Don Marti

QoTD: Zoë Keating

It’s one thing for individuals to upload all my music for free listening (it doesn’t bother me). It’s another thing entirely for a major corporation to force me to. I was encouraged to participate and now, after I’m invested, I’m being pressured into something I don’t want to do.

Zoë Keating

Posted Sat 24 Jan 2015 09:20:29 AM PST

mobile ad revenue fail

Arel Lidow has a look at Mary Meeker's Internet Trends report and writes, Each year, the gap between dollars spent on mobile advertising versus time spent on mobile devices increases: in 2011, the implied gap was about $14 billion; in 2013, it was about $28 billion. So why is the gap in mobile ad spend so damn large? And when will those billions of dollars come flooding in?

I plotted the same data, and and put the numbers for print, web, and mobile, across several years, on the same graph.

Clearly, Lidow is right. Mobile is remarkably disappointing, compared to web. But what is going on with print?

Even as the fraction of user time spent on print falls, it's worth more to advertisers than mobile is.

This isn't much of a surprise, if you look at advertising history. More targetable ad media such as junk fax and email spam tend to fall in value, while non-targetable ad media tend to hold or gain value. (Seems paradoxical until you look at the economics behind it.)

But here's Lidow's recommendation: If you could wave a magic wand and provide a perfect attribution system with widespread usage by marketers and agencies, the mobile ad landscape would change quickly, and ad spend would increase.

So wait a minute. Take the a low-value ad medium and make it more valuable by doing more of what makes it less valuable? Wouldn't you want to figure out how to go the other way?

I don't get it. More and more I'm starting to think that this whole surveillance marketing trend is more about selling Marketing to the rest of the company than about selling stuff to customers.

Posted Thu 22 Jan 2015 07:12:23 AM PST

Perfect storm for web ads in 2015?

Is it just me, or is all this stuff hitting the web ad business all at once?


The market couldn't sustain a zillion different 8-bit microcomputers or web portals, back when those were a thing. And it has always seemed unlikely that the market can keep supporting a zillion lookalike adtech firms. Jack Marshall of the Wall Street Journal writes, A shakeout is under way in the online advertising industry, where dozens of startups—often with seemingly undifferentiated services and limited scale— face the reality that there isn’t enough room for everyone.

Google and Facebook are eating the ecosystem. Michael Eisenberg writes, Today, most adtech companies are exploiting features that are missing on the core platforms of Google, Facebook, and many of the already public companies. They are optimising and brokering between technology platforms (mobile and web), exchanges and advertisers. However, information is nearing perfection in this market, making it difficult to build a moat around businesses and maintain margins.

Large agencies that plan to make a living helping clients navigate a confusing list of technology partners are probably on the wrong side of the trend here. They're like Unix ISVs who planned to keep building the same basic product on dozens of basically identical but incompatible Unix variants. A difficult feat of management and tech integration, but not really the way that mature technology markets tend to go.

Fraud crisis

You know how, when a lot of people are starting committees to talk about how something is an industry-wide problem and it's everyone's responsibility to fix it, that means the problem is about to go away?

Me either.

Bob Hoffman explains this one best.

Blocking keeps going up, tracking protection emerges

Ad blocking is trending up, but it's not for everyone. Many users have a basic fairness expectation around advertising: if you look at the content, you should also accept the ads that that support it.

Tracking protection, though, is a situation where fairness norms point away from adtech. A 2014 survey found that 87 percent of users choose not to be tracked by default. Tracking protection products such as Disconnect and Privacy Badger are using a different message from crude ad blocking, to reach more users. Disconnect is positioning its tracking protection product as as basic Internet security software—Join over 3 million people who use our open source software to protect their identities and sensitive personal info from hackers and trackers—not a way to get something for nothing.

Browser built-in tracking protection is coming along, too. Apple Safari already blocks third-party cookies, MSIE has tracking protection lists (which lump adtech in with socially-engineeered malware) and Firefox is getting its own tracking protection too.

