Making the rounds: Google’s New Service Kills Ads on Your Favorite Sites for a Monthly Fee. Basically, turn the ads into the thing that annoys the free users, wasting their bandwidth and screen space, until some of them go paid. You know, the way the crappy ads on Android apps work.
But the problem isn't advertising. The web is not the first medium where the audience gets stuff for free, or at an artificially low price. Cultural works and Journalism have been ad-supported for a long time. Sure, people like to complain about annoying ads, and they're uncomfortable about database marketing. But magazine readers look at the ads, and even Tivo-equipped TV viewers have low skip rates.
The problem is figuring out why today's web ads are so different, why ad blocking is on the way up, and how can a web ad work more like a magazine ad? From the article:
If people are going to gripe constantly about ads and having their personal data sold to advertisers, why not ask them to put a nominal amount of money where their mouths are?
Because that's not how people work. We don't pay other people to come into compliance with social norms. "Hey, you took my place in line...here's a dollar to switch back" doesn't happen. More:
It could save publishers who are struggling to stay afloat as ad dollars dwindle, while also giving consumers what they say they want.
You lost me at
giving consumers what they say they
want. When has that ever worked? People say all
kinds of stuff. You have to watch what they do. What
they do, offline, is enjoy high-value ad-supported
content, with the ads. Why is the web so
Why do people treat web ads more like
email spam and less like offline ads?
The faster we can figure out the ad blocking
the faster we can move from annoying, low-value
web ads to ads that pull their weight
Another example of how the firearms industry is better at thinking long-term than the IT industry is.
MidwayUSA has a NRA Round-Up Program to make it easy for customers to make a small change donation to the National Rifle Association when placing an order. They have collected more than $10 million just through that one program (and they have others).
Does any IT vendor offer "round up for EFF?"
The IT industry in the USA depends on the First and Fourth Amendments, but we don't take care of them the way that the firearms industry helps with the Second. More: Learning from Second Amendment defenders.Posted Fri 21 Nov 2014 07:30:56 AM PST
Mozilla's Interest Dashboard is out. Darren Herman writes,
The Content Services team is working to reframe how users are understood on the Internet: how content is presented to them, how they can signal what they are interested in, how they can take control of the kinds of adverts they are exposed to.
This sounds like vintage Internet woo-woo. Seriously? "take control of the kinds of adverts they are exposed to?"
I want to see ads for scientific apparatus, precision machine tools, spacecraft, and genetically engineered crops, because those ads tend to be interesting. But I don't actually buy any of that stuff. So why should advertisers care what I'm interested in? They care what I'll actually buy. (what I actually buy: burritos, coffee, and adapters for connecting one computer thingy to some other computer thingy.)
The "users will take control of advertising" concept is just as unrealistic as the "Big Data will enable ads that don't have to pay for decent content" concept.
The sad part is that we don't need to go chasing new user control stuff to make the needed fixes in online advertising. As a user, I wonder why Mozilla is pursuing new features while leaving known bugs unfixed.
Offline, we had an advertising model that worked, based on signaling by supporting content. As advertising moved to the web, advertisers chose to abandon signalful advertising and pursue user tracking instead, by exploiting the third-party cookie problem. Netscape's privacy flaws (copied by other browsers, and still in Mozilla) created a problem for journalists, brand advertisers and everyone on the web except a vocal group of adtech firms.
When a software company comes up with a nifty new feature without fixing old bugs, users get mad. Before chasing after fancy new dashboards, please fix the known fingerprinting and third-party tracking bugs. The brokenness of Internet advertising is because of flaws in things that the browser needs to get right, not because we have been short a dashboard.
More on all this: Targeted Advertising Considered HarmfulPosted Wed 12 Nov 2014 06:14:15 AM PST
This is why we can't have nice things, service journalism edition.
