Archive for the ‘The Future of Advertising and Media’ Category

Why Google Needs A Chief Economist

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Wired explores Google’s web ad revolution: it’s not just the breadth and depth of the user data that make this a $21 billion a year business, it’s also a sophisticated system of auctions that instantaneously determines winning bids in the millisecond it takes to return your results. No small undertaking:

Varian [Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian] believes that a new era is dawning for what you might call the datarati—and it’s all about harnessing supply and demand. “What’s ubiquitous and cheap?” Varian asks. “Data.” And what is scarce? The analytic ability to utilize that data. As a result, he believes that the kind of technical person who once would have wound up working for a hedge fund on Wall Street will now work at a firm whose business hinges on making smart, daring choices—decisions based on surprising results gleaned from algorithmic spelunking and executed with the confidence that comes from really doing the math.

Since financial institutions relied on complex risk models designed by geniuses to create, sell, and purchase mortgage-backed securities, let’s just hope this particular band of geniuses stays out of trouble.

PS: It’s been so long since I personally have really looked – you know, looked – at a sponsored ad link on Google, I decided to search “coffee” and just see what showed up. The very top sponsored link? Bing! Microsoft’s new competitor search engine…Where else are you gonna go to steal search traffic, right?

In the mix

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Site Lets Writers Sell Digital Copies. (NY Times)

Linked Data is Blooming: Why You Should Care (ReadWriteWeb)

Mint Considers Selling Anonymized Data From Its Users (ReadWriteWeb)

The Growing Popularity of Popularity Lists (The Numbers Guy/Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday in the Mix

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Just Landed: Processing, Twitter, MetaCarta & Hidden Data (blprnt)

Greece Puts Brakes on Street View (BBC)

Developer of AdBlock Plus Proposes a Fairer Approach to Ad Blocking (ReadWriteWeb)

What Does Access to Real World Data Online Make Possible? (ReadWriteWeb)

Monday in the Mix

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Signs Your Wireless Carrier Loves You (NYT)

Calendar as filter (

New Search Service Aims at Answering Tough Queries, but Not Taking on Google (NYT)

Peanuts and Cracker Jack

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Over at Consumerist, the race is on for the title of “Worst Company in America.”  eBay v. Chrysler, GM v. Chase, Comcast v. Capital One…and so goes the parade of reviled corporate names even your dog has heard of, with the wildcard entry this year being the Peanut Corporation of America. (Remember them? Salmonella outbreak? Nine dead, hundreds made sick…against AIG they don’t stand a chance.)

Of course, these companies don’t want us to hate them. They want us to like them. But it’s interesting to note that some of the things they do out of their own self-interest are truly not in the interests of the consumer. And very often these conflicts are over personal data and the flow of information.

Let’s take Comcast v. Capitol One, just as an example. Comcast slapped limits on customers’ internet use, and critics say the policy is intended to deter people from watching TV online.  Funny, Comcast also has a cable business that would be adversely affected if people started watching shows on their computers.

Cap One is of course a huge and reviled credit card company, routinely accused of all kinds of chicanery you can just about get away with if you bury important notifications in nausea-inducing 2-point font. Also, they have the power to wreck your credit score.

At the time this post is being written, Comcast is winning handily.

Total aside: bless Nick Denton & the team he hired for creating a consumer news site that is hip and witty in a way Ralph Nader could only dream of. And bless Consumer Reports for buying it from him. This is a good match.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

The 2009 Plagiarius Awards – honoring the most brazen violators of copyright law in consumer products – have been announced in Germany.

On the red carpet, a delightful procession of winning knockoffs next to their original twins. There’s a rolly black suitcase, originally made by a German company, and copied to near-perfection by a Chinese one…here are two toothed belt axes (huh?) whose only apparent difference is that one has a patch of red where the other is blue. Then there’s that jaunty green watering can, “Elise,” whose studied imitator was born in Hong Kong.

Since we don’t do this particular kind of public shaming in America, Businessweek interviews Plagiarius judge Doris Moeller:

How exactly did you judge these awards?

