Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for the ‘advertising’ Category

Who we are is what we follow

Posted by shannonclark on March 26, 2008

Robert Scoble says the secret to Twitter success is who you follow.

And I agree with him (though I only follow a fairly carefully selected ~170 people on twitter at the moment, that is growing every week.

But this post is not about that meaning of “follow”, rather I have a theory that is a bit broader, related to a past post of mine about Time & Attention.

This afternoon as I left my apartment and picked up my mail on my way out the door, I had a new issue of the New Yorker magazine waiting for me, as I took it out to take with me I had the thought “now I’m three weeks behind on my New Yorker reading” in short in the unit of time “unread New Yorker magazines” my count went up one to three (or four if you count an issue I “only” haven’t yet read the fiction story. I have been a New Yorker subscriber since college, reading almost every issue cover to cover, skipping only the event listings and for the most part the poems. And yes, that’s a lot of words and a fairly significant amount of time I’ve invested into appreciating the magazine.

Which got me to thinking – there is a group of fellow subscribers and readers of the magazine with whom the unit of measure “how many weeks worth of the New Yorker you haven’t yet read” would be a common bond. A bond of a unit of measure which in turn, is a bond that reflects something important about us – namely one shared aspect of what we pay attention to, what we follow.

At the moment March Madness is in full swing here in the US, a few days ago my friends were buzzing about setting up their “brackets” today my friends at times are complaining about their partner’s obsessions with the games (or about the wins and losses of the teams they selected). In contrast, however, I have paid almost no attention at all to March Madness, I don’t know who is winning or losing, who made it in, who was favored, or what has been happening in the first series of games. Here is a place where I am not following what a large number of my friends are following – either directly or indirectly as a result of their partners (I use partners to be gender neutral here).

But I am deeply aware of the political calendar, in the past few months I’ve been paying active and close attention to each primary election, and likewise a fairly large portion of my circle of friends has been doing the same – some of us working directly for a campaign, some following actively via Huffington Post, some via DailyKos, some like myself via Andrew Sullivan and some by more mainstream news sources. All of us also using various social mediums – twitter, facebook, email, our own blogs and podcasts, to help raise awareness and share stories and bits of news or speculation which we find compelling. In short with the US presidential election there is a strong and common thing many of my friends and I are following. And yes, some of us at least are long time political junkies, we did much the same things the past few election cycles.

For many people in the US and more broadly in the “Western” world this past weekend was Easter and one set of my friends and family was paying attention to that, preparing for the Holy Week celebrations, buying hams for Easter Sunday dinner, painting eggs and hiding them for their children etc.

For another set of my family and friends last week was Purim, a Jewish holiday and occasion for fun and drinking and the baking of Hamentashen.

I’m not religious so I was caught a bit unaware this year by Easter and by Purim. Made aware of Easter in fact by the signs in my neighborhood butchers shop that they would be open on Easter Sunday. Shopping at a local Safeway (large supermarket chain) I also noticed that Safeway had set up as they do each year a section of kosher for Passover products and across the way had their Easter candies and products. So naturally I assumed that Passover was also soon to happen.

In a call last week to my business partner, who is also Jewish but more practicing than I am, he informed me however that Passover this year is not until April due to the once every seven years additional month which is added to the Jewish Calendar to keep the lunar calendar generally in sync with the seasons so major holidays don’t fall in the wrong seasons.

I suspect, however, that someone at Safeway had some fairly simple set of rules for the buyers – when you start putting out the Easter products also start stocking Kosher for Passover items.

Via Twitter, though also via my friends blogs, Facebook statuses, personal emails and other communications I am noting even more acutely what (and at times specifically who) they are following, what Holidays they are celebrating, what conferences they are preparing for, speaking at, planning, what albums they are waiting to be released, what performances musical or otherwise they are attending or at times what they have just bought tickets to in advance. In short I can see the many ways in which what we are paying attention to overlaps and as interestingly more and more I can see some of the multitude of ways in which it does not overlap.

And via tools such as Facebook, Upcoming.org, and yes, Twitter, I can choose to start to follow, start to pay attention to some of the same things as my friends and I can signal out to them what I am following.

My shared stories on Google Reader, I suspect, paint a different picture of me than many people might assume. Via Google Reader for the past year I have, perhaps, mostly been signaling my political views – sharing a lot of stories from Andrew Sullivan, sprinkled with an occasional tech story. I do not, however, share everything that I am paying attention to, for instance, I don’t always share every story about advertising which I am reading and following – those instead I star for my own future reference, those I might share in a more manual fashion with my business partner or some trusted advisors.

At present I am a part of, following and paying attention to many different yet sometimes overlapping worlds. Professionally I am entering into the advertising world, so I am spending more and more time and attention following that world – and I need to find more and richer sources, subscribe to more print magazines and blogs, attend even more industry related events. I continue to be interested in the wider world of the Internet and “Web 2.0” and that too is a professional as well as personal interest, so I am aware of many of the upcoming conferences, read and subscribe to many related blogs, and frequently attend events. I’m also quite interested in the future of music and more broadly in the future of media and to that end I follow and participate in some industry discussions, attend events, read blogs, etc.

I’m also a science fiction fan of select TV shows, occasional movies but mostly of novels. So I’m also paying some attention to when various authors I like have books published, I attend a small set of science fiction conventions each year, and I am a fan of a few select TV shows (mostly Doctor Who and Torchwood). I am not, however, as tied into this world as many of my friends, friends who subscribe to monthly magazines (which in many cases they also publish and write for), friends who attend not the one or two conferences I attend but far more, friends who aren’t just fans of but are professionally engaged in the world of science fiction and fantasy.

