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What a Month for Digg

First, Kevin Rose lands on the cover of Business Week. Now, the site’s weekly video round-up, Diggnation, has won 2006 People’s Choice Podcast Award For Best Tech Podcast. Rock on, Digg!

Raise Relevancy, Lower Privacy Fears?

Fred at A VC worries that mainstream fears of privacy violations (think AOL’s recent disclosure of people’s search histories) run the risk of slowing better relevancy in advertising:

“But cookies and stored search queries are good things. They make it possible for web services to deliver relevancy in advertising, something no other media has been able to deliver efficiently and reliably.
The reality is that these targeting approaches, whether they be searched based, behavioral, contextual, or whatever is next, are giving us more relevant ads. Ads will be content if this continues. You’ll be planning a trip to mexico this winter and you’ll get ads for places to stay. You’ll be thinking about getting a new car and you’ll be getting images of all of your options when you check the weather in the morning.”

At least they’re in the very early stages of giving us more relevant ads. I bet that real improvements in relevancy targeting (some examples of the shortcomings today, ChasNote 8/12/06) will tilt the cost-benefit see-saw in favor of relevant ads and away from privacy fears. Let’s get there asap!

Time Mag's Favorite Blogs

Time Magazine’s list of the 50 coolest websites includes some of my

favorites too. In the blog category (link), Boing Boing and Dooce. In technology websites, Digg and TechCrunch, and in politics, Tailrank. (The link to those, Time.) Go, FM pals!

UPDATE: Whoops!  The above link to the Time list that includes Boing Boing and Dooce is Time’s 50 coolest from last year.  I really am behind on my reading!

Starting the Virus: the SlashDiggBoing Phenomenon

Christopher Boyd at recently had the wonderful, server-melting good fortune to receive coverage on the front pages of Digg, Slashdot and BoingBoing, all in a 24 hour period. He cited Alexa rank for each site (Digg is the #107th biggest site online, Slashdot is #172 and BoingBoing is #1,161), which alone suggests a good week for the gang at (if, perhaps, a bad week for their IT crew). Digg alone referred 64% of the site’s traffic.

Where it gets interesting, though, is when Boyd’s analysis goes beyond direct referral traffic:

“While still taking a fair beating from Digg, the story then spreads to Slashdot and Boingboing. Boingboing is a new one on me, but the effects are still being felt as of the 16th of July. The reason? It’s not so much the that comes from Boingboing – though it’s a nice blast. It’s the fact that everyone and their uncle goes off and reposts their content. You then find yourself in a short ‘quiet period’, before all of those sites then hurl their combined traffic at you in one never-ending cavalcade of Bandwidth pain. Ouch. Ouch in a good way, though…. in addition, the article has started to spread across Myspace itself, and lots of profiles start carrying the story. Many of the Myspace postings are from Boingboing, too.”

A few days into the cycle, Digg and Slashdot referral traffic tapered off, while sites that repurposed the BoingBoing post grew to two-thirds of’s traffic:

“It’s just (what feels like) a never ending stream of websites – some of which might only push through about 8 visitors – but combined, it’s quite the buttkicking. And it goes on for days. And days. And more days. In fact, it’s still going on. Though I’m not including the whole week on this summary, yesterday I had just over 15,000 pageviews appear out of the blue – all connected to Boingboing reposts.”

Is TV Advertising Ready for Self-Service Auctions?

Bill Wise, CEO of Did-it,”a New York-based firm specializing in auctioned media management,” according to his byline in Mediapost, says there’s no reason brand advertising campaigns on TV shouldn’t adopt the same self-service auction approach as eBay or Google (Mediapost).

The TV networks, meanwhile, are not happy. An article in last week’s Wall Street Journal

nicely covered the networks’ displeasure. Members of the TV world put forth a number of arguments why they think the system won’t work“

The TV execs Wise sites talk about custom integration, product placement, and campaign packaging — campaign features that are difficult to automate — as reasons the approach won’t work for TV. There’s another: Finding appropriate context in a fragmented media world. As customers fan out across a more diverse and diffuse media landscape, marketers need scale; marketers need partners or platforms that provide media-buying efficiency that matches the old days of spending $10 million across a handful of networks. Ad networks and syndicated paid search are both good at scale. But brand advertisers, to a much greater extent than direct-response or paid-search marketers, care about context, and even the best contextual ad-serving technologies still miss the mark too often (see ChasNote 8/12/06) to kill off the humans just yet.

Contextual Advertising Bots Confuse Easily

Piers at PSFK observed that Google’s AdSense algorithm pushed to his site ads for low rent, get-rich-quick schemes instead of ads that matched his content (corporate identity, brand marketing and media-business trends) or the audience profile (entrepreneurs and marketing execs):

“Google Adsense is a fiendishly clever system that predicts the perfect ad for the reader based on content and some other dark-magic. Anyway, the system must have gone wrong. Instead of ads for fast cars, boutique hotels, fine wines and expensive watches, we’re getting ‘make money fast’, ‘make money blogging’ and ‘email marketing software to spam your way to success’ ads.”

His post reminded me of a call I received a few months ago from the Ad Council. They were concerned that their client, Girl Scouts of America, who bought ads through a behavioral-targeting ad network FM uses to backfill unsold banner impressions, ended up with ads on our adult-beverage site, Drink of the Week. Oops! Humans still have the bots beat when it comes to the subtle art of understanding context.

