Older blog entries for dmarti (starting at number 477)

Real Advertising needs a voice

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation bills itself as "Smart Ideas for the Innovation Economy," but what they're putting out there is just a well-summarized version of the conventional wisdom on creepy adtech: The problem is that if users are not tracked, then websites cannot deliver targeted advertising. Instead, websites would only be able to use non-targeted advertising which does not generate as much revenue. Less revenue means less free content and services for Internet users. But privacy advocates are pushing forward, regardless of the consequences.

The conventional wisdom has two key points. First, more creepy stuff means more money for everyone. Second, users don't mind creepy—it's those scary elitist "advocates".

I believe they're wrong on both points. First, the idea that the whole industry can profit by going creepy. I don't doubt that individual ad campaigns can get better click-through rates when targeted. But targeting tends to fuel a race to the bottom for content, and a decrease in signaling power for the medium as a whole. Look at the end of the road adtech is taking, and you'll see email spam already there, funding no content and satisfying no users.

Second, the conventional wisdom says that irresponsible "advocates", not regular users, are behind demands for privacy tech. I wondered about the demand for web ad blockers back in 2009, when hardly anyone was using them. Ad blocking had been around for years as an easy-to-install browser add-on, much easier than a bunch of things that did catch on. But calling it a niche product would have been generous. Nobody did it.

Today, though, ad blocking is is over 9 percent, and spawning at least one startup to help sites deal with it. What changed? Three words: What They Know. This popular Wall Street Journal series started in 2010, and began explaining adtech practices to the public, well enough that the explanation stuck. And a lot of other mainstream media coverage followed. If you believe the conventional wisdom, we should have seen something like: 2009, hardly any ad blocking. 2010, the WSJ explains how well customized those ads are to you. By 2011, ad blocking should disappear, right? Why should I block what's relevant to me? Instead, the opposite happened. People discovered the extent of tracking, and ad blocking finally went mainstream.

In a way, ad blocking is following in the footsteps of spam filters, which were also niche for a long time before they became a must-have. We missed the opportunity to align privacy tech with laws and norms to help everyone, both users and legit advertisers. Shortsighted lobbyists at the DMA got CAN-SPAM passed, which helped the bottom-feeders (who probably don't pay for DMA memberships anyway) but made it a never-ending challenge for legit DMA members to get a legit email newsletter through.

There are a lot of details to work out about how the norms and protocols for online ads have to change, all the way up and down the stack, to support real advertising, and not just direct response. (Firefox is making progress, for example.) But starting with the conventional wisdom on creepy tracking will get us to the wrong place. The real danger here is that the policy conversation about Internet advertising is missing a voice. Somehow, the chair at the debate reserved for Advertising is not occupied by Advertising in general at all—it's been reserved by the vendors of specific creepy techniques.

Syndicated 2013-02-18 15:38:46 from Don Marti

QoTD: Bob Hoffman

Every day, Facebook has an audience that is three times the size of the Super Bowl's audience. That's every day, not just once year. Yet, in its entire history, not a single person has ever mentioned or discussed or remembered a single fucking ad they've ever seen on Facebook.

Bob Hoffman, Ad Contrarian

Syndicated 2013-02-04 14:24:59 from Don Marti

Notifications and Interruptions: out of style?

Is it just me, or is everyone getting really tired of synchronous communications channels such as IM and phone, and of software notifying them about things?

Steve Pavlina: Please Don’t Interrupt. When you interrupt someone, on average it takes them 23 minutes to get back to the original task, plus up to 30 minutes to return to the flow state so they can be fully productive again. Almost half of the time you interrupt someone, you’ll actually knock them off task completely, such that they won’t return to the original task right away when the interruption ends. You may think you’re only putting them on pause for a minute or two, but the actual break from the task that results from your interruption may be significantly longer.

Joel Gascoigne: Zero notifications: With zero notifications, I feel like I can get my head stuck into a problem much more easily than I did before. I never realised when I had those notifications on that they truly could throw me off my current thought and cause me difficulty getting that focus back. More than anything, I feel a lot calmer. Notifications create a sense of urgency around something that’s not important at all.

Terry Heaton: Bombardment anyone? The advertising industry assumes much in its practices, the biggest of which seems to be an inherent right to disrupt any experience of human beings in order to sell them something.