The holdout is Google Chrome, and that's a whole other story. Google as a whole would certainly do better on an all-tracking-protected web, because if everyone's less able to track users, Google's expertise in parsing content matters more. But it's hard for information packrats to walk away from shiny, tempting information.

Tech-aware publishers

The typical adtech/publisher relationship has more in common with one-sided record contracts than with typical advertising. Publishers haven't understood the technology as well as adtech firms, and so have signed away their valuable audiences in pursuit of surveillance marketing woo-woo.

But that's changing. New publishers have web skills from the ground up. Vox Media is a good example. And existing publishers are getting better at defending their interests. Quartz, an Atlantic Media site, runs ads that look and work more like expensive magazine ads than like ratty web display ads. And, most important, Quartz ads are intact for users running Disconnect.

The near-term effect of VC investment in web publishing startups is that many publishers will have the breathing space to turn down the short-term revenue from crappy, targeted "click the monkey" or "one weird trick" ads, and pursue other options. Tracking protection for a site's audience is the kind of "moat" that investors tend to look for.

Put it together

The fun part isn't any one of these trends, or even the fact that they're hitting at the same time, but how they interact.

Fraud helps drive consolidation. Consolidation, with more accurate tracking, encourages more users to try tracking protection. Tracking protection and fraud drive ad spending to quality publishers. Success for quality publishers means more investment in tracking protection. And around it goes.

What a fun year this is going to be.

Posted Thu 15 Jan 2015 05:35:48 AM PST

Fedora 21 note: grub2 prompt

Fedora 21 installed on my main laptop ( Thinkpad, formerly Fedora 20.) Came up at a GRUB2 prompt instead of booting normally. Used this to fix:

grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg
grub2-install --target=x86_64-efi 

(Found on Gentoo Forums. Appreciating the Gentoo scene right now.) I'm still not noticing a lot of differences yet, but at least I won't be showing up at SCALE this year without the shiny new thing.

Posted Sat 10 Jan 2015 07:49:41 AM PST

QoTD: Doc Searls

Nobody is writing with more insight and depth on the subject of online advertising, and doing the work required to understand what kinds of advertising best support (and hurt) what's left of professional journalism in the networked world.

Doc Searls

(This is about me, believe it or not. if I can't get a conference speaking slot out of that...)

Posted Thu 01 Jan 2015 08:48:38 AM PST

Predictions for 2015

(No long list of predictions, just a news story that we might see this year...)

Go For Bro? Maybe later

SAN FRANCISCO (Apr. 1, 2015) is a hot new startup that helps people handle those routine chores that nobody has time for. But the online community-building drama has us filing this one under "maybe later."

When I needed my old DVD collection ripped and Ebay-ed, I hit the Broconomy app, which is well-designed and snappy (see screenshot). It quoted me a fifteen-minute wait time and dispatched a worker to my apartment. So far so good, but twenty minutes later, no worker.

It's not just me. Flaky is par for the course, according to disappointed app store comments. Broconomy CEO J.R. Dobbs Jr. blames an "online anti-tech hate campaign" by loosely organized Internet trolls. The best-known of the troll groups calls itself "International Workers of the Web." "Our workers appreciate the opportunity to make some extra income, and only a few online trolls are trying to make things worse for everyone," Dobbs said in an email interview. The online troll campaign is not associated with the Industrial Workers of the World.

According to one "union" forum, members are instructed to sign up for sharing economy sites, and subscribe to alerts of "flash strikes" on particular companies and ZIP codes. (The forum is listed as a hate site, so I can't link to it here.)

Social media expert Prof. Jane Brooklyn said in an interview that the troll campaign uses familiar methods of Internet humor to keep members engaged. Participants often post screenshots of tasks on the Broconomy app along with captions mocking the customers. "Some common themes are inability to recognize common food items or failure to complete toilet training," Brooklyn said.

