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I wanted to draw your attention to an article entitled Empires of Attention by Matt Locke.  If you are interested in how social media can be used in organisations, then I think you might find the thrust of this piece refreshing. Similarly, if you publish content – and in particular if you broadcast content – then it deserves your attention.

Taking a look at audience attention, Locke provides a historical perspective on how mass entertainment started out with inbuilt feedback loops i.e. the audience was very much a part of the entertainment.

A good example of this was the music hall, which Locke describes in this extract from the article below. My distant relatives were also music hall artists in east London at the turn of the twentieth century, so I felt t a connection here.

This then shifted to a broadcast model in which it has been particularly difficult to understand audience interaction (think radio listening and TV viewing numbers).

But with he explosion of social networks and real-time communication, Locke argues that this feedback loop has now been rebuilt. It is quite different but now audiences are more empowered to participate than they have been in generations. ‘The empires of attention are shifting as we move from an era of distribution to an era of circulation.’

I think this is very interesting if considered in terms of organisational communication and participation. Taking Locke’s thinking, would it be fair to say that we will see more open organisations with more empowered employees participating more? What would those corresponding feedback loops look like?

What do you think?

Here is an extract.

Because how we understand audience attention – how we ask for it, measure it, and build business empires by selling access to it – is fundamental to our culture. For the last few hundred years, the business of culture has essentially been the business of measuring audiences’ attention. We can trace a line of entrepreneurs of attention from today’s culture backwards through the last two centuries – from Jonah Peretti, who has used his intimate knowledge of the patterns of digital attention to build The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, two of the biggest news and culture sites on the web; through Arthur Nielsen, who invented the ratings technology that the US TV giants ABC, NBC and CBS were built on; to Charles Morton, who took the raucous entertainment of supper-clubs and taverns and developed the more mainstream and wildly popular Music Halls of Victorian England, from which came the talent that would dominate the early years of cinema and radio.

These entrepreneurs were not leaders, but listeners – their particularly skill was in realising that audiences were consuming culture in new ways, finding new ways to measure these new patterns, and new ways to make money out of them. The story of these ‘empires of attention’ is the story of how we – the audience – have engaged with culture,  and how the interaction between artists and audiences has moved from visceral participation to abstract measurement and back again. This story starts amidst the raucous popular culture of Victorian England.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, public entertainment was found in pleasure gardens, inns and taverns, with acts brought in to perform as the audience worked their way through dinners and rounds of drinks. ‘Song and Supper Rooms’ such as the Coal Hole, in The Strand, The Cyder Cellars in Maiden Lane or Paddy Green’s of Covent Garden offered food and drink till the small hours of the morning. London Gentlemen would go there to find foaming tankards of stout, a dinner and a cigar, all set to the warbling strains of the comic or sentimental vocalists attached to each establishment. The proprietor would act as ‘chairman’, leading the entertainment and calling on regulars to perform their favourite songs and comedy acts.

One regular act was the ‘judge and jury’ show, a thinly-veiled skit in the form of mock-trials of society scandals, with the audience and performers acting as barristers, jury and witnesses – in many ways the fore-runner of TV satire like That Was The Week That Was or Spitting Image.The entertainment in these venues was a collaboration between the audience and the acts, with the line between the two often blurred by bonhomie and alcohol. The audience was noisy, and the acts used this noise as a feedback loop – a connection between performers and audience that created culture through call and response.