In the open market, a 30-year-old male car intender
costs the same whether you find him on Cars.com
How does that work for the publisher? Someone builds a car site, does tests and reviews, pays people who can write (a lot of car writers are really good, and IT writers could learn from them). And then the ad network, as soon as it figures out who's a "car intender," follows him around the Internet to show him ads somewhere else.
Adtech is heroic? Seems like it's just the high-tech version of sneaking out of a restaurant before the bill comes.
Think of the online service journalism we could have if the whole advertising industry wasn't fixated on the idea of getting out of paying for it. The traditional print ad model was for the agency to take 15 percent. Today, intermediaries between the advertiser and publisher take 55-75%, and they justify it by being able to do audience snatching. Fix the audience snatching problem, and the web could have less desperate clickbait, and more trips to Lower Saxony for test drives. (The other effects of audience snatching are signal loss, fraud, and support for illegal sites, but this is already too long.)
Publishers get sucked into the tracking game, but there are ways out. Site management can't really help, because they have to work within the existing system, even pretend to be concerned about dark traffic. Individual writers, though? If you can make your loyal readers harder to track online, you win.Posted Sat 08 Nov 2014 06:24:33 AM PST
Your online journalism brand is doomed...unless you master these four basic tech tips (and break one well-known online rule)
(update 22 Nov 2014: new headline, minor copy edit)
Just picture this for a minute.
Your city puts in a brand-new monorail system.
A Journalist rides it to work.
On the platform, someone steals his wallet.
The Journalist gets in to work and writes a long think piece about "how can Journalism survive in the age of monorail technology?"
Please, knock it off.
Yes, Journalism is in trouble. But it's not the monorail, or the Internet, that's taking your money. Journalists, the Internet is just the playing field for a game that other companies are beating your employers at. (Just like Amazon is better at ebooks than publishers are, but that's another story.)
Why are news organizations failing?
Alexis C. Madrigal said it
The ad market, on which we all depend, started
going haywire. Advertisers didn’t have to buy
The Atlantic. They could buy ads on networks
that had dropped a cookie on people visiting The
Atlantic. They could snatch our audience right out
from underneath us.
The problem isn't Advertising as such. Advertising has always been part of the revenue mix for Journalism. Back in the day, we used to say that the ads paid for the content, and the subscription revenue paid for printing and postage. Good journalism can be a high-signal ad venue, so the potential rewards to advertisers are great. Supporting Journalism on the Internet isn't about going from ad-supported to some untried subscription-only model. We can fix the bugs in what we have.
Where is the money going?
The problem is that advertisers are caught up in the Big Data trend. Instead of putting ad budgets to work where they can send a signal, and supporting Journalism along the way, advertisers are choosing third-party ads, which follow users across multiple sites.
While Journalism depends on advertising, half of the online ad money is going to adtech intermediaries and another half is getting stolen. This doesn't add up to 100% because the adtech companies get their cut from the fraud perpetrators too, but, come on, Journalists, of course you have no money.
The advertising business has been sold on the proposition that it's possible to reach an audience without paying for some kind of quality product to put the ads on. Instead of attaching an ad to an attention-getting article, the current fad is to spend on intermediaries instead. The result has been crappier advertising, less money for content, and more money for fraud.
It will be hard for publishers—even the large ones—to resist the momentum that will build to plug into these walled gardens, forcing publishers to effectively commoditize themselves in exchange for access to identity, targeting and analytics data.
How does working for a commodity publisher sound?
Not so good? Tired of watching pay, benefits, and expense accounts shrivel up, while somehow the online ad business is all Aeron chairs and free tacos?
It's a game. Make a move already.
This is where Journalists can stop lamenting the Future of Journalism, and, ready? Act in your own economic interests for once. Look, the Internet is not hard-wired against you. It's just that people who understand it better than you—online ad business and their frenemies, the ad fraud gangs—are using it to rip you off.
Here are those four tips and one broken rule.
You have to learn privacy tech to protect yourself and sources anyway, so take a few extra minutes to learn the economics of how user tracking affects your own business.
