The Upside in Web Advertising

TechDirt discussion about web advertising. This reminds me of a recent Doc Searles article, Why Online Advertising Sucks and is a Bubble:

It isn’t adveristing itself. It’s the way it’s too often done. I almost never click on an ad, for three reasons. First is that I almost never find what I’m looking for. Second is that I don’t want to waste the advertiser’s money on a bad click-through. Third is that I’m tired of looking at so much waste of pixels, rods, cones, cycles and patience.

I would like to pick up on the first point: the way advertising is done, that’s the problem. Doc is thinking in more high-level terms than me, but I decided to make a list of the way ads could be improved. It confounds me that it’s taking so long to do a lot of this, when the technology has been available for years.

  • Targeted Ads Of course, the most severe issue with advertising stares you in the face every waking web-hour – they are still vastly off the mark and only vaguely related to the content, or, in my experience at least, the user.
  • Location-Based Ads Further to the previous point, I haven’t seen any evidence there is targeting at a level more local than country level. Considering the ability to pinpoint location even with free IP-to-location databases, I would have thought there’d be value in exploring that. Better to take a guess and show a city or suburb specific ad, than to be sure and show something only at country level.
  • Interactive Ads This is the concept Tim O’Reilly labelled “Advertising as Conversation”, covered in the Ajax Patterns Portlet pattern (what would today be called “Web Widget”). For example, a flight bookings ad lets you punch in your travel plans to get a price. I’ve seen this done on occasion, but a lot of the time it breaks the principle of predictability. You don’t know if you’re going to get a new page, if the result will load inside the ad, or – most likely – it’s just a stoopid clickable image. (Okay, you and I know if it’s an image, but most users don’t, so anything that looks like a form becomes immediately untrustworthy.) I’m hopeful Google will build on the OpenSocial standard to herald a new age of interactive, predictable, and secure web advertising.
  • Auto-Updating Ads Hello? Heard of Ajax? Right now, the only form of updating that occurs is Flash animation. I won’t get into that here, and I think it’s fine in most cases, but I also think there’s a massive opportunity to update ads on the fly. The old model of a new ad once per page refresh, it doesn’t fly in the world of Ajax and videos, where a user might spend 10 or more minutes looking at one page. The same technology that makes a single page update can also be used to make the ads update. Furthermore, the ads could update to reflect changes in the web page’s state. GMail demonstrates how this is done already, but with the various technologies available for cross-frame communication, it could be used for syndicated ads too. I know I’ve been saying this for years, but frankly, it boggles my mind why this hasn’t happened already in a big way.

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