Stephen O'Grady tried Turning Off Email on his phone and tablet. Over the two weeks I was on break, the difference was startling. Most obviously, I was less focused on my devices, because when I picked them up, they had nothing new to hijack my attention. More subtle was the mental impact. Instead of a relatively constant stream of interruptions coming from inbound email, I checked sporadically, at times of my choosing. Instead of being jarred out of my vacation day by the arrival of an email that I might not have to act upon immediately but which I would unavoidably be turning over mentally while I was supposed to be on vacation, I simply went about the business of enjoying my downtime. It was refreshing.
My first day back from vacation, I debated whether to turn the sync back on. In the end, I did not.

John Scalzi's new voicemail greeting, in Killing My Voice Mail: Hi, this is John Scalzi. I will never ever ever ever listen to the voice mail you’re about to leave, because voice mail is a pain in the ass.

Harald Welte: Why I hate phone calls so much: It is simply impossible to get any productive work done if there are synchronous interruptions. If I'm doing any even remotely complex task such as analyzing code, designing electronics or whatever else, then the interruption of the flow of thoughts, and the context switch to whatever the phone call might be about is costing me an insurmountable amount of my productive efficiency. I doubt that I am the only one having that feeling / experience.

Russell Coker: Phone Calls and Other Distractions. I have configured my laptop and workstation to never alert me for new mail. If I’m not concentrating then I’ll be checking my email frequently and if I am concentrating I don’t want a distraction.

You can trace it all back to Paul Graham's Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule, right?

Or maybe we can trace it all the way back to Prof. Donald Knuth, who wrote, in 1990, Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.

I think we can do better than that. The best early example of the notification-driven life, IMHO, is the 1961 story Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

Syndicated 2013-01-20 05:51:14 from Don Marti

sudo yum update moo

Fedora 18 is out. I've been running it since it was alpha, since it seemed stable enough for the new ThinkPad, so not much change here since I first installed it.

Still on GNOME 3.6, which is fine for what I'm using it for. I have added a couple more extensions, though. Now running Applications Menu, Coverflow Alt-Tab, and Workspace Grid.

I haven't tried any of the interesting-looking cloud stuff in this release, but it might be an interesting platform to use to start experimenting with flexible, low-cost private clouds, too. For now, it's good on the laptop.

Syndicated 2013-01-16 05:52:03 from Don Marti

Sunday morning links: journals, robots, insourcing

AnnMaria De Mars explains the difference betweein using open access and non-open-access academic journals: I Purely Love Open Access Journals

Sebastian Marshall collects quotations from William James on habit.

Scott Adams: The Future of Middle Management. I predict that one of the first occupations that will be entirely replaced by robots will be middle management, not skilled labor.

David A. Banks at The Society Pages: State-Sponsored “Slacktivism”: The Social Media Campaigns of the IDF and Hamas

Charles Fishman at The Atlantic: The Insourcing Boom (print version)An exploration of the startling, sustainable, just-getting-started return of industry to the United States.

Kevin Drum for Mother Jones: America's Real Criminal Element: Lead. New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.

Catherine Bracy: Silicon Valley's Problem. Silicon Valley’s problem in a nutshell: crazed about Instagram’s ToS, not a peep about FISA reauthorization.

Syndicated 2013-01-06 15:17:47 from Don Marti

Where's all the legit spam?

Remember CAN-SPAM? This was the US Federal law that overruled state laws on email spam, some of which were strict, and cleared the way for advertisers to send all the spam they wanted, as long as they followed a few basic rules. It was a huge lobbying victory for the Direct Marketing Association.

Today, the data, the tools, and even the law are all there for advertisers to take full advantage of email spam. The CAN-SPAM debate is over. The Internet privacy nerds lost, and database marketing won.

So where is all the CAN-SPAM compliant spam?

After all, it seems like it should be a no-brainer. Spam has everything that's promising about adtech. Web ads promise targeting, but spam has been able to deliver it for a long time. Why aren't advertisers using it?

Let's go back and look at the potential of adtech. In Ad Age, Adam Lehman, COO and General Manager at Lotame, writes, With the enormous variety of information available through the Internet, I am able to do research on running shoes across diverse sources. Based on the interests I express through my research, I may be presented with downstream advertising offers, which I can take or leave.

The key word here is "downstream." Lehman goes to a running site and somehow expresses interest in shoes. Later, while he's browsing some other, possibly unrelated, site, an advertiser "retargets" him with a shoe ad. The "downstream" site can be running whatever the hell is the cheapest content that Lehman is willing to look at at all, because adtech magick will stalk, sorry, retarget him. That's the adtech Holy Grail. Instead of having to place ads on relevant content, an advertiser can chase the user onto cheaper and cheaper sites. (An example of this effect is the problem of ads showing up on infringing sites. When technology starts automatically searching for cheaper and cheaper places to run an ad, it inevitably connects with the Internet's bottom-feeders. But that's another story. If you're in adtech and not reading Chris Castle, the webmasters of skeevy rip-off sites are so far inside your OODA loop that you might as well not bother.)

