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Freeing the Social Identity Agent 05/10/2010

Posted by Paul Daigle in Identity, Social Graph, Social Identity, Social Media, Uncategorized.
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“And now, here I stand because of you, Mr. Anderson. Because of you, I’m no longer an Agent of this system. Because of you, I’ve changed. I’m unplugged. A new man, so to speak. Like you, apparently, free.”

With the rapid advancements in real-time communications we’re experiencing through today’s social networking platforms, messaging systems and mobile communication devices, it’s striking how few real gains we’ve made in managing real life and identity across platforms.

The trouble with identity is the more we consolidate it, the more functional we make it, the more sensitive it becomes. This may be why so many of us treat identity as real-time construct, instead of as a long term asset. Yet the idea of consolidating life and identity management is very attractive to the mainstream user, which is helping to fuel Facebook’s rapid growth. But Facebook wasn’t designed to serve identity in a meaningful or user-driven way. Platforms like Facebook, FriendFeed and Twitter are, at their core, innovations that bring an email framework into the cloud to produce network effects through activity streaming. Our relationships and networks on these sites have little to no semantic integrity, as they were built by us to serve an experience, and not to serve our cross-platform lives and identities. Facebook will continue working to advance its offerings and value propositions towards the benefits of authenticated identity and the semantic web. These have become the obvious next steps for advancing communication platform functionality and connectivity, so any activity in these areas works to keep competitors and users believing in a FaceBook lead. But for users, managing real-time identity through multiple ID providers, mobile devices and pseudo-semantic social platforms will continue to create a lot of instability, fragmentation and insecurity.  It will also make managing relationships, data and identities for the long-haul very daunting. Until semantic identity is addressed and activated in a more “real” way we will continue to experience a volatile “real-time” social paradigm that delivers very little in “long-term” social value.

Even if a workable framework for managed ID existed today, who would users trust to carry their real lives and data across platforms? Browsers, social networks, social apps and communication devices will come and go as technology matures. Yet the relationship-based cultivation of identity is a lifelong process. Fusing aspects of managed-identity into email systems, web-browsers, computer security suites, blogging tools and social networks will only increase complexity, fragmentation and exposure over time. Our identities can’t realize their true potential until they serve as the underlying platform connecting our preferred tools, apps and devices of the moment. Extricating identity from these ancillary technologies should be our primary goal. Kim Cameron of Microsoft published a very concise and easily digestible outline of this important problem in his Laws of Identity back in 2006, and that document is still a great introduction to today’s identity challenges.

So what is the right long-term solution? I believe we need life-based identity systems geared specifically toward consolidating activity, data and relationship management. We’ve already seen some movement and innovation in this space with Social Activity Aggregators, Identity Selectors and ActivityStreams, but a new more robust class of social ID meta-system is needed; one which can act more as a Social Identity Agent than a traditional social data manager.

What is a Social ID Agent?

Identity: The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.

Agent: An instrument by which a guiding intelligence achieves a result.

Today we customize and manage our presence based on the platforms where our identities reside. An Identity Agent would customize our identity across platforms base on our authenticated relationships to users and service providers. The ID Agent would act both as our identity protector and syndicator, allowing any party to find us via any platform with unfettered access to the data and communication channels that we want to share. Our ID Agent would authenticate our connection or lack of connection with an accessing agent, and provide access to real-time activities and social history based on the authenticated connection. The Identity Agent would place us everywhere at once with a customized presence, keeping every relationship connected to our appropriate real time activities and social histories, while letting us adapt these relationships overtime. Our Social ID Agent would ensure the same reliable level of connectivity, even with social relationships who choose completely different sets of communication tools,  platforms and devices.

With Social ID Agents, our data, relationships, and activities could connect semantically from across platforms, as we become identified and known not by static profiles, but by our shared interactions, collaborations, events and living histories. The Social ID Agent can turn today’s web-of-platforms into tomorrow’s web-of-people.

So how do we free our Social Identity Agents? Three words. Authenticate. Activate. Connect.

Stay tuned.


Using relevancy and targeting to maximize ad revenues 05/24/2008

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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googleeyeglassIn my last post I discussed how the key to growing a successful and sustainable online advertising businesses is to give users relevance through a healthy attention economy. Google, the Internet’s most profitable company, delivers ad relevancy both within their domain and across the web.

Google developed a slightly better method for ranking websites at a time when Alta Vista, the former leader, watered down its search mission to compete with full service portals like Yahoo. By enhancing search relevancy, Google won the search market.