And I could go on, I’m a foodie so I pay some attention to the weekly farmer’s markets, to restaurant openings and closings, to special events related to food, but I don’t follow it as closely as I might like. I missed, for example, that a major restaurant I had been told about a few months ago was finally opening this month in NYC, had I been paying closer attention I would have timed a trip to NYC in time to get to be there for the “friends and family” previews (my sister’s boyfriend is writing a cookbook with the chef so I’m fairly sure had I known to ask I could have gotten in, along with the “VIPs” for as one food blog called it the hottest ticket in town). Now I’ll have to try for a reservation along with everyone else each time I’m in NYC or might be.

My point with this post is to suggest that what and who we follow shapes us, it helps to define us in a very deep and powerful manner. Whether it is the calendar of events of our religion, or the publishing schedule of our favorite magazine, the rhythms of our lives are set by what we follow.

And in turn when our rhythm is in sync with that of another person the chance of our also being friends goes up. 

I would prefer, strongly prefer, to date a woman (and if you are reading this via a feed etc, I’m a man and yes, I’m single at the moment) with whom I had many overlapping rhythms. Though as well I would hope that we were not entirely in sync, that she would follow and pay attention to some things which would be new for me, and likewise that I might follow and introduce her to new events and sources. For that, I think, would be ideal – ongoing new discovery and mutual sharing of passions and interests. Over time we likely would overlap more and more – would schedule ourselves to do things together – but hopefully as well we would constantly be discovering the new as well – new people to suggest new ideas to us, new sources of information, even entire new fields of study.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, personal, politics, reading, time, working | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Heading to SXSWi – parties, networking and hallway chats

Posted by shannonclark on March 6, 2008

I fly out very, very early tomorrow morning (flight at 6am, leaving house before 4am). Like many of my travels, I have made the arrangements for this trip at the very last minute – I haven’t yet, in fact, registered, I’ll do that onsite when I get there tomorrow.

But then I’m not going to Austin for the SXSWi sessions – sure, I may stop by a few friend’s panels (or may not) and assuming I do get a pass I’ll spend some time in the exhibit halls and at the official parties.

However the reason I am going back to SXSWi is not for the formal conference. Rather I am returning for the chance to spend an intense 4+ days and nights with my peers across the geek/tech world. Friends have described SXSWi as “geek spring break” and there is certainly an element of that. If you want to spend the next four plus days seriously abusing your liver, that is certainly an easy (and popular) option.

For me, however, I am most looking forward to long conversations in hallways, conversations which start with one or two friends and quickly blossom into small groups. Last year powered in part by effective twittering groups of us roved from party to party or, at times, created our own parties when that evenings more official gatherings had ended, were full, or deemed not worth trying to get into. Most evenings (and many afternoons) this year I have parties to attend which friends of mine are organizing and hosting, but I expect to spend some part of most evenins in small group conversation.

My focus all weekend will be on discussing how new forms of advertising could work on the web – how the advertising that I want to deliver via my new company, Nearness Function, should work to offer the best value for individual users and for the developers at our partner companies. I’ll likely also be talking with a few investors over the course of the weekend, with many potential clients, and hopefully with a few potential advertising partners – there certainly will be some people at SXSWi who are at digital agencies.

SXSWi is an intense, jam packed conference. Covering all things interactive and running alongside a film conference and just before one of the biggest and most important music conferences and festivals in the US. In short for this weekend and next week Austin is where much of the creative “class” in the US (and indeed from outside the US) will be found. Friends are flying in from Scotland, Miami and most part of the US and Canada.

This year the weather reports are not entirely pleasant – quite cool and a chance of rain on a few days. So I’ll be packing accordingly, lots of layers and my first purchase after checking into my hotel is likely going to be an umbrella (all my other umbrellas have been destroyed by San Francisco wind gusts this year).

There are countless communities and guides to SXSW, I won’t try to duplicate their advice here but a few reminders – as much as for myself as for you the reader.

  1. Have fun. Should go without saying but though a big, long conference is work, don’t forget this should also be fun.
  2. Introduce people to each other and don’t be shy about approaching people you don’t know – or people you don’t see often enough. If you get in the habit of introducing people – even people you just recently met, it encourages others to do the same.
  3. Try not to eat any meal alone. If you find yourself in danger of doing so, ask some strangers to join you – one plus of a big conference, very likely there are others who likewise don’t yet have dinner or lunch plans (or for that matter breakfast – though you’ll find at SXSW many people sleep in).
  4. At the same time if you aren’t an extrovert, give yourself some time alone, some time to regroup and mentally review the activities of the past day. If you are a runner go for a run (though you might do this with fellow attendees as well). I hope that my hotel has a pool and my current plan is to try to get in a short swim each morning – exercise plus a chance to mentally regroup. I also found that at times I might be leaving one party and meeting people at another – instead of taking the fastest path there (a cab) at times walking, even if it is a mile+ away would give me a great chance to refresh and relax.
  5. Perhaps it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Get enough to drink (water) and try to eat as healthily as possible. Yes, I plan on eating a lot of BBQ. However I will try to vary my diet, be sure to get some fruits & veggies along with my smoked meats, and I’ll be sure to drink a lot of water. This is especially important if, unlike me, you plan on drinking a great deal of the free/cheap booze that flows freely.
  6. Have something to give people to be remembered by – but in turn when you get something from someone whom you want to stay in touch with try to quickly get back to them digitally. At any convention it is far too easy to end up with a large pile of stuff and have little memory of who you need to send what to. My plan is to carve out a part of each day (probably in the mornings) to process my notes and contacts from the past day and at least send people my contact info. Jotting a quick note on the back of someone’s card (and/or in a small notebook you carry with you – I’ll be using my Creative Commons Moleskin) can also be a good starting point.
  7. Travel as lightly as possible. I am lucky, the hotel room I’ll be sharing is across from the conference center. As such I plan on dropping off my bags there frequently, as much as possible I hope to carry with me as little as possible (sometimes just pocket planner, notebook, iPhone, may even leave the laptop behind)

And above all keep in mind my first point.

