I don’t run ads here and there’s a really simple reason for that: I have the luxury of not needing to. This blog is one of my longest running hobbies and whilst the cost to me is non-zero in terms of time and actual cash I’m willing to eat both those costs simply for the love of it. There is a point where I’ve told myself that I’ll start running ads (that’s the point where I can make a living off doing this) but that’s somewhere in the order of 50 times the traffic I’m receiving today. Not an impossible goal really but certainly a long way off from where I currently am.
It’s for that particular reason that I don’t run ad blocking services on my browser. You see for the most part I don’t even really notice the ads unless they start forming obvious patterns or have obnoxious auto-playing music and I figure that as a fellow content creator I understand their reason for being there. Even though I don’t usually click on them I know that the author is getting at least some kind of reward for providing that information for free to me, even if it’s not much. I completely support everyone else’s freedom to block ads as they see fit however as I know that overall they’re in a minority and they won’t be the death of free online content any time soon.
Then I read this article titled “How Much Would You Pay to Never See an Online Ad Again?” thinking that it might be some new inventive start-up idea like Flattr which would be working with publishers in order to get rid of advertising on their site. AdTrap is in fact quite the opposite being a hardware device that sits between your modem and router (it actually necessitates that configuration which rules out people using integrated devices) that works to remove ads before they reach your browser. Taken at face value the marketing makes it sound like a pretty fantastic device given all the features it’s touting (many of which are not born of it, simply of the way it connects into your existing infrastructure) and it can be yours all for the low price of $120.
Now granted I had some idea in my head of what AdTrap was (care of the title of the article that led me to it) so it’s possible some of my angst directed towards this product is born of that but I’m not totally on board with the idea of paying someone else in order to block ads. It’s one thing to provide that kind of technology for free, that’s kind of expected on the Internet, but building a business around denying revenue to content creators doesn’t sit right with me. I’d be much more on board with being able to pay people directly in order to remove ads, a la Reddit Gold, rather than some 3rd party who isn’t really doing anything for the content creators with their product.
In the end I guess it doesn’t really matter that much as again the number of users who actually end up buying one of these things will be in the minority and won’t have any meaningful impact on revenue. I guess I just take issue with people profiting from such an endeavour as the motives then change from being simply altruistic to maximising their revenue at the cost of other’s. I’m not going to go on some crusade to try and take them down however as the market will be the final judge of it and if the people want something like this then it was inevitable that it would be created.
Many moons ago I was checking out GoPros for the upcoming Tough Mudder event because I wanted to record some first person perspective footage, much like many of the other participants did. Of course this entailed me actually going to the GoPro website and checking out their wares which, after careful consideration, lead me to lust after the most recent model. Since it was still a fair way out from the event I hadn’t planned to grab one then and there so I bookmarked the model I wanted and then proceeded to go about my usual browsing activities. Only something had changed in the time between my first visiting the GoPro site and leaving it and it wasn’t the first time I’d noticed such behaviour.
Indeed I wrote about this at the start of the year when my thinking was along the lines of these being the highest CPC ads that the network could deliver at the time but I’ve started to notice similar behaviour on other sites. Amazon for instance routinely sends me a list of items that I might be interested in which is actually a service that I’ve opted in for (my traditional means of product discovery are quite laborious). However I couldn’t help but notice that every single product that Amazon recommends to me are things that I’ve either searched for on the site previously or even products I attempted to buy from them only to be told that they wouldn’t ship them outside the USA. It seems really strange as they seem to be able to recommend other products on their site without too much trouble but with anything else it seems they’re left dumbfounded.
So this got me thinking, all these analytical engines out there, which are apparently the magic sauce behind all of these targeted advertising systems, must be spectacularly crap. I’m not the most private person I’m constantly spamming this blog, Twitter and Facebook with all manner of inane stuff I’m interested in so its not like there isn’t a whole lot of data these guys could be pillaging in order to figure out what they should be peddling to me. Indeed Google has the poorest excuse of the lot of them as I browse through a logged in Google Chrome and search whilst logged into my Google account. Still their algorithms seem to be heavily weighted to advertise things to you that you’ve already seen which, at least in my case, seems counter to what you’d want to do.
