A system provides for the immediate payment to computer and other users for paying attention to an advertisement or other "negatively priced" information distributed over a computer network such as the Internet. Called Attention Brokerage, this is the business of brokering the buying and selling of the "attention" of users. A further invention, Orthogonal Sponsorship, allows advertisers to detach their messages from program content and explicitly target their audience. A special icon or other symbol displayed on a computer screen may represent compensation and allow users to choose whether they will view an ad or other negatively priced information and receive associated compensation. Targeting users may be provided by reference to a data base of digitally stored demographic profiles of potential users. Information can be routed to users based on demographics, and software agents can be used to actively seek out users on a digital network. Private profiles may be maintained for different users and user information may be released to advertisers and other marketers only based on user permission. Users may be compensated for allowing their information to be released. Competing advertisers may "bid" for the attention of users using automatic electronic systems, e.g., "an auction" protocol and these concepts can be generalized to provide an electronic trading house where buyers and sellers can actively find each other and negotiate transactions.