I have been catching stories in my newsreader where the word ‘gesture’ is used in a way I found hard to understand. A group of people are talking about the gestures that can be seen in people’s internet behaviour or computer usage. Who started this use of the word gesture? I don’t know exactly, but here are some people involved: Steve Gillmor (GestureLab) Doc Searls (weblog) Danny Ayers (Raw) Robert Scoble (Scobleizer) Ayers summarized it nicely:

So here’s my reading of what he’s on about. The gesture as the unit of attention. They are (heavily context-dependent) events. Gestures are just our intentional, directed interactions with the software. These communication acts contain in themselves valuable information. That information could be used to assist the person in their activities (e.g. with predictive search) or it could be used by marketeers, in a way it’s like a very wide broadening of AdSense.

And then there was the GestureBank, which popped up in December 2nd 2005 on ZDNet (by Gillmor). That turned into the AttentionTrust, of which Gillmor is the president (see governance). Their Mission:

1. Empower people to exert greater control over their “attention data,” i.e. any records reflecting what they have paid attention to and what they have ignored. We accomplish this by promoting the principles of user control, by distributing our Attention Recorder, and by supporting the development of other appropriate tools, standards and practices.

2. Educate people about the value of their attention and the importance of attention data. 3. Build a community of individuals and organizations that will guarantee users’ rights to own, move, and exchange their attention data, in a transparent environment that gives users the freedom to decide how their data will be used.

So the term gesture is used in these contexts to refer to any significant action such as sending someone a link, searching for something, reading something, writing something, etc, etc. These things can be recorded and then algorithms should be able to scan this data to enable all sorts of things. Not everyone would agree though, and I think the following comment by Christopher Coulter to this post on Scobleizer captures the criticism neatly:

My my, from ‘attention’ to ‘gesture algorithms’ ¦ the never-ending supply of meaningless buzzwords, keeps on trucking. In the real world, this is called having friends, knowing and caring about them, keeping in touch, and gasp, unconditionally at that, even when they are of no use to you, or can’t help boost your traffic or can’t play your marketing pitch up. Life is not a computer program spitting out info and links in some sort of raw attempt to mimic human emotions. And the ‘gestures’ we send out, might be pure fiction, what we dream them to be, not what they actually are.

All in all, I thought it would be good to keep an eye on these developments. At the very least it will help you filter out the nonsense from the good stuff in your newsreader. And with a single click you can then wave goodbye to it.