The flip side of this is that I’m somehow not giving out information for these things to be able to make accurate recommendations which I just don’t believe is the case. Amazon and Google have a treasure trove of information related to my searching, viewing and buying habits and yet I rarely see advertisements or recommendation for things like cameras, supplements and tech gadgets all of which can be high value/high margin sales. I could just have the blinkers on for the text ads (I rarely read them any more, but the graphical ones do catch my eye) but I highly doubt that’s the case.
Facebook is probably the one who gets it the closest as whilst there was a long period where they were simply allowing targeting based on someone’s likes it does seem to do a rather good job of inferring what I would be interested in without referring to it often. You could argue that’s because it has a deeper insight into me thanks to the tendency for people to share details they wouldn’t otherwise on that particular network but there’s not really much more on there than anywhere else, certainly not for Google.
This could all be an artefact of my better-than-average memory which remembers things like this. It’s quite possible that the vast majority of people do in fact do the majority of their product discovery themselves and simply forget about it which means that kind of targeting would be effective. Indeed when I’ve talked about this phenomena with other people I’m usually met with blank stares as they don’t seem to notice any trends like this. Whatever it is every time I notice it I get pushed just a little closer to installing AdBlock, even though I want to keep supporting sites who pony up their content free. That irritates me as I shouldn’t have to make that kind of decision if these algorithms were doing their job properly.
I’m probably one of the few geeks that doesn’t try to aggressively block all the ads that come to them via the Internet. I don’t find the majority of them intrusive to my browsing, especially if they’re the typical Google text blocks that sit nonchalantly beside the other wall of text that I’m staring at. Even the video ones, well mostly the ones on video sites like YouTube, are pretty tame and if they’re overly long you’re usually able to skip them after 10 seconds or so. My primary reason though is that I know that these ads support the websites that they’re on and the least I can do is let them show them to me.
I often get asked why I don’t run ads here on The Refined Geek. For the most part it’s laziness as the way I want to show ads isn’t exactly simple to set up. If I was going to show ads now I’d only want to show them to a subset of my readers (people coming here from searches and those who haven’t commented) and there’s no simple solution for that. Additionally right now I’m not really getting enough visitors to justify it as hosting this blog is cheap and I’m not exactly struggling financially. Once I reach a certain threshold of readers though you might see ads that are there to keep the site running, but that’s a little way off for now.
However recently I’ve noticed a trend with the ads that get presented to me. They’re all the damn same.
Now I do a lot of Googling, almost all of it when I’m logged in under my Google account. This means that Google knows quite a lot about me, enough to serve me some pretty targeted ads. In the past they’ve actually been helpful in tracking certain things down, especially if I’m looking to purchase something. However lately I’ve noticed that for certain sites I’m only getting served the exact same ad over and over again. This isn’t a caching issue or anything like that because it follows me between work and home. The most annoying part of it too is that I’m getting products advertised to me that I was already interested in buying or have already bought.
I have 3 examples of this which is what has made me think there’s something more to this than just dumb luck. The first I noticed a couple months back when I did a search for synthetic diamonds, wanting to see how far they’ve come in the past couple years. Now on certain sites all I’ll get is an ad for a particular online diamond store, over and over again. The second was for the GoPro HD Hero 2, a great little camera that I’m looking to take with me when I do Tough Mudder in just over 6 weeks. The third and final one is for Fat Gripz, an exercise accessory that came recommended to me from my brother in-law. I’d say about 50% of the ads I see online are these and they’re getting to the point where I want to block them entirely.