How Will Yahoo, MSN, AOL Respond to Google / MySpace?

Google’s deal with Fox Interactive (MySpace and the rest), according to the Aug 10 edition of Economist, is the crowning jewel in the most dominant empire since Napoleon’s:

“PRINCE KLEMENS VON METTERNICH, foreign minister of the Austrian Empire during the Napoleonic era and its aftermath, would have no trouble recognising Google. To him, the world’s most popular web-search engine would closely resemble the Napoleonic France that in his youth humiliated Austria and Europe’s other powers. Its rivals—Yahoo!, the largest of the traditional web gateways, eBay, the biggest online auction and trading site, and Microsoft, a software empire that owns MSN, a struggling web portal—would look a lot like Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Metternich responded by forging an alliance among those three monarchies to create a ‘balance of power’ against France. Google’s enemies, he might say, ought now to do the same thing….”

“….The strongest alliance, of course, would be a merger or takeover. MSN and Yahoo! both wanted to buy some or all of AOL, a big, troubled internet-access company owned by Time Warner, a media conglomerate. But Google pre-empted its rivals last winter and bought a defensive stake in AOL. It still has its search and advertising technology stationed on AOL‘s site. Google may also make its instant-messaging service interoperable with AOL‘s, the most popular in the world. With AOL

lost to the enemy, what of a deal between Microsoft and either Yahoo! or eBay? Justin Post, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, said recently that Microsoft’s ‘acquisition probability’ is now so high that it may soon start pushing up the share prices of eBay and Yahoo! Mr Post thinks that Microsoft is most likely to bid for Yahoo!”

Inneresting. The turf wars over content sites — the pageviews of the Internet that Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL don’t already control — have officially begun.

New Yorker on Bloggers, Pamphleteers and Reporters

Nicholas Lemann in the Aug 7 issue of the New Yorker compares today’s citizen’s journalism phenomenon to several similar movements in English-language journalism starting with British pamphleteers in the late 17th and early 18th Century through the urban penny presses in 19th Century America. His key point: Internet publishing innovations (aka, blog platforms) are certainly shaking up the power structure in journalism and communication (a shake-up, though, that isn’t all that different, in relative terms, from previous revolutions), but that quality will — as it always has — separate the wheat from the chaff.

“To live up to its billing, Internet journalism has to meet high standards both conceptually and practically: the medium has to be revolutionary, and the journalism has to be good. The quality of Internet journalism is bound to improve over time, especially if more of the virtues of traditional journalism migrate to the Internet. But, although the medium has great capabilities, especially the way it opens out and speeds up the discourse, it is not quite as different from what has gone before as its advocates are saying….”

“The Internet is not unfriendly to reporting; potentially, it is the best reporting medium ever invented. A few places, like the site on Yahoo! operated by Kevin Sites, consistently offer good journalism that has a distinctly Internet, rather than repurposed, feeling. To keep pushing in that direction, though, requires that we hold up original reporting as a virtue and use the Internet to find new ways of presenting fresh material—which, inescapably, will wind up being produced by people who do that full time, not ‘citizens’ with day jobs.”

I agree with much of the above: Quality is king, and commitment to quality is almost always a full-time job. But there seems to be another aspect to Lemann’s argument. As in previous eras, a new media power structure will emerge in place of the old one. Ie, less-power-to-the-people than is promised by the citizen’s journalism movement. I’m inclined to think that, while big players will emerge in the new media, their grip on power will be more tenous than previous media empires’. Audience can provide their media suppliers with fast, easy feedback on what they need and want; if those media suppliers choose not to listen, audiences can change the channel more easily than ever before. In either case, power has moved out from the center.

Thanks for the Support, Newsvine!

Some kind words from one of FM’s newer partners, the gang at Newsvine:

“We’re happy to say that since that time, the sell-through rate on Newsvine has improved dramatically thanks to the efforts of FM Publishing and their sales staff. A little patience on behalf of Newsvine and the community is starting to pay off with ads this month from the likes of Apple Computer (!!!), The New York Times, CNBC, Ing, Disney, JetBlue, and a host of others. All of these great companies advertising on Newsvine, and guess what? No bouncing George Bush heads, no seizure-inducing screensaver pitches, no popunders, and nothing else that would detract from the user experience of the site. This is a major reason why FM and Newsvine are working together. We both believe in showcasing tasteful, relevant advertising around tasteful, relevant content. We’re still in the beginning stages of developing the site and helping contributors monetize their content, but this month represents a big step forward.”

Google Hires Expensive Human to Work Alongside Bots

From Media Works:

“Google has named Eileen Naughton, the former president of Time magazine, as head of ad sales for the web giant’s New York offices.”

A few years ago, a superstar ad-sales friend of mine was turned down for a job at Google (a job for which they recruited him) because his college CPA from a decade earlier was below 3.0. Company policy, apparently. It indicated, to me, that Google didn’t value human intelligence, unless that human intelligence was specific to developing artificial intelligence bots. It also suggested, imho, that Google, the smartest kids on the block when it comes to the math / science side of direct marketing, still didn’t appreciate the less rational — and premium CPM — side of the media business. This looks to me like a new appreciation of us dumb sales monkeys. Humans, welcome to the Googleplex!