Hope to see many of you in Austin tomorrow!

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshwalk, networks, personal, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Abstractions for Metrics and Targeting – extending OpenSocial

Posted by shannonclark on February 20, 2008

Tonight I attended the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab event “Shaking the Money Tree of Multi-Platform Social Networks” which my friend Jeremiah Owyang moderated. It was a sold out event which drew a very diverse crowd of students, brand advertisers, technologists, entrepreneurs and analysts. The event was great with short presentations and an engaging panel discussion. During the panel discussion I asked a question, which in turn sparked an idea I am exploring in this post. In the next few weeks and months I will be engaging with many people around these ideas and I look forward to comments, criticism and suggestions about how to accomplish these two main ideas.

In the interest of full disclosure, when I asked my question tonight at the event I noted that I was not an impartial questioner – I have a stake in this. To elaborate further, the company I am in the midst of co-founding, Nearness Function, is an ad network working to bring brand advertisers to select applications – including very likely applications running in Social Networks and on OpenSocial. If both of my proposals below happen it certainly will help Nearness Function and our partners and clients – and I hope, will help the entire industry.

Tonight Kevin Marks of Google discussed three important ways in which OpenSocial creates abstractions.

  1. Abstracting the Friend networks of the “viewer” and “owner”. Allowing these to queried and traversed.
  2. Abstracting data persistence for applications
  3. Abstracting the event (“news”) feed which the use of an application can generate

My question and now proposal would add two abstractions – to OpenSocial and likely to more of the web in general.

  1. Abstract metrics
  2. Abstract targeting data

Taking these points in detail, here is what I am suggesting. These are my initial thoughts – I welcome feedback and further discussions.

Abstract metrics

The web 1.0 metrics resolved around “pageviews” and later, slightly more refined around “impressions” or “uniques”. In the past few years with the rise of pay-per-click advertising both against search results and increasing elsewhere across the web, “clicks” and a resulting calculation of “ecpm” (effective cost per thousand) has been a commonly used metric for success. And terms like “uniques” and “impressions” get used a lot – though exactly how to define and calculate them is not always clear in the least. Even “clicks” have to be recalculated to take into account “ClickFraud” – i.e. automated or malicious attempts to game pay-per-click systems, often by automating clicks on links (sometimes to generate income, but more subtly to exhaust a competitor’s budget).

For OpenSocial, and for much of the web of 2008, I would suggest that we start to think about abstractions for metrics that fit this new environment.

My initial suggestions would be to define active vs. inactive states so that an application can report back when a user is active (and we define what that means) within the application. A further refinement to this abstraction would be to measure the time in each state again with uniform ways to start and stop that clock.

Additionally a defined way to count events within the use of an application potentially including a measure of where within the application attention is paid could be highly useful as well. This might start by building on similar tools that are already used to track web activity and interactions. In the OpenSocial (and widget case more broadly) one complication being how to log and report back these metrics in a standard manner.

Ideally these metrics probably should flow back to the hosting social networks, to the application provider, and potentially (and again this needs clarification) be shareable with third party providers – such as an ad network (like the one I’m building).

Abstract targeting data

In the panel tonight when I asked about this the conversation shifted to a discussion about what an ad network can and can’t store based on the terms of service of a given social network. That is important, but it missed the point of my suggestion.

Here what I would be proposing is a bit more complex than the metrics, it would be a set of abstractions around what data flows to the application (which in turn might flow to the systems used to target advertising) which could be employed for targeting. Abstractions are important because even seemingly “simple” elements can, in many cases, prove complex.

Take “gender” – in many, but not by any means all, social networks this is relatively simple “male” or “female” – however this is not always the case. For one there are often many people who leave the field blank (i.e. undefined) and in at least some networks people of another gender (“transgendered” to take one example) can specify that. An abstraction might not resolve all possible nuances – but, for example, it might require the “undefined” case (and likely an “other” case) to be handled.

The issue that advertisers, marketers, application developers and social networks all face is nearly everyone recognizes that targeting messages – if done well and reasonably – adds greatly to the impact and effectiveness of those messages (however you choose to measure that). But each party also defines what and how they think that targeting should (or could) happen in very different ways.

My suggestion would be to create some standard and abstracted ways to think about a common set of data that could be available at the point when targeting could occur. Note that this would be done in a manner that could also be kept in compliance with a given social network’s terms of service. i.e. on FaceBook that data which is shared would not be retained for more than 24hrs etc.

Here are a few of my suggestions for areas where a discussion could (and should I’d say) happen, I’m sure I’ve missed or overlooked some things – and in some cases the standard may be very simple.

  • Gender
  • Age – I’d suggest by ranges vs. specifics – with a standard set of ranges
  • Geographic location – potentially in two parts a) of viewer, calculated from IP address etc, at time of use and b) “home” (possibly “homes”) as stated in user profile
  • New user/viewer of a given application vs. returning user/viewer vs. has application installed on own system (ideally even if “own” profile is on a different social network)
  • Path to current session – i.e. via internal to social network search, via link on friend’s page, via link on stranger’s page, via external search, via external deep link
  • Technology – browser type, speed of connection, mobile phone vs computer vs console
  • Measure of frequency of interaction (with social network, with a given application) – i.e. you could target people who use the site every day and have for the past 6 months differently from people who use that particular site only once a week. You might also want to target users who are in their first X days of using an application or the underlying social network in a different manner than users who have been using it for months.