The jury [which also included several lawyers, professors, and journalists] looked at about 30 infringements. Products are included if the [counterfeiting] behavior is incredible, former employees are involved, or there are hints that the [plagiarist] got the information in an incorrect way. Each of the products in question has to be sold on the German market.

What are the repercussions of receiving an award?

There is a press conference that goes with the awards at which the companies are publicly blamed for bad behavior. That affords an opportunity to make issues like counterfeiting and piracy public. I think the media coverage really harms the producers hit by an award.

Perhaps no surprise: most of the copies originate in China or elsewhere in East Asia. But there’s a Canadian impersonator here, and a Greek one too.

Want to know more? Since 2007, Plagiarius has been exhibiting the best of the fakes at a museum in the small city of Solingen. Entry is 2 Euros for adults, but the photos of the museum are free of charge. So feast your eyes:

Plagiarius Museum

To, Er, Your Health. Yeah! Your Health!

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Truly, Hippocrates would be appalled. Physicians a) peddling phony diagnoses based on a bunk concept, and b) selling the personal information of unwitting “patients” to unscrupulous marketers.

Two of the country’s best-known doctors, Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, have been doing this with their RealAge test. The New York Times has the story:

Pharmaceutical companies pay RealAge to compile test results of RealAge members and send them marketing messages by e-mail. The drug companies can even use RealAge answers to find people who show symptoms of a disease — and begin sending them messages about it even before the people have received a diagnosis from their doctors.

So: like millions of other people who are insecure about getting older you waste valuable minutes of your life completing the 150-question form…You learn your “RealAge” (as opposed to your actual age? I’m 31!) and receive advice on staying healthy. Vitamins. Jogging. Whatever…And, oh yeah, if your personal medical information gets the attention of companies hawking heart medicine or acne treatments, you get targeted ads, tellling you your health could be at risk, but there’s a drug for it…

RealAge offers the Times this explanation of its business model.

“Our primary product is an e-mail newsletter series focused on the undiagnosed at-risk patient, so we know the risk factors if someone is prehypertensive, or for osteoarthritis,” said Andy Mikulak, the vice president for marketing at RealAge. “At the end of the day, if you want to reach males over 60 that are high blood pressure sufferers in northwest Buffalo with under $50,000 household income that also have a high risk of diabetes, you could,” he said.

One irony here is that many people probably take the RealAge test because of its holistic, wheatgrass-and-yoga image.

In the past couple weeks I’ve taken Facebook’s Which Crazy Bitch Are You? and Which President Are You? tests. Makes me wonder who might be interested in the fact that I would click on the option to “drive around all night with your boyfriend in the middle of nowhere, then wander around the desert all high on shrooms.” (I got Sylvia Plath.)

Drip, drip, drip

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

At Wired, David Kravets frets that the Obama administration won’t change course on the pending international treaty on counterfeiting. Among other things, the agreement is rumored to make peer-to-peer filesharing a crime and open the door to iPod searches by law enforcement. That scuttlebutt courtesy of Wikileaks, since FOIA requests for the treaty have been turned down by Team Obama.

Though it may only scratch the surface, the Wikileaks page on the Proposed US ACTA multi-lateral intellectual property trade agreement (2007) is mind-numbingly detailed. There’s also more than a whiff of judgment about the document’s goals:

In 2007 a select handful of the wealthiest countries began a treaty-making process to create a new global standard for intellectual property rights enforcement, which was called, in a piece of brilliant marketing, the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” (the agreement does not cover currency fraud)

The page traces the treaty’s origins to a handful of U.S. legislators who’ve taken campaign contributions from big entertainment companies.

Worth a listen, then, if you didn’t catch it this weekend, is On The Media’s interview with Wikileak’s investigations editor, Julian Assange.