The most attention-getting posts are those where a worker cancels a job at the last minute, then intercepts the new worker on the way to the customer site and makes a new recruit for the "union" campaign. "Instead of threatening or insulting workers who don't participate, they typically offer a stuffed toy animal, a cupcake, and the same small payment that the worker would have received for the original job, in cash," Brooklyn said.

Last fall, Broconomy was the subject of an investigation by the California Department of Labor. After a worker was trapped in the collapse of a customer's "Hobbit"-themed birthday party, and later rescued, the state accused the company of failing to carry worker's compensation insurance. The complaint was settled this year. Terms of the settlement are confidential, but all Broconomy workers in California were required to re-register as independent contractors for Broconomy's Qatari affiliate.

The Good

The Bad

Posted Thu 01 Jan 2015 07:05:26 AM PST

2015: the year to save web advertising?

I spent some time with targeted online advertising from the advertiser side this year, looking at a data-packed dashboard and tweaking all kinds of stuff. Did not get to spend that much time on it, since I have to do a lot of different things for work, but did get to learn and try it out. And managing targeted ads is like all the most habit-forming parts of solving crossword puzzles, gambling for real money, checking and re-checking social sites, and getting sucked into a real-time strategy game. All at the same time.

But in the long run...

The more targetable an ad medium is, the more it provokes filters and regulation. (Do Not Call, the junk fax ban, spam filters, web adblock...)

The less targetable an ad medium is, the more it can support content, build brands, and get attention. (Even people who spent perfectly good money on a TiVo still watch most of the TV commercials.)

In 2015, we have an opportunity to save web advertising, by moving toward less targetability. While database marketers are all fired up about ads in native mobile apps, the main web browsers all have decent tracking protection available to users who choose to turn it on.

Individual sites and brands can't unilaterally give up the Big Data habit all at once, but I can help make my own site's users less trackable, which helps me a little bit right away and a lot more later.

Now is the chance to inform, nudge, and tempt users into doing what's right for publishers and brands. Some users like the "getting away with something" feeling of running an ad blocker, but IMHO most people will feel better about helping their favorite sites by getting tracking protection turned on.

Please have a look at and let me know what you think. JavaScript bug reports and pull requests welcome.

End of year bonus links

Mathew Ingram: It’s getting harder to tell what’s a real Silicon Valley startup and what’s a parody

JR Hennessy: The tech utopia nobody wants: why the world nerds are creating will be awful | JR Hennessy

Lisa Vaas: Cat stalker knows where your kitty lives (and it's your fault)

BOB HOFFMAN: Why Your Social Media Strategy Sucks

Lauren Kirchner: Amway Journalism

Kashmir Hill: Forget Glass. Here Are Wearables That Protect Your Privacy.

Derek Thompson: The New York Times Is a Great Company in a Terrible Business

Robinson Meyer: I Drank a Cup of Hot Coffee That Was Overnighted Across the Country SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

Rebecca J. Rosen: Actually, Some Material Goods Can Make You Happy

Dana: Browsewrap Agreements Must Be Brought to Users’ Attention

Richard Byrne Reilly: NSA spying might have affected U.S. tech giants more than we thought

AdExchanger: Beware Of Publishers’ Walled Gardens

Angèle Christin: When it comes to chasing clicks, journalists say one thing but feel pressure to do another

AdExchanger: Answering A Squirrelly Question: 'What Is PII?'

Sarah Sluis: Ghostery and IPONWEB Team Up To Bring Fraud Detection To RTB

John Robb: The BEST grocery store brand in the US right now is Market Basket. Here’s their secret.

Sean Blanchfield: 2014 Report – Adblocking Goes Mainstream

eaon pritchard: influencer theory is the wrong end of the stick

ronan: ‘The Only Way To Combat Ad Fraud Is With Real-Time Transparency’

Allison Schiff: Fraud-day With Dstillery: Everyone Is Responsible For Fighting Fraud (In the long run, fighting fraud means fixing tracking.)

