Why digital intent matters

A glimpse into why we’re going to hear a lot more about “intent” in digital marketing.
BY Taylor Davidson | January 17th, 2012
Glimpse, Lisbon, Portugal, Dec 2011

The opportunity of digital intent.

Best one-line comment about the report that Facebook is due to launch a broader set of applications based on Open Graph:

This new release is an effort to decrease the friction in sharing, but it will be seen by most users as intrusive for two months before everyone decides they can’t live without it.

And will be sure to kick off yet another round of debates about information overload, privacy, the value of frictionless sharing, and the business opportunities in social data. As the debates swirl about, companies will eagerly build applications (and raise money) to take advantage of the incredible tailwinds of Facebook as everyone gets newly amped up about the amazing opportunities of all this data (even if they don’t use it).

As an investor, it’s something I’ll continue to pay close attention to, because social data is having a disruptive impact on the advertising and marketing technology industries. As Darren mentioned, we hear the word “intent” and “intent graph” a lot in business plans and pitches, often in the context of mining intent-rich social data for optimizing, personalizing and customizing advertising or marketing offers.

The usage of “intent” is a powerful conceptual idea, and while it still appears to be more of a buzzword than something people really know how to leverage, we’re coming closer to seeing it have a real impact on marketing and advertising. The real applications of the web’s intent engines for marketing and advertising are still to come. Matching intent engines to advertising and ecommerce is a big opportunity, and I believe that’s one reason why we’ve seen millions flow into the ecommerce space. It’s never been possible to leverage intent in this way, at this scale, across so many different products and services, worldwide. And that’s why “intent” is something we’re going to hear a lot more about.

The overhead of digital intent.

But thinking about the personal side of this, many of us will feel overwhelmed by the mental weight of digital intent. 1

In many ways, our public intent isn’t just intent, it’s identity. When intent is captured, ranked, and followed, it becomes something we want to manage. What we share, what we bookmark, what we save to buy, what we put in our playlist, becomes part of how we represent ourselves to other. And unlike intent that flows off into the web, identity is heavy, something for us to manage, monitor and tweak to fit our current digital representation of ourselves. Our identities become overhead for us to manage, rather than streams for us to enjoy.

Many will feel the need to adopt every new service, to test everything out, to embed each new service into their day’s digital chores. And that’s what it becomes: a chore, not a joy.

And that’s when we’re forced to make choices: adopt, alter, or untether? How do you choose which digital presence of community to treasure, which to invest in, and which to say goodbye to?

They key in my mind isn’t which ones we spend time on, or how many we use, or even what we do with them: the key is to be mindful of what we’re using, what is valuable for us, and what we really enjoy. The key is to remember it’s a choice, and to use the power of choice consciously.

During yoga yesterday morning, the teacher said something that stuck with me:

It’s not a direction, it’s an invitation.

She said it while she was giving us directions on how to find a pose, but embedded in her directions was an insight: as much as she was directing us what pose to do, she was really helping us find the pose that we wanted to find.

The lesson applies more broadly. The web is an invitation. We’re not forced to adopt every new service, or use them how everyone else does. Listen to yourself, pay attention to what you enjoy, and let your true intent shine through. It will be better for you and the web in the long run.


  1. Inspired by Ross Hill from his [Field Notes][16], “Notice the mental weight of physical things”