Have a look at online ads from the advertiser's side. Spend a little money on ads to promote your own blog. See how it works. (Or try something a little "edgier".)
never read the commentsrule, and listen to people's primal fears about Internet privacy. Write about the privacy tech that works for you. Get your audience started using it.
The more you make your audience aware of tracking problems and motivate them to be harder to track, the more motivation the advertisers have to work in a constructive way.
For Journalists, a future high-signal/low-tracking online ad business isn't just a source of positive externalities. As far as I can see, it's the best shot at a respectable living.
Work in progress: ad.aloodo.com tracking detection systemPosted Fri 07 Nov 2014 09:13:46 AM PST
Here's a page from a mailer opposing California's Proposition 46.
If the "privacy is dead" crowd were anywhere near right, the pro-46 mailers would have come out with something like:
"Proposition 46 helps you connect with public and private sector stakeholders and share your love for your favorite health brands!"
But that's not the kind of message that works on regular people. All that connect, share, conversations with brands jive? That only works in Marketing meetings with too few breaks and too much PowerPoint® and CO2.
No on 46: Privacy
George Tannenbaum: Conversations about brands. A Primer.
The Economist: Leaders: Advertising and technology: Stalkers, Inc.
Emerging Technology From the arXiv - MIT Technology Review: The Murky World of Third Party Web Tracking
Adam Tanner, Contributor: Health Entrepreneur Debates Going To Data's Dark Side
In the Pipeline: The Most Unconscionable Drug Price Hike I Have Yet Seen
Paul Scicchitano: Critics Say Big Data May DiscriminatePosted Sat 25 Oct 2014 07:31:46 AM PDT
Posted Thu 23 Oct 2014 05:21:47 AM PDT
The addiction to targeting, which digital technology
has only amplified, has derailed the advertising
industry from concentrating on its real job—creating
Recent Snapchat blog, announcing ads:
We want to see if we can deliver an experience that’s fun and informative, the way ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted. It’s nice when all of the brilliant creative minds out there get our attention with terrific content.
That's a great idea, and ties in with what I've been saying all along about the targeted ad problem.
But I'm not optimistic. Snapchat is still running on a mobile phone, running within an environment that's either problematic or outright privacy-hostile. If Snapchat can't commit to its core feature, the idea that photos disappear after sending, how can the company credibly commit to less creepy, more valuable advertising?
It would be a huge win for Snapchat if they could pull it off. But I doubt that a single app can do it.
Signalful ads are an emergent benefit from media that tend to build user confidence through tracking resistance. Non-creepiness can't be declared, it has to be discovered.Posted Sat 18 Oct 2014 05:11:52 AM PDT
Something I hear a lot in discussions of online ad blocking is something like:
Ad blocker users aren't susceptible to advertising anyway.
But advertising isn't a matter of susceptability. It's not fly fishing. Advertising is based on an exchange of attention for signal. The audience pays attention, and the advertiser sends a signal of his or her intentions in the market and belief in product saleability.
We may not conform to a model of perfect economic
behavior, but neither are we puppets at the mercy
of every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a billboard. We
aren't that easily manipulated.
Ad blocker users aren't the only ones who aren't "susceptible." Nobody is "susceptible." People pay attention to advertising more or less depending on how involved they are in that market, but it's a rational process.
If you go down the road of believing in "susceptible," then you get to the wrong answers. First, advertisers throw away their signaling ability by targeting users likely to click. Then users respond by blocking not just the targeted ads but by over-blocking the remaining signal-carrying ads.
Once you understand how advertising works (you did read that Kevin Simler essay?) you can get to the optimal blocking tool for yourself as a market participant: Privacy Badger, which blocks the ads that it's not rational to look at while letting non-targeted ads, with their signaling value, through.
More on this kind of thing: Targeted Advertising Considered HarmfulPosted Fri 10 Oct 2014 08:43:07 AM PDT
These were making the rounds in April and May, but worth a look if you missed them the first time.