Tauriq Moosa: Comment sections are poison: handle with care or remove them

Matthew Garrett: My free software will respect users or it will be bullshit

Katerina Pavlidis: The day I realised my personal data was no longer mine

sil: The next big thing is privacy

Stephany Fan: Do Beacons Track You? No, You Track Beacons

ronan: Facebook Poses Further Threat To Google With Full FAN Roll Out

Alex Hern: Sir Tim Berners-Lee speaks out on data ownership

ronan: Ad Tech Firms Prepare For Bolstered US Profile

Doc Searls: How Radio Can Defend the Dashboard

Federal Trade Commission: Online ads roll the dice Could different groups of people, including “protected classes,” see entirely different ads? If the offer and group are subject to legal protections, could the result have a disproportionate adverse impact? Even if they are not subject to legal protection, can some ads be offensive or harmful to some audiences?

BOB HOFFMAN: Amazing Tale Of Online Ad Fraud

AdExchanger: Facebook And Google Are Bringing Walled Gardens Back

Erika Napoletano: Why Copyblogger Is Killing Its Facebook Page (via Street Fight)

ronan: Domain Identity Theft Is The Fraudsters’ Latest Ponzi Scheme

Computerworld: Hackers strike defense companies through real-time ad bidding

Amanda Tomas: My Day Interviewing For The Service Economy Startup From Hell (via The Awl)

Malvertising Campaign on Yahoo, AOL, Triggers CryptoWall Infections

jonathan: How Verizon’s Advertising Header Works (via The Not-So Private Parts)

Ad blocker that clicks on the ads (via OneAndOneIs2)

BOB HOFFMAN: Hypocrisy By Proxy

Susan Crawford: Jammed (via Doc Searls WeblogDoc Searls Weblog ») Silicon Valley will destroy your job: Amazon, Facebook and our sick new economy

Matthew Yglesias: Car dealers are awful. It's time to kill the dumb laws that keep them in business.

Rachel Goodman, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program: FTC Needs to Make Sure Companies Aren’t Using Big Data to Discriminate

Gregory Ferenstein: Study: more Americans fear spying from corporations than the government (also, clowns)

Andrew Casale: A Better Programmatic Supply Chain Will Root Out Fraud

Bourree Lam: Newspaper Ad Revenue Fell $40 Billion in a Decade

Ben Williams: Acceptable Advertising – before and after (via Adblock Plus and (a little) more - mozilla -) (via Adblock Plus and (a little) more - Blog)

Jim Edwards: The Guardian Is Being Swamped With 'Dark Traffic' And No One Knows Where It's Coming From ("Dark" traffic is worthless to low-reputation sites, though. The less information available on individual users, the more that site reputation matters.)

Greg Sterling: First Half Ad Revenue: Search Dominates PC Ads But Not Mobile

Napier Lopez: Reuters moves conversation to social media as it kills comments on its news stories

MediaPost | Garfield at Large: These 15 Hottest Naked Celebrity Diets For Getting Audience Attention Will Shock You

Nicholas Nethercote: Quantifying the effects of Firefox’s Tracking Protection

Bloomberg: High-Speed Ad Traders Profit by Arbitraging Your Eyeballs

Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project: Americans Consider Certain Kinds of Data to be More Sensitive than Others

Baekdal Plus: Clickbait is the Greatest Threat To Your Future Success - (by @baekdal)

eaon pritchard: sincerity is bullshit

Digg Top Stories: Somebody’s Already Using Verizon’s ID To Track Users

Daniel Nazer: Victory! Court Finally Throws Out Ultramercial’s Infamous Patent on Advertising on the Internet

Doc Searls: Some thoughts on App Based Car Services (ABCS)