The explanation behind this is mostly likely that these are the highest paying ads that the site can display when I visit the site. The way AdSense works is that advertisers bid for the space by putting up their cost-per-click price and then Google will show the best ad for the slot. The diamond store, GoPro and Fat Gripz likely have high CPCs due to their products having a decent margin in them (Fat Gripz especially) and thus they can afford to pay a lot more than others to get the same advertising space. Still you’d think after I’ve seen the ad 100 times and not clicked on it they’d get the idea and start rotating out other ads, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
This is mostly just me whining about something that’s not much of an issue but as someone who’s trying to be a good netizen I feel like I’d hope my experience wouldn’t be bad enough to turn me to blocking them completely. Reddit et. al. gets this with many of the ads being rotated out for thank you pictures for those of us not running ad block. It’s not much but it does go a long way to help stem the flow of people to using things like AdBlock Plus. For now I’ll probably leave everything as is but if this trend continues I’ll soon be joining the ranks of my ad-block brethren.
Adobe and Apple haven’t been the best of friends for a while now. Whilst many of their products are still considered some of the most top of the line applications available on the OS X platform Apple couldn’t be more hostile to their most popular product: Flash. Now this isn’t without good reason as Flash has a terrible tendency to be abused by sloppy developers (most of the time ad networks) who can even bring a full blown desktop PC to its knees. Keeping Flash out of their handhelds meant fewer headaches for them and forced the hand of many companies to rethink their use of Flash, lest they draw the ire of the iOS browsing crowd.
Whilst there was a good few months of to and fro between these two companies last year it all subsided once Apple capitulated to the developer community that raised concerns over Apple’s wide reaching policy on cross platform libraries. This seemingly opened up the door that Apple had shut in Adobe’s face, enabling them to create a product that could convert Flash files into a more iOS friendly format. A couple days ago they announced the first iteration of the product, called Wallaby:
Welcome to the Wallaby Technology Preview. Wallaby is an application to convert Adobe Flash Professional CS5 files (.FLA) to HTML5. Wallaby has a very simple UI which accepts as input a FLA file and exports HTML and support files to a user-selected folder. There is also an option to launch the default application assigned for the .html extension.
The announcement has, of course, caused quite a stir in the tech community. Most of them focus on the fact that Wallaby was designed with only one purpose in mind: to get Flash banner ads working on iOS devices. As such Wallaby is pretty limited in the functionality it provides, being unable to convert things like ActionScript which enable things like Flash based games. Of course this also raises the issue that Flash is most often abused by advertising agencies with poorly coded banner ads being one of the main culprits. Whether or not badly coded ads in Flash translate into bad (or worse) ads in HTML5 remains to be seen, but I can’t see how they could get any better.
Realistically the issues that many people associated with Flash aren’t really caused by it. More it is those who use the platform that are to blame for the troubles that many people encounter with it. This is why I didn’t understand Apple’s position on Flash in the first place. Sure there are many banner ads out there that can make your web experience a browsing hell but banning one technology simply drives those same people to look for other platforms, it won’t magically make them better developers overnight. Wallaby is a great example of this as those same people that created poor performing Flash ads can now do the same in HTML5. In the end Apple is merely delaying the time in which it takes for the same problems that plagued Flash to come to their iOS platform. Google I feel has is on the right track to solving this problem, tightly integrating Flash into their products so they can tune it properly.
It does show that Adobe doesn’t believe the future is still with their Flash platform and the gears are in motion to transition to the new world of HTML5. There’s a reason why Flash has been such an integral part of the web for so long and it’s simply because Flash gave the best tools for non-technical users to create rich content for the web. Whilst they’ve come rather late to the mobile boat they are one of the few companies that has the momentum and devoted user base to make the switch successfully. I’m sure many people will see this as them “capitulating” to Apple’s demands but in reality its anything but and I’m sure they’ll eventually dominate the HTML5 space just as they’ve done in the past with Flash.
Let me just come right out and say it: I like Twitter. Granted I only really got involved with it in the first place as it was a useful little bit of glue logic that let me cross post my blog onto Facebook with a minimum amount of set up. Whilst I was on honeymoon on Turtle Island it became the perfect one-way communication channel to the wider world, where I could send a 140 character summary of the day back to the real world and then be done with it. More recently I’ve been knee deep in Twitter’s API and have come to love it for the sheer simplicity it offers, ensuring that the first bit of code I deem “done” is always my Twitter integration. Still I’ve always had a skeptical eyebrow raised as to how these guys are going to capitalize on their endeavour, seeing as they are the 12th most visited site in the world.
