Category Archives: Privacy

What is the real reason Automattic bought Glavatar?

As some of you already know w2i (web2innovations.com) is keeping an internal archive of almost all funding and acquisition deals that happened over the past years on web. While we have the ambitions to report on all of them the deals are so many so that we end up only writing about some of the most interesting ones. The same is the case with Automattic when they bought Glavatar some months ago. We kept the news in our archive for quite long time trying to figure out ourselves what is the real motive behind the acquisition of Glavatar and since we came up to no particular synergy and reason we have decided today to simply write about.

First off Automattic is the company behind the popular blog software WordPress. The site is amongst the most popular on web with more than 90M uniques per month. When Matt Mullenweg, announced the deal on the Glavatar’s blog he wrote about so many improvements that Glavatar is going to face with its new owner. Such as scaling things up, they transferred the Rails application and most of the avatar serving to WordPress.com’s infrastructure and servers. Avatar serving was said is already more than three times as fast, and works every time. They’ve also moved Glavatar’s blog from Mephisto to WordPress, of course.

He further said “Basically, we did the bare minimum required to stabilize and accelerate the Gravatar service, focusing a lot on making the gravatars highly available and fast. However our plans are much bigger than that.” Among those are all of the Premium features have gone free, and refunding was offered to anyone who bought them in the last 60 days; gravatar serving moved to a Content Delivery Network (CDN) so not only will they be fast, it’ll be low latency and not slow down a page load; Merging the million avatars WordPress had with the 115,000 or so Glavatar brought on the table after the deal and make them available through the Gravatar API; integrate and improve templates and bring features like multiple avatars over; from WordPress.com, bring the bigger sizes (128px) over and make that available for any Gravatar (Gravatars are only available up to 80px); Adding Microformat support for things like XFN rel=”me” and hCard to all avatar profile pages (that is in particular an interesting move); develop a new API that has cleaner URLs and allows Gravatars to be addressed by things like URL in addition to (or instead of) email addresses and not last rewrite the entire application itself to fit directly into WordPress.com’s grid, for internet-scale performance and reliability.

These days after Yahoo announcing big plans of moving towards web semantics and adopting some of the microformats and hinting LinkedIn for possible better relations with their data set if they adopt them too is a clear signal that web is slowly moving towards semantically linking of data. Automattic is obviously looking forward to that time too with its plans to add microformats like XFN (XHTML Friends Network) and hCard (simple, open, distributed format for representing people, companies, organizations, and places, using a 1:1 representation of vCard (RFC2426) properties and values in semantic HTML or XHTML). An interesting example of contextually and semantically linked web data is LinkedWords and, as you can see, the way we use them to semantically and contextually link words across our texts and connect them to their contextual platform.

So far so good, but nothing from the above indicates what is the reason Automattic bought the site called Glavatar. It is definitely neither because of their user base (only 115K) nor because of the technology, obviously. Employment through acquisition? Not really, Tom Werner, the founder of Glavatar is being said to be a big Ruby guy and taking into consideration the fact Matt seems to be moving towards PHP with Glavatar it seems highly unlikely for Tom to stay with Automattic.

From everything being said publicly it turns out that Automattic has decided to help the small site work better, but no clear benefits are seen for their company from this deal, or at least not to us.

We do believe Matt where he says “our plans are much bigger than that”, but what those plans are? Building a social network upon the avatars and the profile data associated with or perhaps having an online identity service built upon. Or, perhaps, simply building a global avatar service (with in-depth profiles) makes more sense for a company that commands over 100M uniques per month rather than for a tiny web site like Glavatar.

Whatever the case is congratulations to the involved. Terms of the deal were not publicly disclosed.

More about Glavatar

The web is no longer about anonymous content generated by faceless corporations. It is about real people and the real content that they provide.

It is about you.

But as powerful as the web has become, it still lacks the personal touch that comes from a handshake. The vast majority of content you come across on the web will still be near-anonymous even though it may have a name attached. Without knowing the author behind the words, the words cannot be trusted. This is where Gravatar comes in.

Gravatar aims to put a face behind the name. This is the beginning of trust. In the future, Gravatar will be a way to establish trust between producers and consumers on the internet. It will be the next best thing to meeting in person.

Today, an avatar. Tomorrow, Your Identity–Online.

More

http://gravatar.com/
http://site.gravatar.com/site/about
http://automattic.com/
http://blog.gravatar.com/2007/10/18/automattic-gravatar/
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/automattic_acquires_gravatar.php
http://www.quantcast.com/p-18-mFEk4J448M
http://microformats.org/wiki/Main_Page
http://rubyisawesome.com/

WidgetBucks claims it served over 1B ads in just 3 months, enters behavioral targeting

A tiny start up called WidgetBucks is claiming they have served over 1 billion ads in the past three months. It is a serious claim, aside the fact they also claim to be the fastest growing ad network on web today.

WidgetBucks features pay-per-click shopping widgets that help their customers make money fast. They instantly display the most popular products based on buying trends of 100 million shoppers. Thus they are highly engaging, which means instant dollars for our customers. The company is also claiming their widgets see $3-$6 CPM – pretty good compared to traditional ad networks that deliver less than $2 CPM.

If that’s true and the company had over 1B ads served over the past 3 months and they claim they are seeing $3-$6 CPM (cost per thousand impressions) on average it then turns out the company should have its pay outs made over the last months in the $3M-$6M range.

The site offers the following features and benefits.