Brian Merchant: How the World's Largest PR Firm Uses Big Data to Grow Its Astroturf Campaigns

marks: Dark social traffic in the mobile app era -- Fusion (via Digiday) (via Digiday)

Darren: My journey in becoming a Mozillian

Simon Phipps: A shadowy consortium opposes your Internet privacy

Michael Sebastian: Major Ad Buyer Tells Magazines It Won't Buy Tablet Circ Like It's Print Any More

Frédéric Filloux: The Rise of AdBlock Reveals A Serious Problem in the Advertising Ecosystem

Kelly Jackson Higgins: Online Ad Fraud Exposed: Advertisers Losing $6.3 Billion To $10 Billion Per Year

Media Briefing TheMediaBriefing Analysis: Guardian CEO: 'The idea we will survive by becoming a technology company is garbage'

Chris Smith: How publishers combat ad blockers

BOB HOFFMAN: Charts, Graphs, Facts, and Fiction

Ed Lee: Getting Tiles Data Into Firefox

Daniel Terdiman: Facebook goes all-in on advertising after years of laying groundwork

Ben Williams: Adblock Plus is best defense against 'malvertising’ according to new study (via Adblock Plus and (a little) more - Blog)

Dylan Tweney: Tech VCs poured millions into media companies in 2014 — but it’s not clear why

Leo Mirani: The secret to the Uber economy is wealth inequality

Bruce SchneierS: Over 700 Million People Taking Steps to Avoid NSA Surveillance

Antonio Cangiano: Don’t Count on Ads

Barry Levine: Sorenson releases Spark tools to take TV to the next interactive level

Brian Braiker: Michael Wolff on digital media in 2015: ‘A deluge of crap’ (via Doc Searls Weblog)

Gretchen Shirm: The push: product placement in fiction

Jay Rosen: When to quit your journalism job (via The Big Picture) (via The Big Picture)

Ryan Gantz: Bad community is worse than no community

Alisha Ramos: Reporters, designers, and developers become BFFs (via Pressthink)

Timothy Geigner: Librarians Are Continuing To Defend Open Access To The Web As A Public Service

Justin Peters: The Sony Emails Are Fair Game

Ricardo Bilton: 4 publishers that killed their comment sections in 2014 (via Marketing Land » Marketing Day)

John Koetsier: Mobile ad tech to 2017: App-centric, private markets, native ads, and closed loops

george tannenbaum: Writing copy.

Steven Englehardt: How cookies can be used for global surveillance

AdExchanger: The Publisher’s Guide To Domain Spoofing

Jeffrey Zeldman: Unexamined Privilege is the real source of cruelty in Facebook’s “Your Year in Review” (via One Foot Tsunami and swissmiss)

Mark Copyranter: IT’S THE END OF ADVERTISING CREATIVITY AS WE KNOW IT (and you should not feel fine).

RichardStacy: Organic social media is dead: but was it ever alive?

Posted Wed 31 Dec 2014 08:05:40 AM PST

QoTD: Abraham Lincoln

All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.

Abraham Lincoln

(Our computers, though...)

Posted Sun 21 Dec 2014 06:48:38 PM PST

Look who's beating the advertising business at the BS game.

I read Bob Hoffman's blog, and, fine, I have to agree that advertising has a certain amount of bullshit in it. But the sad news is that old-fashioned brand bullshit is losing out to web-scale Big Data bullshit. Seriously, ad people, you're getting beat by a bunch of computer programmers. That's weak. Our idea of bullshitting is stuff like Look at the the ROI to the company if you buy me a faster computer! We're just tech people, no formal training in any of this stuff. We shouldn't be able to out-bullshit anybody. But I guess that as soon as you throw TECHNOLOGY and STATISTICS into the mix, ad people are all, whatever you say!

Bwah ha ha.

How about a simple example of the kind of thing that gets through?

