Fracking the Attention Deposits 

2014, I’m trying to go dry.

Toby Barnes
Jan 14, 2014 · 5 min read

Moving to Portland, Oregon has taught/retaught me many things.

Many of those I will probably talk about over the next 12 months, but for this piece, I want to talk about social networks and my micro communities. My use of social networks has radically shifted; Twitter has suddenly become cold and full of people I don’t really know, Facebook is still full of drunken photos of people younger than myself, exhaust fumes of other people, doing other things, Instagram is still a huge part of my daily routine but with the quality of photos improving my love has been dwindling, Pinterest is still as inspiring and as fun as ever (but this is more to do with me and my desire to collect and horde rather than the site). Even dearest Path, and my wonderful collection of friends, dads and family has lost something.

A lot of this is to do with the time difference, I wake as the Path dads are considering what’s for tea, or heading to the pub. Facebook’s frat parties come at the wrong time as I contemplate switching off my desk lamp.

But there is something else.

I was majorly inspired to write this peace after reading Mel Exon’s post on the BBH Labs blog. I too have laughed at the “too much data” crowd for so long. “It’s the fucking filters” I shout from my piles of streams and feeds. I even read the initial 2 or 3 paragraphs of Mel’s words, wryly smiled and said to myself “This is about getting old, not about the web” (sorry Mel) but as I read on I realized it is something else, something new. A reflection of something that has changed, there is a clearly a disturbance in the force.

Master Kenobi photo copyright Disney/ Star Wars

I am a big fan of Robin Sloan’s Stock and Flow thinking — I have used it in many presentations, and workshops, but I am not convinced it is as simple as explaining this all away as “More stock, less flow” as Mel does some of.

Recently my wife Emily and I have started to follow a tonne of new people on Instagram — makers, adventures, brewers, designers, very “Portland” people. It reflects our love of the North West, the forests, the camping, the mountains, the snow, the rivers, the people, the craft and the attention to work here. And it was there this all began, it was Emily that inspired me into a new model of thinking, she said “I am not sure I like all these new brand’s photos. They are somehow too good, too well thought through, too onbrand, too right”

John Wilshire talked about Brands fracking social media a while back, and I want to pick up where he left off. fracking for those of you who don’t know is a new form of mining. With oil deposits low, the drilling and Gas Industry has created a investment bubble — a new playground, blasting water deeper into the earth’s crust and pulling out valuable gas. It turns out this method is expensive, has poor returns, will work great for 4-6 months before companies have to shut down the mine, leave the community with an empty feeling as they move 0n and drill elsewhere.

On the internet attention is still the most valuable raw material there is, and many companies are having to now develop brand new techniques to reach their consumers.

15 years ago, companies could build cheap, small micro-sites and people would come. Awards were given to companies who could build a beautiful but ultimately useless introduction to your website. (It’s why I have a Bafta for Interface Design).

But we all know micro sites don’t work for those same companies and products any more, an image with less than 500,000 likes is a seen as a failure, posts and tweets are ranked based on clicks, ads now come in 140 characters of hashtags, photos are post produced, made into 15 sec videos, linked to community forums, algorithms search for the top of the data science mountain to follow you around your web sites.

Facebook has become the whole print media. You-Tube is TV but with better analytics.

Brands are now fracking the web to reach that harder to reach attention seam.

Invasive, aggressive techniques into our streams.

Instagram is no longer a place where I can see through the eyes of my friends, it makes us want to switch off from the stream and as Mel says focus on long form; return to vinyl subscription clubs, postcard clubs, films that hold our attention, or series’ that are generated in such a way we can’t not like them.

Yes the photos that brands produce are beautiful, but this was never meant to be a publishing platform, this was meant to be conversation and community. The conversations you get in a gallery, a night club, or a pub are fun, light hearted and transitionary. The conversations we get around our instagram posts feel the same now.

It isn’t as simple as splitting stock and flow. We still find beautiful and moving moments of media, but the flow is polluted, the flow is becoming fake — a representation of what media buyers think it is, or was. before they came.

To that end I have done two things.

On Instagram I have unfollowed anyone I haven’t had a beer or coffee with, including those brands that as much as I miss their beautiful photos, or curated imagery are not real people. I have also unfollowed the amazing design gurus, artists, musicians or inspirational individuals that I used to stalk. Its back to a small troupe of friends.

And I am retiring from the larger publishing arenas, Twitter is rarely on anymore, and Facebook is there for work mainly. Can’t quite work out Path anymore, so I am going to play in Flickr again. That will be my flow. I am back in soundcloud, and bandcamp. I will make more prototypes again with tiny teams at work, try writing and post more pictures on flickr, draw more, just create more.

Let’s see how that feels.

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