I’m sure there are others.

The key points here is that what needs to be defined is not just the categories but some abstract and standard ways to pass the relevant data. Keeping in mind that at the end of the day the goal here would be to make:

  • The user experience better by presenting more likely to be relevant commercial messages
  • The advertiser purchasing opportunities to be more clearly defined so advertisers can compare apples to apples
  • The developer have an easier set of tools to understand the users and to offer, if desired, opportunities to advertisers
  • and for Third party providers, such as an ad network, to have at least a minimum set of expected to be available data which could be used

These abstract targeting data would not preclude additional information being used to enhance and improve results (where that data can be used if covered under terms of service) but it would help improve targeting especially for OpenSocial applications which cross multiple social networks. The final results (i.e. which specific ad to show if any) might take a variety of additional factors (which ads were shown to that user or to similar users recently, what the actions of those users were, what various advertisers are willing to pay at the moment, etc)

This is very much a work in progress. I’m sure there are some overlaps here with activities of various industry groups. I welcome suggestions, enhancements, and other comments!

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, internet, networks, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Advertising in Applications – a workshop series

Posted by shannonclark on January 9, 2008

As you may know if you have met me recently and/or have been reading my blog regularly, I am in the midst of starting a new company, Nearness Function, which is an ad network focused on placing commercial messeges, especially branding messages, inside of applications. We take an expansive view of what an application is – so we will work with web applications using AJAX, widgets, Flash applications, desktop applications (which connect back to the web), mobile applications. We are also exploring helping publishers of certain types of rich content such as podcasters and video bloggers – we’ll definitely work with media players which might play such content and as rapidly as we can build out the infrastructure we will expand the ad formats we can serve to include video ads which have had great success as an ad unit in many applications already.

As I speak with publishers (in our case mostly software companies) and with advertising agencies, media buyers and direct advertisers I have been struck by the range of experiences and questions around how to best place ads inside of dynamic applications. These questions range from debates about the formats that work to questions about what metrics and pricing models can be used to sell and track these ads. In our role as a network we have to provide solutions to the technical issues of getting the right, targeted ads in front of the individuals who use a given application, we also have to address the business needs and goals of both the media buyers, ad agencies, advertisers and publishers – all while also remaining focused on the experience of those individual users whose actions and reactions form the basis for the value of the advertising.

So, starting at the end of January and continuing on a regular basis we are starting a workshop series on Ads in Applications. This will be a long lunch to start with the first event to be held here in San Francisco at the end of January. Future events will include more lunch workshops and, I hope, some open to the public events in the evenings which will have a more traditional speaker format.

The first lunch workshop will be by invitation only. If you are reading this and would like an invitation contact me directly – please include a note about why you are interested in participating which includes your current role & company (or companies). The workshops are intended for senior people from application companies (often founders) and senior folks from the ad buying side. Select investors who have a portfolio of firms in the application space will also be welcome to participate – though they are encouraged to invite representatives from their portfolio firms. For the workshops press, including bloggers, are specifically not invited – these will be off the record, working discussions. My hope is that from these closed events we will also organize some open to the public events and/or come up with some public proposals – either for standards or as suggestions to standards efforts at organizations such as the IAB.

For the first workshop the format will be highly collaborative discussion, we will be a relatively small group and will all have a chance to both talk, listen and ask many questions. My hope is that in a few hours we can cover a range of ongoing questions and issues – including formats, metrics, measurements, definitions of “targeting”, acceptable pricing models (which both drive metrics and are in turn driven by what can be measured), how to define success, and various best practices around the integration and targeting of ads. I hope also that we have some discussion about how to disclose commercial content inside of a variety of types of dynamic applications – in many small widgets and in many types of other content what is an “ad” can not always be fully obvious.

Watch this blog for more details about the workshop and contact me directly (and/or leave a comment here) if you would be interested in attending, hosting, or helping organize these workshops.

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, internet, networks, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

One more reason why Comscore and other “surveys” are unreliable

Posted by shannonclark on January 2, 2008

And that’s being kind…

Over the past few days the CA Security Advisor Blog has been posting about the spyware which is installed by Sears and KMart when you join their “community”. Spyware which leads back to Comscore and which, in essence, tracks every single web action – including secured transactions, that the infected users take. And it is this very pool of spyware infested users which Comscore then relies upon to make sweeping statements about the traffic and online activity across the Internet.

This is not a minor issue. These seriously flawed and troubling methods result in the numbers which, in turn, get cited as fact at major events (such as from keynote speakers on stage at AdTech NYC this past Fall) and quoted heavily in the major press on and offline. Further these comscore numbers are then used to drive much of online ad spending.

On the Pho list I wrote the following analysis a few months back, I am quoting my email in the entirety,  the context was a discussion on the list (which is focused on digital music) on the Radiohead In Rainbows experiment and a comscore report that claimed that 60% of all users who visited the Radiohead site had downloaded the music without paying at all. A statement which the band itself vigorously rejected.

A few observations and further fodder for discussion.

This past week I spent the last four days at Ad:Tech NYC. (I was
covering Ad:Tech for my friend Allen Stern’s blog, Centernetworks –
see http://centernetworks.com/tag/adtech for my coverage).

At MULTIPLE times over the course of the conference, most notably at
many of the keynote presentations from senior ad industry leaders, the
comscore study was cited without question as being authoritative and
proof that most people won’t pay.

I see any number of very serious flaws in Comscore‘s processes and methods.

Here are a few.