I'll start a used car lot, and hire a statistician. She stands around with a clipboard and watches the people who walk in. 20% of the people kick at least one tire. Out of the tire-kickers, 10% end up buying a car. Out of the rest of the people, only 1% end up buying a car. So, out of every 1000 visitors:

20: kick a tire and buy a car.

180: kick a tire and don't buy a car.

8: don't kick a tire, buy a car anyway.

798: neither kick a tire nor buy a car.

What do I do with this information besides sell 28 cars? Maybe, not much. But let's say I need to hire my nephew. So he comes in to work and starts handing a live rat to everyone who kicks a tire. Now, half of the people who get a rat just run away.

100: kick a tire, get a rat, run away.

10: kick a tire, get a rat, buy a car.

90: kick a tire, get a rat, don't run away but don't buy a car.

8: don't kick a tire, buy a car anyway.

798: neither kick a tire nor buy a car.

Now, are the rats a good idea? If you want to go by common sense, probably not. I'm selling 18 cars instead of 28. But let's say the nephew and the statistician work together to justify the rats. The statistican can do multi-touch attribution on car sales. How does that work?

Simply speaking, channels that appear more often in converting paths than to no-converting paths receive a higher weight, which in turn allows them to claim more conversion credits and thus revenue.

By multi-touch attribution, the rat plan is a huge win. There are 18 converting paths and there's a rat on 10 of them.

So, did I convince you that we should be handing out rats to more customers? Probably not. But use real-world messy data, dress it up with a few more graphs and some more mathematical-sounding language, and make the rats digital? Hell yeah.

Posted Sat 13 Dec 2014 07:29:11 AM PST

Thought Leader Insights

Thought Leader Rob Rasko writes: One of the greatest fears publishers face is an impending loss of revenue, based on the spread between what they earn selling their premium inventory and what they earn from programmatic. In some instances, the delta between publisher premium and programmatic can be as great as ten to one; in other words, some publishers’ programmatic ads are earning only ten percent of what their premium counterparts earn. Since programmatic is here to stay...

Too much corporate speak. Let's see if we can find someone who puts it more clearly. This is my neighborhood. You and your friends have to show me a little respect, ah?....You should let me wet my beak a little.

Adtech proponents don't say it like that, though. It's not adtech people wanting to take web publishing's ad revenue away on their own initiative. Programmatic is here to stay and it's all INEVITABLE because of TECHNOLOGY and stuff. How about that Internet, disrupting the economy again? What can you do?

This is, of course, bullshit. The mess that web ads are in, where adtech destroys more value than it captures, is a matter of economic gamesmanship, not technological inevitability. Like all long-running varieties of bullshit, the adtech variety depends on different qualities to get past different people. It beats regular marketing people's filters by having just enough math in it to scare them. It gets past the technology people by appealing to one of the oldest, most deeply held IT biases: if it was hard to write, and technically elegant, it must be good. (Ever notice how so many tech people automatically say better ads instead of more targeted ads even when targeting reduces a medium's value?) Finally, the people with the best chance of detecting adtech bullshit—journalists who cover business and the web—are kept looking the wrong way by their own pride in the editorial/advertising firewall, which is ordinarily a good thing.

So what's the answer? Let's look at the chart.

Print is moving down and to the left. It'll be too small for analysts to bother tracking within a few years. Mobile is moving to the right, and a little up. All the web has to do is let mobile take over the bottom right corner, which it's on its way to doing, and move up and a little left to get out of the way and take print's old niche.

That depends on fixing third-party tracking, though. Maybe, if we can somehow get all the Thought Leaders to focus on native apps while the web quietly fixes its trackability issues, it'll be fixed before anyone knows it. Especially if publishers can give the audience a little nudge.

Bonus links

Leslie Anne Jones: Trapped between Yelp and a hard place

Alana Semuels: Is There Hope for Local News?

Rance Crain: Is Consumer Tracking the New Advertising?