BOB GARFIELD: Investigative reporters and news organizations have feasted on the documents provided by whistleblowers since time immemorial, but when information is particularly sensitive, the news organizations typically will give the government an opportunity to persuade the news organization that, for whatever reason, it is extremely dangerous to release some or all of what has been leaked. Why is that such a bad idea?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, CBS followed that practice for eight months, concealing Abu Ghraib, until it was scooped by The New Yorker. So that kind of practice is not something that journalism should be proud of, whatsoever.

You have to think where your loyalties are. And for a news organization, that primary loyalty should be to its readers or it should be to its sources. Our primary loyalty is to our sources, secondary loyalty to our readers.

Some questions I am left with:

– A news organization whose primary loyalty is to its sources? Isn’t that what got Judith Miller in trouble?

– How is Wikileaks’ record holding up? How many egregious errors so far?

– About that anti-counterfeiting treaty: what part of it merits classification as, er, classified?

What Would Diderot Do?

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Book historian Robert Darnton has read and summarized the lengthy draft settlement between Google and book publishers for the New York Review of Books.

Please allow me to now further simplify by summarizing Darnton’s analysis:

> The Enlightenment represented the dawn of a new age of learning, built on the free-ish exchange of ideas in letters and books.

> The enlightened founders of the United States limited copyright to 28 years, recognizing the necessity of both protecting authors’ rights and advancing public knowledge. Life expectancy was much shorter then, but a young author could have a reasonable expectation of his or her book losing copyright within their lifetime.

> The 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act extends copyright to the life of the author + seventy years. That means the books now entering the public domain date to roughly to the 1920s, and all the authors are dead.

> Google has been digitizing millions of books. Some of them are in the public domain, some are still copyrighted, and the largest portion are copyrighted but out of print, and therefore largely out of reach.

> A draft settlement between Google and publishers promises to bring the texts of these books to the people, at low cost (at your home computer) or no cost (at public and university libraries which purchase a license). This archive could quickly become the world’s largest library, bar none.

> This exciting archive could represent a Digital Republic of Learning that would have made Diderot (the author of the first encyclopedia) salivate.

> While there have been some similar efforts by not-for-profit groups like the Open Content Alliance, Google Books, will eat their lunch.

> The draft agreement between Google and publishers has problems: libraries would be limited to a single computer terminal with access to the archive, and users would have to pay to print copyrighted material.

> The biggest problem, however, is this:

“What will happen if Google favors profitability over access? Nothing, if I read the terms of the settlement correctly. Only the registry, acting for the copyright holders, has the power to force a change in the subscription prices charged by Google, and there is no reason to expect the registry to object if the prices are too high.”

It’s interesting to consider this scenario. In the short life of Google, most criticism has come from a smallish cadre of geeks. Under different management, could the company ever do anything to make your mom mad?

Terms of Use

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

A social networking site should know better.

On February 6th, Facebook made a teensy change to the language in its terms of use, to reclassify all user content posted to the site (photos, inane observations about one’s friends and oneself) the perpetual property of Facebook Inc.

Last weekend, the Consumerist blog (recently purchased from Gawker by Consumers Union) pointed out that if you value your own identity in any way, these user terms are unacceptable. Even if you don’t have a sex change operation or join the Amish and cancel your facebook membership. You just might not want your pretty mug popping up in an ad for, say, stereo headphones, because your profile pic happens looks like a great stock photo.

By Wednesday, the uproar had grown so big that FB was forced to backtrack, and reverted to its earlier terms of use. But the story doesn’t end there. FB is now soliciting input from users on a new set of rules – through what else? – A “bill of rights and responsibilities” (drafting a subject-specific “bill of rights”  is also the US Congress’ favorite remedy for righteous indignation, dontcha know…)

The flap should give some comfort to privacy advocates, and not only because FB backtracked. We learned that users a) are patient enough to read the fine print, and b) care what’s in it.

But there’s something to fret about too: if FB had, say, 1 million users instead of 175 million, would this issue ever have exploded the way it did? Not likely. And most of us have already signed off on dozens of other terms of use that never received the same kind of scrutiny.

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