Sam Harris: Author, neuroscientist, philosopher.: The Path Between Pseudo-Spirituality and Pseudo-Science
italovignoli: Old unaccessible documents, rejoice!
Elizaveta Naumov, Marketing Manager, TextMaster: Is SEO Actually Improving your Writing?
Mark Suster: How to Make Better Reference Calls
abdel ibrahim: How to make money from Spotify by streaming silence
Sherwood Neiss, Crowdfund Capital Advisors: The New York Times thinks only the rich should profit from crowdfunding
Matthew O'Brien: Everything You Need to Know About High-Frequency Trading
jackfranklin: Passwords are Obsolete — Medium
michaelochurch: 3 mean-spirited HR policies that can kill a tech company.
Geoff Shullenberger: Volunteerism, Deskilling, and Profit at Coursera
Cooper Quintin and Peter Eckersley and Yan Zhu: Help EFF Test Privacy Badger, Our New Tool to Stop Creepy Online Tracking
Adam Tanner, Contributor: Federal Healthcare Web Sites Are More Big Brother Than The KremlinPosted Fri 03 Oct 2014 09:39:46 AM PDT
Matt Harty from Experian
Marketers Buy Clicks But Don’t Understand What
Clicks usually do not bring any other information with them. When the click hits the marketer’s site, the ability to value the differences (and related potential ROI) between these visitors is minimal.
Harty's proposed solution, not surprisingly, is to add another layer of Big Data intermediaries, to sell information about the users behind those clicks. This one will fix it for sure, right? But does online advertising have to be just a matter of piling up more and more layers of companies selling expensive math and sneakily-acquired PII?
If only there were something that you could attach an
ad to, some work that people
who were interested in a certain topic would naturally
see as valuable and want to spend time with. Something that would
make an ad pay its own way, by sending the message, as Kevin Simler put
Here an ad conveys valuable information simply
Yes, paying for something valuable to run the ad on would cost money, but that's part of how advertising really works. Advertising done right pays its way by carrying a signal to prospective buyers, one that they have an incentive to receive and process, not block. Simler also points out a kind of meta-signaling, or "cultural imprinting." When a brand establishes itself, it helps its customers send their own signals.
[B]rands carve out a relatively narrow slice of brand-identity space and occupy it for decades. And the cultural imprinting model explains why. Brands need to be relatively stable and put on a consistent "face" because they're used by consumers to send social messages, and if the brand makes too many different associations, (1) it dilutes the message that any one person might want to send, and (2) it makes people uncomfortable about associating themselves with a brand that jumps all over the place, firing different brand messages like a loose cannon.
Advertising isn't just a game of spam vs. spam filter, popup vs. popup blocker, and cookie vs. Privacy Badger. There's more to it than that, or there can be.
Meanwhile, Bob Hoffman writes,
Content is everything, and it's nothing. It's an artificial word thrown around by people who know nothing, describing nothing.
Good point. The audience's perception of how much it cost to place an ad is the way that the ad acquires its signaling power. The ad-supported resource, whether it's a TV show, an article with photos, or a story, amplifies the ad by its quality and apparent cost.
A famous byline on a magazine cover increases the
magazine's reputation, which increases the signaling
power of the ads inside, which makes ad space more
valuable. Get a reputation for paying well, get
more money from advertisers, and so on. Do it right
and the more you pay people, the more advertisers
pay you, the more you can pay people. (This is the
positive feedback loop that pro sports is in.
And not only is the sports audience not
product being sold, the audience is paying
to be advertised to.)
Signaling through quality editorial product is the opportunity that online advertising is thowing away, by programmatically buying ad units attatched to crappy, infringing, or outright fraudulent "content". Somehow, people have gotten the idea that math matters, user data matters, but "content" doesn't.
Malvertising Campaign Employs the
Nuclear Option on
last week by the Zedo advertising network, redirected
victims to the Nuclear exploit kit which (under the
right circumstances) delivered a punishing series of
infections onto PCs.