News: Cleaning Up the Ad Clutter

Baekdal Plus: The Four Laws of Privacy - (by @baekdal)

John McDermott: Google’s display advertising dominance raises concerns

Lucia Moses: Inside T Brand Studio, The New York Times’ native ad unit (via Mediagazer)

Judy Shapiro: It's Time to Balance the Tech-Human Element in Marketing

Ruben Bolling: Richard Scarry's Busy Town in the 21st Century (via

Dan Gillmor: When Journalists Must Not Be Objective (via Dan Gillmor)

Samuel Gibbs: Europe’s next privacy war is with websites silently tracking users (via Techrights)

Mark Wilson: TMI Is The Future Of Branding

george tannenbaum: Mike Nichols and Digital Natives.

Tom Philpott: Brazil's Dietary Guidelines Are So Much Better Than the USDA's

rhhackettfortune: How online pharmacy spammer organizations really work (via Krebs on Security)

Jim Edwards: Google's New Ad Strategy Could Delay A Bunch Of Tech IPOs (GOOG) (via VentureBeat)

Ben Goldacre: When data gets creepy: the secrets we don’t realise we’re giving away

Zach Wener-Fligner: Google admits that advertisers wasted their money on more than half of internet ads

Barry Levine: With Big Data, where’s the magic in marketing? - latest science and technology news stories: Unlike humans, monkeys aren't fooled by expensive brands

Posted Sat 06 Dec 2014 09:24:34 PM PST

Figure 1

Well, "Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful" has a graph now.

This is what happens when you take the ad spending vs. user time data from each year's edition of Mary Meeker's Internet Trends report.

What is it about print advertising that makes it so much more valuable per user minute than web or mobile advertising?

Why has web advertising stayed in roughly the same spot even as the amount of processing power being thrown at the problem of matching users to ads increases?

Why is mobile, the most targetable medium of all, even crappier than the web?

Posted Thu 04 Dec 2014 08:53:09 PM PST

Nifty tech delivers ineffective crap at incredible speed!

Andy Oram: A small technological marvel occurs on almost every visit to a web page. In the seconds that elapse between the user’s click and the display of the page, an ad auction takes place in which hundreds of bidders gather whatever information they can get on the user, determine which ads are likely to be of interest, place bids, and transmit the winning ad to be placed in the page. (How browsers get to know you in milliseconds)

Bob Hoffman: The rate of clicking on banner ads is so tiny, that for a media genius to deliver the 100 clicks she promises a client she has to buy over 100,000 impressions. And so, in trying to achieve goals, an enormous amount of ads must be bought. And splattered all over everything we are trying to do online. Also, because they are so ineffective, they are ridiculously cheap. And they keep getting cheaper. The result is that every creepy company in the world can afford these things and annoy the shit out of us with them. (Display Advertising is Poison)

Hold on a minute. Online display ads are terribly ineffective, despite all the bleeding-edge technology being thrown at them?

Close. But not despite. Because.

Posted Wed 03 Dec 2014 07:13:48 AM PST

Who's taking all the online ad money? (it's not me)

Chris Sutcliffe says publishers are losing out to adtech: Vox may have both innovative ad formats and significant scale, but traditional display isn't seen as especially exciting in a world where Google, Facebook and ad tech firms are taking home most of the money. (Why has Vox Media been valued at less than half of BuzzFeed?)

Michael Eisenberg says adtech firms aren't making much, either: Adtech and ad networks are equally fragile as they are completely dependent on publishers (many of whom themselves, as Adam points out, are dependent on Google and Facebook.) (A Call to Israeli Engineers! Adtech Is Not For You.)

What if they're both right?

What if the money in online advertising is vanishing not because the publishers are making off with it, or because adtech firms are making off with it, but because the valuable parts of advertising are being just plain destroyed online?

What if web ads as we know them are just the digital equivalent of Windshield Flyer Guy? Checking out the car, leaving a flyer. And failing to send a brand-building signal. Targeting destroys signaling power, so adtech firms, and publishers, are fighting over a pool of money that gets smaller as they get better at grabbing it.