1. The underlying, basic assumption of any survey is that your sample
population can serve as a proxy and basis to extrapolate up to the
whole population. HOWEVER I think that especially online today this is
dangerously flawed. People do not act independently – instead people
are deeply influenced by the behaviors of their peers – and online
this effect can be multiplied many, many fold. In my own personal,
online networks literally dozens upon dozens of people have sent
twitters, emails, and written blog posts about In Rainbows so my
awareness of it (and the purchases of it often down to the exact price
paid) is extremely high. Amongst my circle – a very very high
percentage of people likely have visited the site,and most have
downloaded the album (and in most cases paid over $5 for it)

2. On a related front – about zero percentage of my population I
mention above are part of comscore‘s surveys population. Indeed given
that they: install an explicit piece of spyware (with permission – but
inherently it is spying on your every action) in return for “server
based virus scanning, sweepstakes and helping the internet” I doubt
anyone I know would participate – nor would I allow or suggest it to
ANYONE I know or advice. Not to mention that almost certainly most
corporate security processes would not allow such technology on
corporate machines (and with extremely good reasons).

Thus almost certainly their survey population, though over 2M are
almost entirely home/personal computers (even while more and more
workers have internet access at work and use that access for some
personal use). Furthermore since they are installing tracking in the
browser they miss: people with multiple browsers which they use on the
same machine, potentially people who have multiple logins to the same
computer (parents sharing a computer with children for example),
people with multiple computers, people with multiple internet
connected non-pc devices (i.e. browsing via a game console for
example), mobile phone (such as iPhone) access.

I use multiple browsers on both my Vista tablet and my iMac desktop –
not to mention my occasional use of Parallels on the mac. I also make
extensive use of my iPhone’s web access.

3. I would need to know much more in depth technical details of how
their browser plugin works – but on Vista computers to take one very
large example by default the OS firewall will block many types of
outbound reporting by applications without authorization (but this may
happen as part of their install).

4. I find it somewhat telling that nowhere which I could find at least
on http://comscore.com could I find a means to choose to join their
survey population (they may do this deliberately in that they want to
have some “randomness” to their survey population.

BUT this implies that they are using online ads and other means to
attract people to join their survey population.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but almost all savvy Internet
users I know generally never click on any survey driven offer (and/or
never give anything accurate in an online survey). I certainly don’t
answer surveys via online ads. Nor most via emails or popups on a
given page. Occasionally I will follow up from a conference by filling
out their survey of attendees (but I would NEVER allow such a survey
to install spyware on my computer).

5. While comscore is tracking a survey population designed to measure
the “typical” Internet user (though with billions of “internet users”
this alone may be essentially meaningless on a global scale) Radiohead
never intended to reach the “typical” user.

Radiohead wants to reach radiohead fans first – mostly current fans
but also to grow and gain new fans. They sing in English so a large
portion of their fans speak English (though now 100’s of millions of
people online do not) – further while they tour worldwide almost
certainly countries and cities where they have performed in the past
have more fans than those where they have not.

With the millions of existing radiohead fans (people who have bought
their past albums, gone to their shows etc) I would guess that the
percentage who visited their website is very very high – and that the
percentage who paid is also quite high.

Shannon

Posted in advertising, internet, networks, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Online advertising and a few of the many problems

Posted by shannonclark on December 7, 2007

Full disclosure – my new company, Nearness Function, is a new advertising network so I am diving deeply into the digital advertising industry and am thus not at all an unbiased observer

As I have been working on launching Nearness Function I have been paying very close attention to various types of advertising – both on the web, in mobile applications, in some desktop applications and advertising everywhere else. Lately I have seen a couple of understandable but, I think, highly unproductive trends in ads online. These trends being examples of some of the many reasons online advertising is not living up to all of the hype and potential.

A bit of background as I understand the industry today – and as I noted above, I’m working to change this. At present roughly speaking the US total advertising spending per year is about $300B, of that about $22B or so is spent online, the rest is spent across a range of media (TV, Radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor advertising). I am not 100% certain if yellow page ads and direct mail are also included in those figures and there is also some portion of ads which are in new/experimental forms (elevator screens, private tv networks in airports, “guerrilla” marketing in the streets, sponsorships etc). I also don’t know how/if some forms of sponsorships are included in that $300B figure (Nascar, “naming rights” to stadiums etc).

Online the majority of the current spending is “direct response” advertising – i.e. ads intended primarily to drive a specific action (often a “click”) – most famously (and successfully) being search advertising which is dominated by Google.  There is also a large business of “lead generation” (again, I don’t know what portion of that industry is included in the oft cited figures of online advertising). Lead generation is also a term tossed around by many firms but with slightly different spins – but in general as I understand it the business is essentially adding a layer of pre-qualification and data capturing to drive highly targeted traffic and potential clients to a firm. The lead generation firms , in turn, often buy a lot of online (mostly direct response) advertising which then directs the people who click to take a series of steps to qualify them as possible leads for the clients of the lead generation firm.

The question for the stats being what portion of the spending by the firms who are clients of the lead generation companies “counts” as advertising spending (vs. some other category of spending). Clearly in turn the lead generation firms spend a lot of money in online advertising (but we should also be cautious not to double count spending).

But leaving questions of the exact size of the current (US) online advertising market aside for the moment I have issues with the mechanics of advertising online today. I should also note that I also believe, very strongly, that focusing just on  the “US” market is foolish – the Internet is already no longer majority US users and over time this will only increase. Many of the publishers (of online software/web 2.0 applications) with whom we have been speaking report as much as 60% or more of their users are outside of the US. And there are many sites and applications with millions of active users the vast majority of whom are not from the US (cyworld in Korea is a huge example, Google’s own Orcut being another of many).

I think there are many problems with online advertising today – one large reason I have decided to co-found a new ad network is to address some of these many issues (which I think are also opportunities in many cases). In this post I now want to highlight two related issues I have with a lot of online advertising.