The brand you've gradually grown to trust over
the course of three generations.
Posted Sun 21 Sep 2014 09:21:47 PM PDT
The Agile Manifesto might also be to blame for the
Scrum standup. It states that "the most efficient and
effective method of conveying information to and within
a development team is face-to-face conversation." In
fairness to the manifesto's authors, it was written in
2001, and at that time git log did not yet exist.
However, in light of today's toolset for distributed
collaboration, it's another completely implausible
assertion, and even back in 2001 you had to kind of
pretend you'd never heard of Linux if you really wanted
it to make sense.
Giving respect to brand advertising, by Doc Searls, is the latest chapter in the blog conversation about the problems that targeted web advertising poses for web publishers and brand advertisers. It's fun to speculate about big-picture fixes, such as finally cleaning up trackability problems in the browser. But that's potentially slow-moving development work. Fixing an old software bug that people have had to work around always is.
So is there anything that brand advertisers can do today? Not changing the industry, or changing the ecosystem, but items we can take to the meeting we have to have about this stuff this week?
I'm inclined to say yes. (Otherwise I would have had to stop writing right here.)
Avoid making decisions based only on online metrics. The chances are good that at least one fraud ring or overenthusiastic intermediary is tainting those numbers. Sales numbers and offline surveys are harder to mess with.
You can "advertise online" using media that create online echoes. You can have a presence at events covered online, or even stick with TV and other old-school advertising that doesn't have the fraud problems of online. (Ever notice that people post TV commercials on social sites, but not the other way around?) Stick with search ads where they work, but avoid throwing money at fraudulent online display and video ads.
Reward your existing customers for using privacy tech. If your brand is related to computers at all, help people load up and use Privacy Badger. And run an exclusive area of your site, just for privacy tech users, that offers some exclusive product, service or other benefit.
The point is not to prevent customers from being "poached" by adtech-using competitors, but to push yourself into the future by a few years. You can't change the whole technology market, but the sooner you have some experience working with privacy-enabled customers, the better.
Privacy tech is a crisis for many intermediaries, but an opportunity for brands. Have fun with it.
Social media reputation can be a way to measure some customer-facing aspects of the business, for some product categories (Not necessarily—some social sites are terrible at this.) Social media can be a way to get a second chance to fix customer service issues that dropped on the floor. But you can't build reputation in social media.
The brands that have good social media reputations are the ones where customer-facing employees have a good attitude. You can't fix this with "social media marketing." You have to do the whole enchilada for everyone who talks to a customer: decent pay, reasonable schedules, don't order people to abuse or deceive customers, all that.
It's a waste of time to do perky social media marketing that contrasts with stressed-out service people—even the best Social Media Manager can only make things look worse. (Bonus link: Conversations about brands. A Primer. by George Tannenbaum)
Remember when Apple took a stand against Adobe Flash and a zillion post-Flash web development products popped up? Now, Apple is taking a stand against creepy advertising. We can expect privacy to be a Thing, and there are certainly startups brewing in the post-creepy space. But for brands, it's not just time to pass the popcorn and wait for the IT industry to fix privacy. There's low-profile work to do that will help you today.Posted Sat 20 Sep 2014 06:38:42 AM PDT
Is advertising ruining the web? Ethan Zuckerman writes,
I have come to believe that advertising is the original sin of the web. The fallen state of our Internet is a direct, if unintentional, consequence of choosing advertising as the default model to support online content and services.
Is the web ruining advertising? Bob Hoffman writes,
[T]he advertising industry has become the web's lapdog – irresponsibly exaggerating the effectiveness of online advertising and social media, ignoring the abominable results of display advertising, glossing over the fraud and corruption, and becoming a de facto sales arm for the online ad industry.
Advertising can be a good thing. Some of my favorite cultural goods are leftovers paid for by advertising at its best. There should be a way to make advertising work for the web, the way it has worked for print magazines.