John Broughton explains: From the point of view of an advertiser the biggest problem with ad tech (programmatic as it’s called by advertisers) is that it, and the internet at large, is not currently setup to deliver brand advertising. At all. (How will brand advertising work? )

That old browser bug, the flaw in cookie handling that enables tracking and prevents signaling, is costing us a lot, isn't it? Time to talk about the necessary steps for fixing it , for both brands and publishers.

Posted Mon 01 Dec 2014 10:08:40 PM PST

Unpacking privacy

Maybe the word "privacy" has something in common with the "freedom" in "free software". Privacy is a big heavy word, with too many meanings to be be a good part of a business message. Some free software people handled their version of the problem by coming up with the open source brand, to help close deals without having to have a big conversation about freedom. Maybe what we need today is something similar, a name for a subset of privacy that's worth money.

The big place to cash in is display advertising on the web. The money in advertising is in signaling, not direct response. And an ad medium can optimize for response rate or for signaling power, but not both. So there's clearly a small part of "privacy" that has cash value: for publishers and brands on the web, the quality of having an audience rather than a set of database records, the chance at making web ads work like magazine ads, not like the "windshield flyers" they are today.

Before the emergence of the "open source" brand, people kept having "software freedom" vs. "commercial software" arguments. But the problem wasn't freedom on one side against business on the other. The framing around open source made it clear that some kinds of commerce work better when market participants have some kinds of freedom.

Today, "people want privacy" sounds to me like "people want freedom" and "people want data-driven services" sounds like "people want software functionality." That's a recipe for wasting a lot of carpal tunnels on having two different arguments, threaded together. We need a new word for the economically helpful aspects of privacy, so that we don't have to argue about a word that's just as complicated as "freedom" every time we want to implement a subset of it.

(We do need to keep talking about freedom and privacy sometimes, even though they're hard words. But just as we can have better Internet freedom conversations when we can show examples of corporate-supported free software, I mean open source, we'll also be in a better position to talk privacy when we can point to whatever the new word for a subset of privacy is projects that work in the interests of publishers and brands.)

Publishers and brands can both use whatever the new word is. Publishers first. When ad networks can track the same user from expensive sites to cheap ones, and agencies buy impressions based on who the ad networks say the user is, then high-value sites (the ones that invest in original content) are stuck in the business of selling the same impressions as lower-value sites.

Once the ad networks have a user labeled as a "car intender", then some low-end site can show him a cheap cat GIF and get paid to run a (relatively) high-value car ad on it. Makes it harder for the sites that actually review cars. Content sites lose, and intermediaries win.

The question then is, why do high-value sites participate in user tracking at all? Why not just run only first-party ads? There's some research on that. The problem is that if the medium is targetable, then the best strategy for an individual site is to do targeting, even if (because of the signaling value of its content) the site would do better in a system where no user could be targeted. When we stop thinking about privacy as a big, complicated, hard concept, and try to break out some kind of Minimum Viable Privacy, just enough to protect that "car intender" from site to site tracking, then ways out of the race to the bottom start to present themselves.

For example, high-quality sites could be encouraging users to install anti-tracking tools, to make those users less targetable anywhere. This would reduce revenue in the short term for the high-quality sites (by making inventory disappear) but have a much more dramatic effect on the lower-quality sites that are only viable because of targeting. For brands, the case for helping and encouraging customers and prospects to protect a subset of "privacy" is even stronger. Just need a word for it.

Posted Sat 29 Nov 2014 09:59:05 PM PST


Complexity in organizational structures and agreements between people can hide information about what is the right thing to do.

The obligation to do the right thing, however, is conserved, passed through and divided among every participant in an organization or every party to an agreement.

This is the best reason I can think of, so far, to look for simplicity in organizations and in the terms of agreements.

Posted Sat 29 Nov 2014 10:22:27 AM PST

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