First, too many online ads, especially various forms of banners/graphic ads, break with how the rest of the web functions

and

Second, with only a few exceptions, online advertising is not patient enough or respectful of the possible interest & needs of actual users

To expand on my first point.

If you look across the web you will find that an increasingly large number of ads being served up on various websites are taking the form of a flash banner (or often square) display ad. However frequently the ad itself is not actually interactive or a flash application. As a result if you do happen to want to interact with or click on the ad you don’t know what will happen – will it be an interaction in the same page i.e. a flash application? Will it open to a page in the same window? Will it open in a new tab/window? You can’t (and I think this is usually very deliberately the case) even see what the URL for the new page will be – you just have to click and be taken there.

Now from an ad network perspective I understand why this is a desired behavior. If you get paid only on “clicks” you want to direct all those clicks through your systems so you can count them uniquely – know which creative (i.e. specific ad graphic & text) drove that traffic. From a business perspective this then drives who you as the ad network have to pay. You may also be doing some redirection – so a person clicks, is sent one place then redirected to the destination (a “landing page”).

But from the end user perspective this opacity is not what we have come to expect from the web. I have often had my attention caught by an offer, by something in an ad, and actually wanted to learn more about that company – but almost never do I want to do that in the same tab as whatever site I happen to be in – rather I want to open up that new page as a new tab.

A brief sidebar about how I use my browser of choice, Firefox, which might explain why I would want to do this. I typically have a handful of core websites open as different tabs at all times. Two different tabs for email (my personal/general email and my Nearness Function specific email), a tab for Facebook, a tab for Twitter, a tab for my task management tool of choice Remember the Milk, often a tab for the stats of my blog (or as is now the case for writing a post there) and then usually a few other tabs related whatever I am currently working on. I’ll often open up a tab for my calendar (Google calendar) or to research events (upcoming.org usually) etc.

If, for example, an ad on Facebook catches my attention, I don’t want to replace my facebook tab with whatever that ad points to – rather I want to open up that advertiser’s site in a new window and then follow up with it as my leisure. Likely taking a quick glance at it when I first open it up, but I might then refocus on email & other tasks and only take a longer look many hours later when I have more time.

In this specific case, most of the ads on Facebook (graphic ads) do in fact open up in new windows (however some of the ads on/around Facebook go to other parts of Facebook or stay in the same tab/window). But since until after I click I have no way of telling this (a right click only brings up the flash controls) I actually don’t usually click on graphics ads.

And from a UI perspective the flash and graphics nature of many current ads leads me to wonder if a click inside of the ad will open up a new page OR if it will take the form of some form of interaction within that banner (many, many flash ads on the web imply via their animations that there are some forms of interaction which can occur inside of the ad unit – i.e. the infamous “whack a mole” type ad banner games etc.)

When the user is not certain what will happen when he or she takes an action, it is much, much less likely any action other than ignoring will take place at all. 

Which leads me to my second pet peeve and issue.

Literally every day online some ad banner will, in fact, catch my attention – at least for a moment. I’ll take a quick note of it and think “hmm that might be useful/interesting/worth checking out” (especially since I am interested in the mechanics of advertising campaigns not just in products or services which I might be interested in specifically.).

However for the vast, vast majority of websites if I don’t interact with and click on that ad immediately – if for example I instead continue on with my regular interaction with that site (finishing reading an article, send a message to a friend on Facebook, write a comment to a blog post, etc) when I’m done with that interaction almost always the ad has been swapped out for another, very different ad and there is no way for me as a user to go back to and see the ad which had caught my attention.

In other words, I am an interested, live, very real possible customer who wants more information but I don’t have any way to get it if I didn’t drop whatever else I was doing and immediately interact with that ad (and as I noted above usually these days in a way which will lead to results which I can’t predict – I may get a new tab, or I may not). Since I couldn’t easily right click and open up the destination in a new tab (i.e. know I could then continue on my way and check out the company at my leisure) I almost always just don’t click at all.

Furthermore, in the majority of websites today I don’t have any way to indicate “go back and show me the ad you just had in front of me”. In fact if I use the back button on my browser I may get the ad via a cache (or I may not) and depending on what I was otherwise doing on the site I may get a bunch of other, unwanted interactions (I might, for example, have been in the middle of filling out a form – say leaving a comment somewhere). So going “back” may not be what I want to do.

Taking a longer term view of things the seemingly random mix of ads (technically usually “run of network/site” ads) which get shown on a majority of websites today means that as a user I see very little resonance between brands and the site or application which I am using. Even on sites such as Salon.com who usually have a given sponsor for a given day since these change so frequently (and can then be seemingly random with how they choose to show/not show ads for that day’s “site pass” sponsor) as the user I don’t end up getting a strong brand impression. I don’t usually transfer the respect and admiration I have for the given site (Salon.com for example) to the brand(s) which are supporting that resource I value.

In contrast, advertising offline is far, far more patient and much better, I’d argue, about building up longer term associations and relationships. Not in all cases to be sure, but on TV for example the same brand(s) will usually be seen supporting the same show over at least most of the same season. However the mixture of national ads (which are usually consistent for a given season) and local ads (which are much less constant) does diminish this effect today. Similarly on radio the same sponsors typically sponsor the same timeslots over relatively long periods of time.

Print publications frequently see repeat advertisers across even entire years of publication – the New Yorker to which I have subscribed for many, many years has some advertisers who are in every single issue. Some who almost always buy a full page ad (or multiple pages) and others who are buying just a small piece of a single column. But because they buy these ads on an ongoing, repeated basis, as a regular subscriber I recognize them and have a generally positive impression of them (after all they have been supporting one of my favorite publications for many, many years).

And though I might not be in the market for say a French Beret today, when/if I were I would probably turn first to the pages of the New Yorker and find the ad for that specialty firm who has been advertising there years.

