free html hit counter May 2014 | John Battelle's Search Blog

Programmatic Needs Context

By - May 27, 2014

Today Digiday published a piece I wrote about the lack of context in the display advertising marketplace. Check it out, I’ve posted it below as well for posterity.

Before the rise of programmatic buying and “audience retargeting,” most quality brand media was purchased based on a very particular contextual signal –- even if the market didn’t really call it that. Back then, “context” was code for a publication or television program’s brand, and for the audience that brand attracted. If you wanted to reach moms at home, for example, you’d buy Ladies Home Journal or the soap operas. If you wanted business executives, you’d put Fortune or Forbes on your plan, maybe with a dose of golf or baseball broadcasts.

Fast-forward to today, and programmatic has torn audience away from its contextual roots. Using programmatic tools, a media buyer can identify almost any audience segment they want with pinpoint precision – down to the exact cookie or data segment that matches a customer target. And for various reasons, including price, those audience members are targeted mainly on who they are, independently of what they are doing. Put another way, we buy audiences, but we aren’t buying the show they’re watching – we’re ignoring where that impression is served.

This is nuts.

After 20 years of chasing click through rates as a core metric for branded display advertising, we’re finally realizing that CTR is a race to the bottom. The ecosystem optimizes for clicks, and we lose the value of branding in the process. We’re making a similar mistake with audience buying. Exercised without context as a key signal, it’s a bad habit, one we need to change if we’re going to build brands using programmatic media.

Here’s why. When readers or viewers come to a site or app, they come for the experience – what I call “the show.” That show provides context to the reader – if they’re on a business site, they are there in the context of being a businessperson. If they are watching a home improvement video, they’re in the context of being a homeowner. They don’t know, and they don’t care, that they may also be carrying a cookie that identifies them as a “business executive” or a “stay at home mom.” Our current adtech ecosystem is stripped of most editorial context and driven by retargeting which focuses (for the most part) only on the cookie. So that person watching a video about business may get an ad for diapers if she’s visited a parenting site previously. And that woman watching the home improvement video? If she’s been segmented as an auto intender, she may get an ad from Ford.

This seems upside down.

Wouldn’t it be better if the ads matched the content? Or, at the very least, if the ads about diapers or cars understood the environment in which the ad was being shown, and adapted their creative accordingly (“Ford Trucks: Built for Home Improvement,” or some such).

That’s how it used to be, back when ads were bought and sold in a bespoke fashion by publishers’ ad sales forces competing on the quality of their content and the audience it attracted. And it’s how it could be again, given the wealth of contextual information available to marketers today. It’s not an either/or choice: It should be both. It’s well within the programmatic ecosystem’s reach to surface contextual information. Innovation is happening in the market with terabytes of data that allow readers from a situational as well as categorical basis. Soon we’ll be able to match the creative content with the context of the article –- think about the Ford example above where the ad could be served to the reader who was interested in home improvement — but we aren’t there yet.

Programmatic has forced a separation of editorial and ad space, and we’ve lost context as a result. It’s time to get it back – it’ll be good for quality publishers, good for brand marketers, and great for our industry.

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Else 5.19.14: I Too, Shall Be Forgotten (At Least By Europe)

By - May 19, 2014

Oh-Im-sorry.-I-forgot-I-only-exist-when-you-need-something.(image) If ever you wanted proof we are renegotiating our social contract in the Internet age, this week’s roundup of the best links provides plenty of fodder. Onwards…

The Myths & Realities Of How Of The EU’s New “Right To Be Forgotten” In Google Works - MarketingLand Google and other search engines will have to hew to new EU rules. But how they will be implemented is a big unknown. This looks to be a huge issue moving forward – what is a person’s right to ‘dignity’? In the US, it’s not much. In the EU, far more. But at what price to free speech?

Transparency Reports Database – Silk A roundup of the ever increasing number of transparency reports from digital companies subpoenaed by the US government. This promises to be one fat file a year from now.

Do You Have a Mission or…Are You *On* A Mission? On Being a NewCo - Searchblog NewCo is now accepting Host Company applications for Fall 2014 festivals. Please be a part of it!

The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win | Enterprise | WIRED At least there’s one game computers can’t win. Yet. A Peek Inside

Alibaba’s Ad Business, Courtesy Of Its IPO Filing - AdExchanger China’s knocking at the US’s door. Will the two cultures meld in the wild west of programmatic advertising? Should be interesting to watch develop.

How Tech Took a Bite Out of the Ad Industry – Advertising Age Remember the big speech by P&G’s CEO, warning what was about to happen to marketing? Ad Age does.

Google’s Game Of Moneyball In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence – ReadWrite If you want to corner the market on machine intelligence, hire all the AI researchers.

This is what comes after search – Quartz An overview of context based search, ruler of the mobile realm.