Anyway, back to spam. What if you took adtech and turned all of its qualities up to 11? Exact user targeting? Sure. Email addresses are in marketing databases already. Save money on content? Can't get cheaper than free. Take every adtech concept and max it out, and you get email spam.

But what's wrong with that? John Battelle writes, It’s actually a good thing that we as consumers are waking up to the fact that marketers know a lot about us – because we also know a lot about ourselves, and about what we want. Only when we can exchange value for value will advertising move to a new level, and begin to drive commercial experiences that begin to feel right. That will take an informed public that isn’t “creeped out” or dismissive of marketing, but rather engaged and expectant – soon, we will demand that marketers pay for our attention and our data – by providing us better deals, better experiences, and better service. This can only be done via a marketing ecosystem that leverages data, algorithms, and insight at scale.

As they say on the Internet, d00d wtf? The first step in me getting a better deal is for the other side to have more information about me, and for me to be engaged and expectant about that? If that's true, advertisers should be able to (1) Dump the company accounting database as CSV (2) Upload it to Wikileaks (3) PROFIT!

Information asymmetries work in favor of the side with more information, and no hippy-dippy talk about "engagement" and "ecosystem" is going to change that. If you know enough about individuals, you can give better offers and service to the high-Whuffie customers, and rip off the rest. Or discriminate in other ways.

IBM is already offering a social analytics package for mobile carriers that will let them see how influential a customer is over the carrier choices of others. From there, carriers can easily partition the support tree into customers worth paying attention to and others. The open question is how close is the relationship between customer-avaiblable social metrics such as Klout and the internal scores. "I have to call support...better get my Klout above 50 or I'll be wasting my time."

But back to email spam. Which is the digital version of direct mail, which is the paper version of a cold call. The problem with that whole kind of communication is that it's based on extremely fine-grained data on the seller's side, and none on the buyer's.

An advertisement that's tied to content, in a clearly expensive way, sends a signal from the advertiser to the buyer. The extreme example here is an ad in a glossy magazine. It'll still be on that magazine years later, and every subscriber gets the same one. Almost ideal from a signaling point of view. The other extreme is a cold call, which carries no "proof of work" or signaling value. All the information is on the seller's side, so the cold call is of no value to the recipient.

Which is why users block email spam. It's worthless. Even spam that complies with CAN-SPAM is worthless.

Now look at web advertising. A web ad is neither magazine ad nor cold call, but somewhere in the middle. The key problem with adtech is that it's moving web ads further and further away from magazine-style, with signaling value, toward spam-style, with no signaling value.

It's no coincidence that as adtech gets "better," users are blocking more ads. If you crank up the targeting far enough, the ads start to carry so little signaling value that the web will become a refuge for bottom-feeder advertisers, the way email spam is today. Adtech's success would be a failure for advertising.

There is a better way, though. And print has it. Fine Homebuilding magazine is actually much more valuable to me because of the ads. I can skip or view them as I choose, and, more importantly, they convey valuable information to me about sellers' intentions to sell and support products. I'd prefer the magazine with the ads to the magazine without them.

We need to start making a distinction between adtech, which is creepy and wrong, and advertising in general. We seem to be going down the path that advertising on the Internet == creepy adtech. But advertising on the Internet in combination with technology and norms that respect privacy can be a good thing. After all, advertising is good for both buyers and sellers when it acts as a public signal of a seller's intentions. This has always been true but will become increasingly obvious as buyer-driven search improves.

So the hard part is making web advertising work more like print advertising. That's going to take good design and UX, and effective sales as well as privacy tech. It's past time to revisit some of the browser design decisions that affect privacy and cross-site tracking. During the dot-com frenzy, the industry made some bad decisions on how to handle third-party cookies and scripts in the browser. Today's browsers are a wretched hive of scum and villainy, privacy-wise. But that's starting to change. Tracking Protection Lists from MSIE are a promising start, and the Firefox scene has a confusing selection of extensions that implement some good privacy improvements that are looking increasingly likely to make it into the mainstream browser.

Online advertising will be worth a lot more when we outgrow creepy adtech. The question is how to allocate the costs of the privacy work—all advertisers will benefit, so it's a classic free rider problem. All advertisers would benefit by raising online advertising's signaling power, which reducing targeting capabilities would do, but a specific ad can perform better if user-targeted.