Brands are very powerful and important – I’d argue in today’s global and deeply competitive market even more so now than in the past. However I don’t see companies online buying, delivering and deploying advertising in ways that truly help build and maintain brands over time. All to often campaigns are very short lived, very diffuse and disconnected from the site and applications they are embedded in and around, and in the quest for massive numbers of impressions (so showing a new ad everytime the user loads a new page – however “page” might be defined) means that there is little connection for most users between the advertisers and the service(s) they are trying to support.

And it is not much better in the online video space but that’s a topic for a future post.

I welcome feedback, suggestions, comments, and especially examples of sites, advertisers and even competing ad networks which do get it right (or at least come closer than most) in doing a good job.

Posted in advertising, economics, Entrepreneurship, internet, networks, web2.0 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

A few reasons I will live in NYC someday soon…

Posted by shannonclark on November 13, 2007

I love city life, the hum and buzz of people around me. I take comfort in the knowledge that I can feed myself and solve nearly any problem I might face with resources which are nearby. Not for me a lifestyle deep in the heart of wilderness unsurrounded by my fellow man – I am an urban creature.

I am also a night owl. As such, life on the west coast, though it has many advantages, may not, I fear, be where I end up living – at least not solely. Many times every week I find myself looking to eat well after 10pm – the hour by which the majority of businesses (and apparently people) on the west coast have closed up shop and gone home for the evening.

This current trip to NYC has reminded me of the many reasons I love NYC and convinced me yet again that I need to live here someday soon – likely not full time (and perhaps less of the time in the heart of the wintertime and the peak of the hottest parts of the summer) but enough of the time that my urbanist instincts can be satisfied.

A few of the many parts of the city that convince me of why I want to live here:

32nd St just east of Broadway – also known as Koreantown this one block (and a bit) stretch of NYC has almost literally more late night, 24hr options than the entire city of San Francisco. If not literally very nearly so (my mental count of dining options in San Francisco after midnight is not a long list in the least). And if the Korean may not be quite as good as I’ve heard you can get in LA (and perhaps for some dishes in parts of Oakland – though I haven’t yet tested this) and Chicago also has some very good Korean options as well – the block more than makes up for that by having quite good dining options available at all hours. And, if you are interested, many other options – such as 24hr spas and Karaoke.

The fact that Momofuku Ssam Bar is open for dinner until 2am 7 nights a week.  I ate here for dinner for my first time this trip. It is incredibly good, well worth all the accolades. (for example see what the NY Times critic Frank Bruni wrote in his beyond glowing review back in Feb 2007) Are you back from reading that?

Yes, it is that good.

And open everynight until 2am. So here in NYC instead of making do with instant noodles or a greasy diner (about the sum total of SF’s options after midnight though there are a handful of other options) you could head to the East Village and get a 2 star (NY Times) meal.  And yes, it will be more than you pay at that diner, and no the bread & butter is not free (in fact it is well worth the $8 that is the price for amazingly good bread and two types of fresh, full of flavors goat and cow butters).

And that is only scratching the surface of this city. Gems (and duds) lie around every corner. There are multiple 24hr Starbucks (and yes, they are Starbucks, but still – internet + coffee at all hours in many parts of city = happy Shannon).

Sure, NYC doesn’t have great Mexican dining and it does get very cold in the winters, very hot in the summers. And though there is Central Park, for many miles and long stretches throughout NYC greenery is in short supply. And the traffic can suck, people can be rude, there are always tourists, and you can easily add to that list (high rents – really really high rents, 5th & 6th floor walk-ups, window AC units, bugs, rats, poor schools etc).

But. And it is a big but. This is New York!

I love how diverse the city is and how populated. Not as populated or dense as, for example, New Delhi, but denser in all ways than either Chicago or San Francisco the two major cities where I have lived. Sure the prices mean that you can’t go out every night (unless you really strike it rich) and the prices mean that if I think it unlike I’ll be able to buy in San Francisco it is even less likely I can buy in NYC (though certainly one goal of being an entrepreneur in technology is to eventually be able to buy whatever I want wherever I want).

The bookstores are more common in San Francisco (though in NYC you get sidewalk used booksellers in many parts of the city – but fewer used bookstores and independents) and the coffee and cafe culture in San Francisco is truly amazingly good. Plus the tech scene in the bay area is unrivaled, there is tech in NYC but there is also advertising, fashion, wall street, banking, media,  Broadway, and countless other options pulling at and attracting the best and brightest (and the not so good and not so bright or talented as well).

For every Momofuku Ssam Bar there are countless other unmemorable restaurants in NYC (though luckily the worst usually – though not always – soon close). On a personal level I have heard that dating in NYC is difficult though there also do seem to be a great many women of around my age here in NYC (always hard to tell who is single however but they can’t all be dating or married). For someone, like myself, interested in smart, ambitious women and open to a great diversity (heck attracted to women from around the globe) NYC is a place full of some of the smartest and most ambitious people from across the planet. Even today as expensive as NYC is and has difficult as the US Government makes it to live and work here if you are not a US citizen (heck to a degree even if you are) NYC is still a place that attracts people from across the globe.

So sometime soon, likely sometime in 2008, I am going to look into finding a place of my own in NYC – perhaps a place to share with others on a timeshare basis of some sort, but a place of my own nonetheless. I still need to be in the Bay Area and I love my apartment there and my friends – but every time I am in NYC I realize more and more that for an urbanist like myself, this is most definitely the place to be (and not a horrible place for me in my role as a cofounder of a new advertising network either).