In 2003 Google introduced AdSense, a tool that serves cost-per-click ads by analyzing and targeting page content on publisher sites. AdSense gives web site owners an easy way to bring contextually relevant ads to their pages. By monetizing web pages with existing CPC advertisers AdSense enabled Google to spread its cost-per-click business across the open web.

Google has clearly demonstrated that the key to online advertising success is relevance. As the owner of operator of an ad driven business your mission must becomes centered on helping your users find relevant ads. This may sound strange, as we all are conditioned to view advertising as a distraction, but if you work with advertisers that have something to offer your users, it’s important that your users and your advertisers are able to connect are the right time.  How can you accomplish this? There are 2 basic methods. One is by targeting user consumption, and the second is by targeting user profiles.

Google’s business targets consumption. A user searches for a specific word or term which demonstrates an interest in a product or content, allowing Google to tailor advertising and web site results that are aligned with the consumer’s immediate needs or interests. Similarly, Google’s AdSense looks at the content being consumed and serves ads that are topically aligned with that content. Both of these methods bring users relevant options that they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, which is why Google’s response rates are so high and their ad products are so profitable.

In order to provide users with relevancy based on content consumption, your site must be easy to navigate based on need. Clear and thoughtful menus, channels, grouped content, keyword search tools and other drill down methods allow you to create user value and carve out effective advertising opportunities. Yahoo’s Auto, Finance, Real Estate, and Jobs channels each work to build user and advertiser communities around specific needs. The focus of these environments commands much higher ad rates by allowing timely introductions and fueling competition for premium placement. Unfocused pages on the Internet generate .01-.35 cents for every thousand pages viewed. Synergistic environments can often achieve effective CPMs (Cost-per-thousand) of $10-$20. AdSense generates effective CPMs of $1.00- $15, often times doing so on content that wouldn’t sell in a traditional ad-media marketplace.

Whereas consumption targeting is time-based (targeting real time needs and consumption), other methods for targeting are user-based. By identifying and publishing your demographic, psychographic and behavioral data in your media kit, you are building the basic targeting tools that media planners use to consider whether your audience is right for their message.

There are other technology-driven targeting methods that utilize user cookies and/or personal registration data. These methods allow companies to serve relevant ads that are not contextually tied to current consumption. If your company assigns user-cookies that track which users spend time on your food and recipe pages and search on food and recipe related words- you can use that data to serve those users food and recipe related ads even when they are involved in activities that have nothing to do with food. This type of data allows you to create more opportunities to reach specific user segments. If you have an online registration process that records user demographic information like age, gender, industry, interests, income or other personal attributes, you can leverage this data to help advertisers filter out the users who are not in their target market. These capabilities command much higher ad rates because they allow advertisers to concentrate their impressions to ideal users, which eliminates waste.

Both of these methods utilized stored user PII (Personal Identifiable Information).

The key privacy principles which govern the collection and use of PII are “notice” and “choice”. Any ad targeting based on PII needs to be transparent to end-users and to respect their privacy preferences.”  Peter Fleischer, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel,

In other words your privacy policy should clearly state how you collect and use PII, and allow users the means to opt-out of any or all PII targeting. When properly managed, most users will understand that you’re using their data responsibly to bring them relevancy, and will feel that their privacy and security is in good hands. When best practices are ignored you risk the kind of public relations problems epitomized in the past by DoubleClick and Facebook Beacon . Using your PII data to develop ad inventory that you can sell as targeting or filters ensures that you’ll keep your users and their personal activities private and safe.

Advertising is about relevance, efficiency and measurability. Selling online advertising opportunities that maximized these important aspects are crucial to your long term success.

Attention economies and the ad-driven business model 05/20/2008

Posted by Paul Daigle in Advertising, Attention Economy, Internet Business Models.
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AttEcoThe value of most online companies will remain tied to their ability to turn usage and page-views into dollars. This makes the creation and sales of effective advertising opportunities as important as winning users for many companies.

Pursuing an ad driven business model isn’t a sure path to profitability, as even big online successes struggle to attract and grow ad revenue. So, how viable is the online advertising model for most companies?

I believe online advertising is both viable and important for a majority of Internet companies that serve more than 10,000 users per month.  Advertisers do more than pay for linked real estate. By associating themselves with your brand they substantiate the value you’re creating, and the value of the users you’re attracting. When done right advertising also gives  users access to a wider range of relevant products, services and resources. Building a healthy ecosystem of paid advertisers, business partnerships and affiliates can make your site more valuable and attractive to users and potential buyers.

