Musings on online advertising, the data layer, audience targeting/optimization, life, and my hobbies. (All opinions are my own, and not necessarily those of past, present or future employers, family, friends or foes!)
Hugh and I played airsoft again today. Since no one else showed up, we each took turns hiding while the other tried to find find/shoot. The one hiding has such the advantage -- Hugh especially -- given that the camouflage blends so well in with the environment.
Take a look -- click on the pictures here to get a bigger view. The top picture is me from about 40 feet away (that's close -- lethal aim from there actually). Can you see me? (It's a tad blurry.) The one below it is Hugh from about 30 feet away. Can you tell he's aiming his sniper airsoft rifle right at me?
Clearly we're both "outliers" in society (dorks really) for sneaking around in the woods and shooting each other. But I think Hugh is moreso -- he hand-painted his shoes, face guard, handgun and sniper rifle in digital camo!
We started out as PeopleOnPage, which was a nifty browser add-on that showed you people on the same page as you. PeopleOnPage was totally clean and advertising supported, but all it took was one bad distribution deal (peer-to-peer file sharing, wherein we were distributed alongside some *really* bad other software) to taint our reputation. We were naive, and couldn't recover from that association, but recovered quickly by shifting our focus to that of a contextual/behavioral ad network and working with other software vendors. It worked -- we grew the company and on the strength and integrity of our business completed an IPO on the London Stock Exchange (AIM) in December 2004.
But then I began to see a shift in the company that I (as a board director) was uncomfortable with -- I wanted us to focus foremost on end-user value and Kent had different ideas. Those differences in opinion were not to be reconciled, and I gave notice in March 2005 and moved back to the US in August of that year.
I've followed the company to some degree since then, and it seems they reached a nadir in their distribution practices in the fall of 2005. In 2006 they made the wise decision to divest themselves of all these practices and focus on end-user value, privacy and legitimacy -- focusing on the ISP market.
The company is now called Phorm and recently announced a behavioral advertising platform consisting of data partnerships with leading UK ISPs and an advertising exchange. Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for those announcements to be followed by reports of skeletons in the closet. It seems the past may now be biting Kent and company in the ass.
It's not like I've been paying too much attention to this, but I did enjoy the interview of Kent on TechCrunch UK, included below:
I worked with Kent for 2.5 years -- he is very smart and by his own admission incredibly spoiled. He's accustomed to getting what he wants, and he knows how to do it both through hard work and clever manipulation. I say that with the utmost respect actually. It was fun to see him in action again -- addressing the various questions posed and keeping his arrogance in check. I'm not sure "arrogance" is the right word -- he just doesn't suffer fools well at all.
All these privacy concerns and related backlash is in my opinion extremely foolish. It's the ignorant who are causing the biggest stir. While I expect that Kent's past with spyware will remain controversial, I absolutely believe that they ARE doing right by end-users and that this is a legitimate business. For the sake of all the good and honest people that I know who still work there, I hope they succeed.
While I haven't been posting very much in the last two weeks, I have been clipping some interesting news I've seen come through the TechCrunch RSS feed, all related to online advertising. Since I don't have the time for individual posts, I'll just summarize in bullets below (as if I'm some sorta TC fanboy):
Looks like Technorati might be shifting its strategy to that of a blog advertising network? Yeah yeah, so vertical ad networks are in vogue currently but that's not why I think this is a good idea for Technorati. They have access to some *very* important behaviors and direct mappings of individuals to intentions, sentiments, interests, etc. If they harnessed this behavior warehouse, could result in a ton of value to the company. I doubt that's what they're doing though.
Is the glass half-empty or half-full? While TC reports that half of all clicks are worthless, I'd prefer to think that half of all clicks are valuable. But here's the thing, very few people I know actually click on ads (or admit to it) and therefore the fact that anyone does boggles their mind! It's hard not to take an ego-centric view of the online ad world -- but the fact is that the online advertising market is growing, the measurements and targeting are improving, and none of this would be happening in a failing market.