Posted in advertising, NYC, personal, restaurants, reviews | 1 Comment »

Covering Ad:Tech NYC for Centernetworks

Posted by shannonclark on November 5, 2007

This week I am in NYC where for the start of the week I will be covering Ad:Tech NYC 2007 for Centernetworks. My first post, a long preview with many of my opinions & perspectives on the future and current state of advertising online has just been posted to Centernetworks!

Tuesday night I am organizing a dinner here in NYC, probably a group outing for great Korean food at a fantastic restaurant I found on my last trip to NYC. If you are in NYC and would like to join me for dinner tomorrow night – or would like to meet up for breakfast, lunch of coffee while I am here in NYC, leave a comment or drop me a line.

I will be in NYC until Tuesday Nov 13th.

Posted in advertising, internet, NYC, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Launching a new Ad Network – or why this blog is a tad silent

Posted by shannonclark on September 27, 2007

In the next few weeks I anticipate seeing the above street sign more than a few times as I start a series of meetings and phone calls. Some along Sand Hill Road (and elsewhere) as we start raising money, and many others across the Bay Area (and perhaps in other states) as we line up the first partners for our new ad network, Nearness Function.

Needless to say, while I may make it to an occasional event, such as STIRR Founder’s Hacks, for the most part my time and energy for the next few weeks (hmmm probably next few years) will be dedicated to Nearness Function.

So what is Nearness Function?

Nearness Function is an ad network for dynamic content.

What does that mean?

Nearness Function is an ad network for publishers of AJAX applications, Flash Apps (and yes, this includes games), Java applications (including on mobile phones), widgets (where ads are allowed) and other forms of rich, dynamic content, the stuff that often is labeled “Web 2.0”. If you are technically inclined, think of Nearness Function as an advertising network with an API (well when we launch fully). If you are not technically inclined, think of Nearness Function as working to sponsor and enrich the most interesting and vibrant applications on the web today.

Oh, and Nearness Function is designed to also help support new, non-browser based applications – mobile applications, streaming content, and potentially downloaded content where commercial messages make sense (some videos and podcasts perhaps).

We start, however, from a focus on enriching the individual user experience. So we will not work with all advertisers, nor will we offer all types of ads (you won’t see us serving up pop ups/pop unders). Our view is that where appropriate, where the messages are highly targeted and relevant (and fully disclosed as being commercial messages) there is a valuable and enriching role for commercial messages. Not at all times or at all points in the use of an application or service – but at the right time with the right messages everyone benefits.

Individuals have a better experience and are made aware of brands and opportunities they value.

Application providers make money and have happy, even thrilled users.

And the commercial parties (i.e. advertisers) reach their targeted audiences with relevant, often actionable messages. Building brands and sparking specific, immediate actions.

How can you participate?

Nearness Function is in the very early days. As I alluded to above, we are likely going to be raising a funding round this fall. Even before that, however, we are putting together a series of trials this fall. These trials will involve a select group of advertisers and a carefully selected group of application publishers. Real ads will be placed and paid for during these trials – and the full specifications for the technology we are building will be shaped during these trials.

If you are an advertiser, willing to work with a new advertising network, and interested in reaching individuals where they are spending time and attention today (and even more so into the future) please contact me directly – shannon AT nearnessfunction.com. or call me at 1.800.454.4929.

If you are a software company who want to enrich your applications with well targeted advertising – whether you are delivering services via AJAX, Java, Flash, or another technology also get in touch with me directly.

It is still the very early days, but we are happy to talk with the press or event organizers about what we are building. Both myself and my business partner, David Spector, are available as speakers, either on Nearness Function or on the multitude of other projects we have each worked on in the past. Please sent a note to press AT nearnessfunction.com.

So if this blog is a tad quiet for the next few weeks – this is why… I’ll post when we have more news and definitely when we start hiring.

Oh and if you have examples of great (or terrible) advertising, especially as a part of a dynamic application, please leave a comment here and/or contact me directly, we are collecting best practices to publish and share with publishers and advertisers.

Posted in advertising, economics, Entrepreneurship, networks, venture capital, web2.0 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Advertising – a Facebook experiment to try yourself

Posted by shannonclark on July 31, 2007

As I have noted in other places, the major project I am working on this year is launching a new advertising network. This is a large project and over the next weeks and months I will be writing much more about it, but this post is about a simple experiment you can do yourself today. I have been paying a lot of attention to ads across the web (and elsewhere, we’re not just focusing on today’s websites in our plans).

Today I noticed one type of advertising in work. The “global cookie” model of advertising, made famous (and indeed in this specific case implemented) by Doubleclick.

On hearing, via twitter, about the news of the approval of the purchase of the WSJ I went to their website to read their take on the acquisition.

After I read the article, I went next, in a separate tab in Firefox, to Facebook where I updated my status in my Facebook profile.

As I did so, I looked at the ad on that page. It was an ad for the WSJ, the site I had just visited. When I went back to the home page of Facebook, the skyscraper ad on the left (that’s the tall ad banner) was now showing an ad for a stock trading company. In short, I had been globally profiled by the doubleclick cookie used to serve ads on both the WSJ and Facebook websites.

One of the first times I have seen this directly work in action – and one which I think everyone can probably test out for themselves.

In this, limited case, it does both make some sense and results in better ads than usually shown to me (at least) on Facebook.

I think, however, there are many much better ways to achieve higher value commercial messages. Higher value not just to the publishers who show them – but higher value to the commercial entities which pay for them. And most importantly, higher value to the individuals – such as myself – who see and have to interact with them (or as in many cases avoid them via tools such as pop-up blockers).

That’s part of why we’re building a new ad network.

But try the experiment for yourself – go to a site, such as the WSJ, then go to another site using Doubleclick (such as Facebook) and see what happens.

Posted in advertising, economics, Entrepreneurship, internet, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »