A Little Less Capturing Attention & A Little Less Of Our Data Please

It’s becoming clearer (every day) that capturing people’s attention, and harvesting their personal data, is not very good for society.

But despite the growing list of negatives (data breaches, people spending an increasing amount of time (too much?) online, how screens make us unhappy, and the extent to which teens are being affected), I’m personally still fascinated by the positive possibilities that technology presents humanity.

And one thing is for sure: advances in technology are not slowing down. Tech’s not going anywhere, and will continue to play an ever increasing role, in our daily lives. ‘Switching off’ is not a viable option, if we want to enjoy the many positive conveniences that tech presents us too.

But I don’t believe we can only have business models based on capturing, and keeping, our attention online and selling our personal data.

There is a possibility for business models that are great for delivering customer value, making a ton of money, AND that are positive for humanity. They don’t have to have to be mutually exclusive in my opinion.

Online To Offline

One business model option that is already being implemented, with some great success, is online to offline. Which makes sense when you learn that 93% of purchases still take place offline (according the U.S. Chamber of Commerce).

Platforms that start online and then get people offline, out into the real world, can create positive experiences for users, and become incredibly valuable businesses too.

Some very valuable companies, that have an online to offline business model, Source: Join

In fact ‘O2O’ has been described as a trillion-dollar opportunity. Some of the most valuable private companies in the world are built on some basis of this business model (e.g. Airbnb, Uber, WeWork). I think there’s still a lot more opportunities, that utilise this business model, to be unlocked.

This can still be advertising-based too. If we spend time on an online platform, that then prompts us to go out and do something we really want to do (instead of staying glued to our devices, online, which we know makes us unhappy), wouldn’t that be positive outcome for the the platform, the advertiser AND the user?

Real-Life Connections

Closely linked to O2O, here I’m talking about building real-life social networks, that authentically bridge online and offline.

A platform that brings people together offline over shared interests for activities, events and experiences, like for sports (playing and watching), food and drink, the arts and more. Meetup is probably the biggest and most well known platform that does a pretty good job of this, but it’s still no where near scale of Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. I’ve long been a believer in this, and that’s why I built PartyWith (Techstars ‘17).

Human connection, and real community, are big parts of what makes us truly human. It makes us happy, and even live longer (80 year Harvard study).

Credit: Helena Lopes

And not just for dating or hooking-up, but a platform that fosters meaningful offline connections around lots of interests and activities. Social platforms like this could actually reduce loneliness, by making it easier and safer to connect with others in real-life. They could help unlock new levels of creativity and belonging.

It’s also a big business opportunity — people spend money on when out enjoying these sort of things, in other peoples’ company.

Venues, event organizers and brands are looking for ways to drive people to real-life locations and events. A platform that can do this could become incredibly valuable, plus good for people and society.

Related: Why Companies Need To Connect Their Employees Socially

Experiential Brand Platforms

Large beverage brands, like AB InBev, as well as Sports, Travel and Food brands are focusing more and more on ‘experiential marketing’.

We could create digital platforms, beyond the standard social ones, that are specifically designed for consumers and the brands who want to reach these highly targeted and intent-based audiences (i.e. they actually want to go to an event, and experience what a brand has to offer, not to watch it on an Instagram story).

Platforms That Are Engaging But Not Time Sucking

What if we designed platforms that can be used for a short amount of time, not for endless mindless scrolling?

Think of the wildly popular HQ Trivia app — which you use once or twice a day, for about 10minutes.

These platforms can still have extremely high user engagement and retention levels (perhaps even more than Facebook, and certainly more fun) but it doesn’t have to be for hours everyday. These platforms respect users’ time and their frequency of use, so they can do other more meaningful things with their lives too, without constantly being distracted and pulled back in.

HQ just did a sponsored partnership deal where they gave away $250,000 in their biggest cash prize yet, with the likes of Warner Bros. and Nike. So there’s obviously big money to be made, with capturing attention for much shorter amount of time, with still highly engaged audiences.

If your app delivered some truly useful, it could even be just 8 seconds (our less-than-goldfish attention span these days), and still make money.

Think: I NEED this now. And this app delivers exactly what I need instantly. So I pay for that.

Let Users Choose Which Ads They Want To See

Let’s stay we stick with the ad-model and the general newsfeed-based UI of the big social networks.

How about letting users choose what sort of ads and offers they want to see? Perhaps a business model aligned with people’s personal goals, like Paul Duigan suggests:

We would see a page headed: ‘What sort of person would you like to be?’ We would be presented with a set of checkboxes, including: more positive outlook on life; more efficient at work; weigh less; more physically fit; saving more money, and more focused on the kids. We would check those characteristics of the type of person we have always aspired to.

Credit: pixabay.com


When you build something really valuable, something that people love and which brings positive things to their lives, they’ll pay for it. Membership subscriptions for niche networks, that deliver user’s real value, that they really want to be on, are very possible.

These arealready becoming a bit more prominent. Mighty Networks and Nomadlist come to mind.

Is The Answer In The Blockchain?

Maybe the Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies and decentralisation can provide some help here.

If we go back to the idea of people connecting in real-life, how about a digital currency that users can exchange and earn, e.g. get rewarded for ‘joining’ offline, and then that currency can be redeemed with partner brands, and shops, in real life?

And Linked To All: Different Metrics To Measure Success

And how about measuring success metrics like Time and money spent OFF Site, and OUT of App, instead of metrics that are all about capturing as much attention as possible?

Credit: Lukas

I’m starting a Newsletter, called Join Weekly, where I’ll send a weekly dose of curated news, knowledge, and inspiration — exploring the intersections of tech, people and the real world.

Interested? Then please Join…Join.




Father & Family 1st. Founder & CEO of PartyWith (Techstars ’17) — Bringing People Together

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Dan Fennessy

Dan Fennessy

Father & Family 1st. Founder & CEO of PartyWith (Techstars ’17) — Bringing People Together

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