But Hoffman and Zuckerman are both right. Web advertising has failed. We're throwing away most of the potential value of the web as an ad medium by failing to fix privacy bugs. Web ads today work more like email spam than like magazine ads. The quest for "relevance" not only makes targeted ads less valuable than untargeted ones, but also wastes most of what advertisers spend. Buy an ad on the web, and more of your money goes to intermediaries and fraud than to the content that helps your ad carry a signal.
From Zuckerman's point of view, advertising is a problem, because advertising is full of creepy stuff. From Hoffman's point of view, the web is a problem, because the web is full of creepy stuff. (Bonus link: Big Brother Has Arrived, and He's Us )
So let's re-introduce the web to advertising, only this time, let's try it without the creepy stuff. Brand advertisers and web content people have a lot more in common than either one has with database marketing. There are a lot of great opportunities on the post-creepy web, but the first step is to get the right people talking.Posted Sat 13 Sep 2014 08:03:45 AM PDT
Dave Winer writes,
The idea is to start a great flow of news to Twitter and Facebook, while enabling new networks to boot up on the open web, building on the RSS support.
When you post using Radio3, you're helping a new open web news network boot up. It's like using solar or wind energy, or riding a bike instead of driving. It's good for the environment.
Linklogs aren't new. Some examples...
Some cool things about Radio3 are...
It's easy to use
It hooks up to Twitter, so you can share links with both your free-range web friends and with Twitter users.
Anyway, if you don't have a linklog because it's too hard, you might want to give Radio3 a try. When everyone else is writing long anguished blog posts about how Twitter is burying your links by going from neutral "following" to some kind of secret algorithm, you can already be set up for whatever the new thing is. (If you try it, please mail me and let me know your linklog URL.)
These are from old linklog links. Worth a second look if you missed them the first time they went past.
Mike Hadlow: Coconut Headphones: Why Agile Has Failed
Dr. Michael Wu: Consumers under the influence
Jeremiah Shoaf: Taking A Second Look At Free Fonts
Adactio: Our Comrade The Electron
Alexis C. Madrigal: A 26-Story History of San Francisco
Angie Schmitt: Smart Growth America: Sprawl Shaves Years Off Your Life
Ian Morris: The Slaughter Bench of History
Charlie Stross: Generation Z
- Barton Hinkle: The Dumbest Federal Policy You'll Read About Today
michaelochurch: 3 mean-spirited HR policies that can kill a tech company.
David Kopel: The First Amendment Guide to the Second Amendment
Zack Weinberg: Redesigning Income Tax
MediaPost | Online Media Daily: White House Warns 'Big Data' Can Lead To Discrimination
Benjamin Ross: The Counterculture Looks for Parking
Geoff Shullenberger: Work and Non-Work under Digital Capitalism
inessential.com: The Old Reader on Good Ol’ RSS
Jonathan Cohn: Gallup: Uninsured Rate Is Lowest We've Ever Recorded
Tyler Cowen: Some neglected Gary Becker open access pieces
Adam Lashinsky, Sr. Editor at Large: Yes, we're in a tech bubble. Here's how I know it
Josh Harkinson: Will American Pot Farmers Put the Cartels out of Business?
Digg Top Stories: Should Your Job Exist?
Peter Suderman: The Ethanol Disaster
Greg Storey: And They All Look Just the Same
The Old Reader: behind the scenes: In Defense of Publishers
Geoff Shullenberger: Corporatization and the Bullshit Jobs Effect
Chris Hulls, Life360: Patent trolls have come after my startup. I’m fighting back
Nelson Minar: Scribd and Quora considered harmful
Nathan Donato-Weinstein: Younger and wealthier, Caltrain riders opt out of traffic
Ricardo Hausmann: Piketty’s Missing Knowhow
Cory Doctorow: What's the story with the Makerbot patent?Posted Sat 06 Sep 2014 03:19:53 PM PDT
Older stuff: archive