An ‘unstoppable,’ cataclysmic glacier meltdown is already underway – The Verge  And we thought we had more time. Yikes.

FBI Director says Chinese govt blatantly uses cyber-espionage to obtain economic advantages – NBC This should surprise no one. Come to think of it, neither should the glacier’s demise.

Do You Have a Mission or…Are You *On* A Mission? On Being a NewCo

By - May 15, 2014

A sampling of NewCos from our 2013 NYC festival.

 (Cross posted from the NewCo blog…)

About a year ago I wrote a piece outlining the kinds of companies we were looking for as we began the first full year of the NewCo festival circuit. Back then, NewCo was called “OpenCo,” and we were just starting to understand our mission of identifying and celebrating a major trend changing businesses everywhere. In a way, we were exploring a story that had yet to become fully expressed, and that post was my first attempt at declaring the narrative.

A lot has happened in the past year. We’ve thrown four more festivals – in LondonNew YorkDetroit and San Francisco. Thousands of people have experienced the working environment of hundreds of innovative companies in those cities. And just this week, we’re kicking off an expanded NewCo lineup – eight cities in all – repeating last year’s venues, and adding Amsterdam (happening now!), BoulderLos Angeles and Silicon Valley. So it’s a great time to revisit my post from a year ago, and once again ask the question – what makes a NewCo?

Well, we’ve given that a fair bit of thought. Last year, I noted that a new breed of company is emerging, one that takes “work” as more than punching a clock or doing a job. In fact, “work” can be much more – it can be a passion, a drive, a community, and a force for positive change. That’s why we intentionally use the metaphor of music in our language – sure, making music is a “job,” but it’s also an expression of joy, community, and kinship.

Anyone who has worked in a company we call a “NewCo” has experienced that vibe – working at a place where the music you make creates positive change for customers, partners, and your community. I certainly felt that happening at the places I’ve worked, and I see it every day in the companies I visit, and the companies who apply to be featured in NewCo festival events. Earlier this spring, we convened a small band of our own to sharpen our focus around “what makes a NewCo.” To start, we needed to lay out the big narrative of what’s happening in our economy. To wit:

Our world is at an inflection point – we are transitioning from a command and control economy to one that is networked and far more flexible. Driven by the central tenet of capitalism – profit – corporations have become one of the most powerful actors on the global stage. Besides government, no other institution in society has amassed as much wealth, power, and control as the corporation.

But at their core, corporations are just people. And over the past few decades, in parallel with the rise of the Internet, those people have begun a quiet revolution, redfining what a “corporation” can be.  A new kind of organization – one that measures its success on more than profit – has emerged. We call these companies “NewCos.” In a world driven by a deeply networked economy, NewCos are building a new, purpose-driven way of work, one that is more nimble, nuanced, and open than previous rigid and hierarchical models of business.

Out of that narrative came a number of core principles that guide our selection of NewCos in each market:

A NewCo …

-       Is on a mission. Sure, any company can have a mission, but a NewCo sees itself as on a mission to change the world for the better. NewCos embrace the profit motive, but are about more than making money.

-       Is driven by an idea. NewCos are about a big idea, one that drives their mission and purpose as an organization. NewCo people love to tell their company’s story – it’s a deeply felt part of their identity.

…and by people. The core of every NewCo are the people who comprise the organization, and the people it serves. A NewCo is never a “faceless corporation.”  It’s more like a band – a group of people coming together to create something that adds value to the world.

-       Is platform’d. The rise of the Internet Economy has meant that no company is an island.  We are all interconnected. NewCos are either platforms in their own right, and/or they understand how to participate in the platform ecosystem of open collaboration and considered data sharing. We call this being platform’d.

-       Trusts the open. The word “open” has many meanings, but for NewCos, “open” has a clear test: When faced with a choice between closed and controlling vs. a more sharing, open tack, a NewCo tilts toward the latter. This applies to much more than technology stacks – it is applied to partnerships, transparency, and community as well.

-       Is of the City. NewCos revel in the tapestry of cities – their pulse, their diverse communities, and their density of networks, information and humanity.

-       Gives to get. NewCos realize their value comes from serving their communities – their customers, sure, but also any community where the NewCo has an impact. NewCos believe you get back what you give to your community.  And when you’re truly connected to your communities, no one has the energy to be an assh*le.

-       Loves the work. NewCos are reinventing what work means and how its done. NewCos believe work can be joyous – it does not have to suck. NewCos view “work” as a positive expression of identity. To that end, NewCo workspaces are powerful expressions of a company’s identity.

I hope you can feel the music we’re trying to make here at NewCo, and if you are part of a company that vibes with what we laid out above, that you’ll consider applying to join the festival, opening your doors to partners, colleagues, and friends, and celebrating the change happening in our interconnected, global economy. Here’s to a new way of work!

Viacom v. Cable One: A Foreshadowing of Things To Come in The Battle for the Open Web?

By - May 07, 2014
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Viacom’s rather one-sided POV on why its blocked web access for Cable One providers. Image via @TheLadyH86

So it’s come to this.

We’re all familiar with disputes between cable providers and their content partners – it happens all the time. One party claims the other party is demanding too much in a carriage negotiation, and in retaliation, the offended party pulls the programming in dispute. It might be the programmer who refuses to allow its content to run, or the cable company who refuses to put it on the air. The last big one I recall was between Time Warner and CBS back in the Fall, when many major markets looked to be losing football coverage just as the season was starting.

To be honest I pay little attention to these disputes, just more big old media titans arguing over profits and old business models. Doesn’t affect the Internet, nothing to see here, move along.

Until I read this story, about another dispute between cable companies and content providers, this time Viacom (which owns CBS) and Cable One, a provider of cable television, phone, and Internet service in 19 US states. The impetus for this particular tussle was the same as all the others – Viacom wanted more money to run its shows on Cable One, Cable One balked, and Cable One (or Viacom, hard to say which) pulled Viacom programming. But this dispute is unique: Viacom retaliated by denying all Cable One Internet subscribers access to shows openly available on Viacom websites.

Let me repeat that: Viacom retaliated by blocking paying subscribers of Cable One’s Internet services from using Viacom websites. As far as I can tell, Viacom is identifying Cable One subscribers by their IP addresses, and then blocking those IPs from streaming any Viacom content on the web – despite Viacom’s willingness to stream those same shows to anyone else in the US with Internet access.

Let that sink in for a minute. A US corporation is blocking open Internet calls to the open web because the company providing that access is not paying Viacom enough money for Viacom’s television shows. The old world model of command and control in cable is seeping into the Internet. Ick.

What the fork**?

In one short and deeply insightful post this March, Fred Wilson explained the stultifying effects on innovation caused by the erosion of open access to the web by imagining a pitch between entrepreneurs and VCs in an era where net neutrality is rewritten by incumbents in the media and distribution world. Here’s one example:

Entrepreneur: I plan to launch a service that curates the funniest videos from all across the internet and packages them up in a 30 minute daily video show that people will watch on their phones as they are commuting to work on the subway. It’s called SubHumor.

VC: Well since YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix have paid all the telcos so that their services are free via a sponsored data plan, I am worried that it will hard to get users to watch any videos on their phones that aren’t being served by YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. We like you and your idea very much, but we are going to have to pass.

If what Viacom and Cable One are doing becomes standard practice, I can imagine such conversations getting even worse. We are all reaping the rewards, value creation, growth, and innovation of an open Internet. Let’s not let these practices stand.

**Maybe it’s time to teach Cable One’s subscribers about Firefox’s Modify Headers plug in….

 

Else 5.5.14: Stay Sober, My Friend (And Watch Your F8)

By - May 04, 2014
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Zuck + The Most Interesting Man In The World (courtesy MorphThing.com)

Cinco de Mayo on a Monday? What fresh hell is this? Just another week of links worth reading, if you care about the most muscular narrative in our beer-goggled world. Facebook (and Wired) dominated thanks to news from it F8 developer conference, but policy and politics were not far behind. To those links…

Beyond net neutrality: The new battle for the future of the internet – Vox

We are a long, long way past the cute Internet of the past, where each packet was as likely as the next to get to you on time. Which is sad, given we have the technology to keep it that way.

The Year of the Facebook – WIRED

Satire? Futurism? Fun. Required given the cozy stuff found in other portions of the magazine.

Apple, Facebook, others defy authorities, increasingly notify users of secret data demands after Snowden revelations – The Washington Post

Apple and Facebook really got this story right. Er, I meant to say, this story clearly got Apple and Facebook right. Wait, no, I meant to say, I don’t trust this story, but find it fascinating.

Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s Future, From Virtual Reality to Anonymity – WIRED

Levy has Facebook’s trust, to be sure. Mark sat with him to talk as F8 opened. Worthy read.

Facebook just made its boldest moves yet to become the Google of mobile apps – Quartz

Not. Going. To happen. But then again, I’ve been wrong before.

The Universe Is Programmable. We Need an API for Everything – WIRED

Man, Wired’s got some interesting stuff this past week.

Cyberlibertarians’ Digital Deletion of the Left – Jacobin

Shit, this piece is a slog. But if I understand it – and I’m not sure I do – it’s got a point – the left is letting cyberlibertarian claptrap define its agenda.

Carlota Perez: Self-Centered Tech Industry Needs to Wake Up – The Information

Now this I understood. Ivory Tower pronouncements abound. And they feel so good lashing our collective backs, don’t they?

Rupert Murdoch Tweet Questions Google’s Ethics, Twitter Dies From Irony

Google’s unethical, tweets the man whose minions hacked phones across Britain….

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