And even if de-creepifying advertising is the right thing to do, people aren't economically rational. So they don't value each other's freedom even when it's in their best interest economically to do so. Adam Smith: The pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors. Wherever the law allows it, and the nature of the work can afford it, therefore, he will generally prefer the service of slaves to that of freemen. This comes in The Wealth of Nations right after a long explanation of how free labor is preferable to slave labor from the POV of the employer/owner. We have to be realistic when thinking about adtech's appeal to conventional marketing decision-makers, who could easily prefer a tracked or locked-in customer to one with which the vendor might have a more profitable equitable relationship.

Anyway, that creepy feeling you get from adtech? That's your inner Homo economicus talking—listen up.

Syndicated 2013-01-05 15:17:20 from Don Marti

Sunday links: golden ears, parking, productivity

Do you believe in golden ears? Monty vs. Neil Young on audio codecs.

Paul Barter: Adaptive Parking in a Nutshell. Adaptive Parking aims to make our parking supply and behaviour less rigid and more responsive to changing contexts, including trends away from automobile dependence. By contrast, conventional parking policy tends to lock an over-supply of parking into the landscape, regardless of changing transport preferences and urban market trends.

Productivity advice from Hillary Rettig: “Scope Creep” will Poison Your Projects!

And do code review first, work async, don't keep checking email: Force Multiplying is a great set of productivity tips from Jared Wein at Mozilla.

And if you needed any more time-saving advice, here's Simon Doonan on Why the Art World Is So Loathsome. Thanks, now I don't have to keep up with Art.

And while I'm on a roll: Want to be happier? Stop watching mainstream news by Sebastian Marshall.

Christopher Mims for Quartz: Here comes the first real alternative to iPhone and Android So what makes this group of fewer than 100-odd Finns, most of them refugees from the sinking ship that is Nokia, think they stand a chance?

Blake Madden: PIPELINE: Surf Music’s Rocky Rise, Untimely Death, and Unlikely Return

Syndicated 2012-12-29 17:10:15 from Don Marti

Adtech: the end is near?

Tom Lowenthal on the Mozilla Privacy Blog: Being social with privacy in mind. Interesting approach between blocking all third-party tracking, privacy hawk style, and the wide open JavaScript and cookie security models that the current social marketing experts take for granted.

Meanwhile, it looks as if advertisers are getting the picture on privacy tech, quickly. Erin Griffith writes, if things keep going the way they have, many adtech startups may find their products are suddenly useless. (via Andre's Notes).

Privacy tech is rapidly going beyond "Do Not Track" to more sophisticated approaches—browser developers are finally fixing some of the bad assumptions about third-party content that the industry made back during the late-90s dot-com frenzy. (If you'd like a user-friendly preview of where the browser is going, try Ghostery. Privacy tech for people who aren't necessarily privacy nerds, just willing to put up with a little inconvenience.)

Why all the mainstream attention to privacy now? We can probably thank retargeting. When a pair of shoes that you looked at on one site starts "stalking you" across apparently independent sites, it's hard to miss. Alan Pearlstein writes, We collect a lot of anonymous data about every web surfer. No need to shove that fact in the consumer's face, it only freaks them out.

Pearlstein recommends taking a subtle approach, but it looks like the freak-out is already in full effect. Erin Griffith has it right: the industry needs to get ready for a post-adtech environment.

Yes, the adtech scene is still breaking new ground in creepiness and failing to understand that it's creepy at all. But it's starting to sound like the kind of consensus chatter that comes before the end. It's on the way out. And what's bad news for adtech is good news for advertising proper.

So why worry about advertising at all? One study by Ferdinand Rauch, Advertising and consumer prices, concludes, The aggregate effect is informative, which means that, on average, advertising decreases consumer prices. Advertising is good for the economy, overall. At some point we'll be thankful that browser makers have made the right moves to save it from creepy adtech.

Syndicated 2012-12-18 02:33:37 from Don Marti

Google Juice: the new signage?

Interesting comment from a Google review of Taqueria Cazadores (where I sit writing this, using the decent WiFi connection.)

Great food. I would never have heard of this place without Google maps.

Me either. Came up for me when I asked Google for [burrito] around here. So hooray for burritos and free wireless, but still pretty empty at the dinner hour.

I wonder what places the users of other search engines see. And I wonder if in the future there will be restaurants where everyone who walks in happens to have the same brand of phone.

Syndicated 2012-12-11 02:10:03 from Don Marti

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