ( which may offer a solution and some of the thoughts I have been expressing of the future of the internet (

In the busy lives of people (including the ever growing amount of time they spend online – or feel they have to spend online 68% feel it is getting more difficult to balance life and work.

As a result, people are making increasing use of search engines, tagging or bookmarking of favourites, and sites which allow them to amalgamate content (good for Yahoo! which owns Delicious – of course). Secondly, people are, in general, more likely to return to sites which enable them to do this effectively (and it’s really interesting to see how most online newspapers have now added such facilities at the end of most news and comment.

Yahoo! says that business models that can profit from these trends are the ones that will succeed in the attention economy and certainly we have seen enhanced reach for publications that do.

The pressure. The pressure. It seems to be getting to everyone! We are spending more time with PowerPoint than in the pub.

The data on information overload also gives us some useful indicators.

80% of respondents believe we are living in an age of information overload.
63% of respondents feel information overload affects them.
54% of respondents find overload makes it more difficult to concentrate

I was also interested in the 63% that admit that they feel like they would miss out on something if they “switched off”.

The Facebook generation is over faced.

The data confirms other research showing that while we are addicted to being constantly connected, ‘we are kidding ourselves if we believe we can multitask effectively’ (Lohr 2007); people are increasingly contactable and even on holiday, over half of British adults check their email, (Fried 2005).

Amongst those who feel information overload affects them, 62% are concerned about its effect.

And the numbers who feel they are always-on is considerable.

But nearly two thirds admit that they feel like they would miss out on something if they “switched off” and ‘escaping’ is a word being used.

The causes and consequences of information overload goes beyond the simple 68% of respondents who feel overloaded with tasks and information. 51% of respondents suffer from three or more symptoms of Information Fatigue Syndrome

Research suggests that office workers are distracted every three minutes, yet it can take 15 minutes to regain full concentration on a task, leading to a drain on economic productivity that is partially the result of information overload. This loss of attention has been estimated in the US at a loss of about $650 billion per year.

But on an individual level, the affects of overload are considerable. People, the Yahoo! report says, view themselves as unable to cope with the supply of information. This perception often causes feelings of dependence and frustration that can lead to various symptoms: anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, digestive problems, etc. This leads to more severely divided attention –and a greater need for a return on the attention captured.

These problems have been grouped under the general term Information Fatigue Syndrome. As well as being the cause of a range of biological problems, Information Fatigue Syndrome has been identified as a potential cause for larger and more severe attention disorders.

(see also : Fried (2005); Lohr(2007a); Lohr(2007b); Holstein (2006); Epplerand Mengis(2003); Nellis(2001); Guardian (2005); Chritakis, Zimmerman, DiGiuseppe, McCarthy (2004)

I guess most of us are guilty of ‘wasting time’. That great thing about the internet that satisfies our curiosity, the serendipity behind that hyperlink that is not relevant but is irresistible and that has to be balanced against work and domestic distractions.

Pretty serious stuff here and I wonder how much more work these findings will are going to entail to get to the bottom of all the causes?

On a lighter note: Loss of appetite! Wow! Does this mean that using the internet is as good as a diet?

The research also showed how people try to mitigate these problems and ignoring them seems to work quite well and most of them seem to fail.

It is useful to get this information and to be able to see the original research.

I confess that I am a bit surprised at the levels of stress associated with being online.