Recent blog entries for dmarti

Why I'm not signing up for Google Contributor (or giving up on web advertising)

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 don't tear ads out, 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 different? Why do people treat web ads more like email spam and less like offline ads? The faster we can figure out the ad blocking paradox, the faster we can move from annoying, low-value web ads to ads that pull their weight economically.

(More: Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful)

Syndicated 2014-11-22 16:34:02 from Don Marti

Round-up for your future?

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.

Syndicated 2014-11-21 15:30:56 from Don Marti

Interest dashboard?

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 is vintage Internet woo-woo that will fly with real advertisers about as well as, I don't know, CueCats.

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 advertisers rightly don't care what I'm interested in? They care what I'll actually buy. (burritos, coffee, and adapters for connecting one computer thingy to some other computer thingy.)

The "users will take control of advertising" fantasies are just as silly as the "Big Data will enable ads that don't have to pay for decent content" fantasies from the other side.

We had an advertising model that worked, based on signaling by supporting content. Mozilla can still help us fix Internet advertising by fixing their privacy bugs, left over from Netscape days. The brokenness of Internet advertising is because of flaws in things that the browser needs to get right, not because of missing features.

More on all this: Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful

Syndicated 2014-11-12 14:14:15 from Don Marti

Audience snatching example

This is why we can't have nice things, service journalism edition.

Chris O'Hara writes: In the open market, a 30-year-old male car intender costs the same whether you find him on Cars.com or Hotmail.

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.

Syndicated 2014-11-08 14:24:33 from Don Marti

Journalists

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 best. 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, instead.

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.

Eric Picard writes,

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.

I'm going to give you three suggested moves. But it's up to you. At least get in the game.

  • You have to learn privacy tech anyway, so take a few extra minutes to learn the economics of how user tracking affects your own business.

  • Try an anti-tracking tool. Not just a general-purpose ad blocker, but something that specifically deals with the targeted ad problem. Disconnect and Privacy Badger are two that work for me.

  • 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".)

  • Address 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 positive externality. As far as I can see, it's the best shot at a respectable living.

Bonus links

Accidental equality: Three publisher take-aways from Facebook's results

Your Ad Ran Here (Not Really)

Big Data and me

Syndicated 2014-11-07 17:13:46 from Don Marti

If users don't care about privacy...

Another one from the "If users don't care about privacy, why is this even a thing?" department. (Previously: gas pump sticker, RFID protector )

Here's a page from a mailer opposing California's Proposition 46.

Prop 46
mailer

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.

Bonus links

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

Alltop RSS: Kyle and Stan Malvertising Network Nine Times Bigger Than First Reported

Darren: Some big hairy questions for advertising and marketing technology

Quinn Norton: "What Does Ethical Social Networking Software Look Like?" in The Message

Paul Scicchitano: Critics Say Big Data May Discriminate

Zach Rodgers: Under Pressure From Buyers, Fraud-Plagued AppNexus Girds For Battle

AdExchanger: Come Together: How The Advertising And Software Industries Are Converging

ronan: It’s Official: Consumers Are Just Not That Into Retargeted Ads

Syndicated 2014-10-25 14:31:46 from Don Marti

QoTD: Bob Hoffman

The addiction to targeting, which digital technology has only amplified, has derailed the advertising industry from concentrating on its real job—creating interesting messages.

Bob Hoffman

Syndicated 2014-10-23 12:21:47 from Don Marti

Snapchat ads and committing to non-targeting

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.

Syndicated 2014-10-18 12:11:52 from Don Marti

Susceptible to advertising?

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.

Kevin Simler writes, 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 Harmful

Syndicated 2014-10-10 15:43:07 from Don Marti

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