For the most part they’ve been doing what most start ups do initially, venture capital funding rounds. Whilst there’s no exact figures around we do know they’ve got upwards of $70 million dollars in 3 separate funding rounds (with an additional $100 million rumoured to be in the works too). Couple that with the cash injections from Microsoft and Google to include tweets in their search results (to the tune of $25 million) the guys at Twitter really aren’t strapped for cash by any stretch of the imagination. However without some strategy to actually monetize the service they provide that money will only last so long before they have to close up shop. The usual strategy here is to try and find a large company to buy you out (ala Youtube, what you thought it was profitable?) which in the case of Twitter there would be no shortage of potential suitors.
Earlier this evening, we broke the news that Twitter was about to launch its new ad platform. The news has just been confirmed: moments ago, the New York Times published a report detailing the new platform, which is officially being called “Promoted Tweets”. Update: AdAge has published a report as well.
Here are the details outlined in the articles:
- As we previously described, the new system serves up ads based on keywords in Twitter search queries.
- Promoted Tweets will appear at the top of the search results page, with small text indicating they were sponsored. The Times piece notes that companies could use this to combat negative tweets (they can place a positive tweet at the top of the page)
- A Promoted Tweet isn’t guaranteed to stay afloat for a long time — if the tweet isn’t tracking well in terms of replies, clicks, and a number of other metrics Twitter is calling “resonance”, it will be pulled, and the advertiser won’t pay for it.
- One ad will be shown at a time
- Initial ad partners include Best Buy, Virgin America, Starbucks, and Bravo
- Advertisers will be paying on a CPM basis initially, with plans to adjust the model once Twitter can better gauge how people are engaging with Promoted Tweets
Anyone who’s tried to make some cash on the Internet can recognise what this basically amounts to, it’s Google’s monetization strategy all over. For the uninitiated there are two sides to Google’s (largest) revenue stream: AdWords and AdSense. The former is basically a market for advertisers to buy advertising space on certain keywords which could appear on Google’s search results or web pages running AdSense. Payment is done on a cost-per-click basis so in essence you only pay when someone clicks through. AdSense is the other side of the equation which is the system where publishers can reserve space on their web sites for advertising which Google then populates based on the keywords it finds on the website. If you go back and take a closer look at Twitter’s ad system you’ll notice how similar they look.
Honestly though I’m not suprised. Unlike small time players that can get away with slapping some advertising on their blog and calling it a day it doesn’t really scale up to the size of something like Twitter. Sure they’d make a fair amount out of it but it would be peanuts compared to them actually going out directly to advertisers and cutting deals directly. With their initial partner list showing some rather big names you can see that this has probably been bubbling away in the background for quite some time and shows a lot more promise than some of their other monetization ideas did.
The system itself apparently is already in full swing for a lucky few (see here for how they roll out new features, its quite cool) and seemed to coincide with a bit of a revamp of their landing page. The reaction hasn’t been all that positive but you’d expect that. It seems some of the twitterati (or tweeple, as I like to call them) assigned a kind of indy rock band persona to Twitter and when they finally decided to “sell out” it comes as a massive shock. However I believe it will be a very short lived outrage as even the closest competitor identi.ca has no where near the same amount of traction that Twitter does. Additionally should there be a mass exodus from Twitter you can guarantee the other services will look to monetize like Twitter as quickly as they can in order to cope with the increased traffic they’d receive. You can only run on venture capital for so long before the benefactors start looking to get their slice of your service’s pie.
Personally though it’s a bit of a non-event. It won’t change the way I use Twitter and since I’m not exactly a big shot on there I’m not going to be looking to capitalize on this new advertising medium. It’s good to see Twitter finally coming up with a solution to their monetization problem and I’m sure the VCs are rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect at finally getting something back for the untold millions they’ve pumped into the Internet’s latest starlet. I’m very keen to see how this affects their bottom line, and time will tell if this will turn Twitter into another advertising giant like their big daddy Google.