To qualify your ad revenue potential, first take a close look at your audience membership and what they share. What ties your community together? What distinguishes your content or technology. Are you able to  locate a healthy universe of advertising and business development prospects that can help your users and communities succeed in their common pursuits? Is so these are the very companies that you can help succeed through comprehensive and custom-tailored ad programs.

If your site or site channels are built to serve specific user missions, affinities, demographics or activities you’ll have an easier time selling ads and keeping rates high. Synergistic environments in which site operators, users and marketers share closely aligned missions and purposes create ecosystems of interdependent concerns. Good examples of these are sites that focus specifically on woman, job seeking or music,  or channels that deal specifically with auto, gaming or finance related content. Targeted usage provides the opportunity for companies to compete for placement, which is instrument in sustaining and increasing ad rates over time.

Anyone who has sold advertising has heard prospective advertisers say “I don’t pay attention to banner ads and I don’t think other people do either.” How many of us would say that we actually pay attention to advertising? When we think about online advertising we think about loud, alluring, provocative, predatory or otherwise distracting ad content found on most websites. We have all become conscious of having to withdraw our attention in order to stay on mission. If we don’t do so, we can’t focus. But when users see ads of high interest, the thought that they are being targeted or distracted goes away completely because relevant messages often feel more like points of interest or valuable opportunities than distracting sales pitches.

“Attention economics today is primarily concerned with the problem of getting consumers to consume advertising. Traditional media advertisers utilize a linear model that consumers go through – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Attention is therefore crucial. -WikiPedia”

Consider user attention the new online currency. When your users give you their attention, repaying that attention with relevance will earn you and your advertisers more and more of their future attention. This creates conditions where your users and the advertisers who are capable of serving them can come together. The more relevant the content that each user experiences, the more attention they will be willing to spend in the future. Because most users have conditioned themselves to consume web content without investing their attention outside the content well, creating tailored environments where users are comfortable experiencing the entire page is important to maximizing the value of your inventory.

Within an attention economy advertising is considered consumable content. Therefore you must learn to view the kind of advertisers you work with and the types of ads they run on your site as important to your economy’s long term health and sustainability. Most of today’s online ad creative screams for attention because it must fight to compete for attention in economies built on distraction. It’s your job to help your advertisers understand that screaming ads in a high-quality and high relevance attention economy will only communicate desperation. Keep it clean, keep it tasteful and most importantly, keep it focused on the needs of the user.

So how to begin? Start by understanding that you have to start somewhere.  Most sites are best served by starting with business development relationships and affiliate programs that help create a advertising foundation and set the tone for what distinguishes the site’s community, channels and assets. It’s also better to start with small advertisers who can succeed with your audience than larger, less targeted campaigns that will fray user attention. You’re goal is to work to keep your ads and business partners aligned with your site mission and audience. When large “eyeball” marketers with big budgets come calling, always consider whether their participation on your site will help you build an economy of attention or distraction. When your environment leans towards distraction, every participant of your community and economy will pay a price. Remember, having dozens of competing and relevant advertisers will produce a competitive marketplace where your ad rates can go up. These relationships are much more important than those big budget “eye ball” advertisers that will never pay top dollar for your audience.

The following describers are helpful in assessing the health of a website’s attention economy. As you visit websites ask yourself if their economy is based more on attention or distraction. How do these characteristics effect your relationship with the site, and the way your attention is spent there?

Attention Economies are:

  1. Focused
  2. Relevant
  3. Personal
  4. Engaging
  5. Safe
  6. Interesting

Attention Economies create:

  1. Purpose
  2. Options
  3. Value
  4. Community

Distraction Economies feel:

  1. Unfocused
  2. Random
  3. Isolating
  4. Noisy
  5. Suspect
  6. Predatory
  7. Distracting
  8. Diverting

Distraction economies create:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Confusion
  3. Wilderness

If you can succeed in keeping your attention economy healthy, and in building synergistic environments that are sustainable, reaching a critical mass of marketers and users should provide the following Network Effects:

  • Advertiser response rates, conversion rates and renewal rates that are well above industry averages.
  • Users that visit more often and stay longer.
  • An advertising market place where competition for your best inventory justifies healthy rate increases.

These are the attributes that keep effective CPMs and total ad revenue potential on the rise, leading to a healthy and profitable Ad Driven business.