  • Self-service, scalable and relevant content that’s free and easy to publish.
  • Dynamic, contextual widgets act as content (vs. ads) that more effectively targets your users, not the masses.
  • Extensive reporting tools and daily updates; Payouts are monthly.
  • Complements existing programs, such as Google AdSense.
  • Over 300 configurations, 256 color schemes and formatted for major IAB standard sizes.
  • Dynamic Ad Yield Management matches the best merchant for each product while offering consumers the best price.
  • MerchSense (patent pending) contextual algorithm automatically targets the right products for your site.
  • Manual configuration also available by category.
  • Product listings from 30,000 merchants including trusted leading brands.

Bloggers can customize what kinds of consumer items they want to appear in the widget (books, movies, computers, musical instruments), then they grab some code and put it on their blog. Or they can let Mpire (Widgetbucks’s parent company) serve up contextually relevant ads based on the topics they write about. WidgetBucks scans your site and tries to match ads to the keywords it finds. The widgets tap into merchandise from 30,000 retailers, including Amazon, Shopping.com, Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and the Gap. WidgetBucks shares the cost-per-click revenue with bloggers.

WidgetBucks comes to you from the folks at Mpire Corporation, the award-winning meta-shopping service. Mpire’s extensive shopping data experience, including its proprietary contextual, analytics and relevancy algorithms, power WidgetBucks. Founded in 2005, Mpire is backed by Ignition Partners and former eBay executive and Pay Pal angel investor Richard Rock.

The parent company is a shopping search engine. Not only will it give you a list of links to where to buy that 32-in. LCD TV, if you click on Show Product Details, it will display a pricing chart that shows whether the price is trending up or down, at both retail and at auction, so you can decide if it’s the right time to buy. The “shopping companion” browser plug-in, a free download, is handy to use when you are shopping at other sites; it shows what other etailers are charging for the item you’re looking at, so you can be sure to get the best deal. Soon it will also show how consumers rated the product on Epinions and Amazon. So far this site has indexed more than 150 million products offered by 55,000 online stores, from mom-and-pop Web shops to major e-tailers like Amazon.com, and it doesn’t accept payment from merchants for top placement in its search results.

The site (Mpire) has won a number of prestigious awards from TIME’s 50 Best Websites for 2007 to t the eBay’s winner of the Star Developer Award 2007.  WidgetBucks has also won the Mashable Open Web Award.

Others in the sector include Farecast that does the chart thing with airfares, TheFind.com, the old player Epinions and the new comer Proximic, which has just signed a deal with both Yahoo Shopping and eBay’s Shopping.com to contextually deliver their product ads to third party sites. There is also Google’s Gadget Ads (AdSense in a widget), AuctionAds, boobox, and even ThisNext.

Today it seems the company is up to something even bigger – the behavioral widget ads.

While WidgetBucks already had MergeSense to help you determine the best products to display on your site’s widgets, the next step was “to test ad placement within the widget,” says Matt Hulett, CEO of Widgetbucks. The new service is called YieldSense, which is quite close in title to another behavioral ad system called YieldBuild, which determines optimal placement of text ads throughout your website.

YieldSense has some basic behavioral ad techniques being applied to the widget ads. Experts claim widget makers with built in networks have a distinct advantage in the amount of data they’re able to pull, from CPM to attention data, along with the passive absorption of the experiences of ad networks that have come before them.

It seems widget builders and companies are poised to become dominant players in the behavioral ads market due to the nature of the widgets being embedded across number of third party sites gathering that way vast amount of information. WidgetBucks perhaps took that step a little sooner than others because its widget network in fact began as an advertising affiliate program.

Mpire Corporation is based in Seattle, WA.

The behavioral ads market is however not going to be a cake walk for most of the companies. Experts in the sector outline several major issues the industry is facing today. Issues like privacy, accuracy and quality, personalization and profiles are just a few of the behavioral targeting concerns today.

An alternative, being proposed, that solves the issues with both privacy and effectiveness is one centered on understanding the user’s intent, instead of their clickpath or profile, and pairing that with specific content, product, and advertising recommendations. This approach relies exclusively on the collective wisdom of like-minded peers who have demonstrated interests or engagement with similar content and context.

The concept of profiles is completely removed in this case, and instead by understanding the user’s expressed or implied intent that user will see the content that is appropriate to their current mindset.

This is the next evolution in user targeting that gets beyond clicks and analytics, and instead rests on a proven foundation of modern social science theory.  The approach is conceptually simple and mimics how we learn and act in everyday life – making choices based on what others who are in the same current mindset as us have done. More about the behavioral targeting can be read over here

The market

Behavioral advertising and behavioral targeting are both lately becoming yet another hot area in the online marketing space, with Tacoda recently acquired by AOL for an estimated amount of $200-300 million. Start ups are trying to analyze every move you do online and try to hook you up with the right ads, products and services. MyBuys is making no exception it tracks user behavior to help online retailers make better recommendations.

Competition in the field is staggering and some of the names include StyleFeeder relying on community recommendations and raised $1M so far, Wunderloop, Baynote, Matchmine, which also raised $10M recently and not last Aggregate Knowledge, which once used to be a hot start-up in the Silicon Valley. The last one that took a massive funding was MyBuys – $10M from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Palomar Ventures.

The demand among online retailers for better behavioral tracking is so high right now that MyBuys and its startup competitors are all able to gather this “low hanging fruit” — Lightspeed Venture Partner’s Peter Nieh explains further.

The market shakeout in behavioral targeting will resemble search engines startup in the 1990’s, Nieh, a Lightspeed Venture Partner, thinks: Many companies were able to search the web, but Google ended up doing it way better than the others, and captured the largest portion of the market.

More

http://www.widgetbucks.com/home.page
http://widgetbucks.blogspot.com/
http://mashable.com/2008/01/16/widgetbucks-yieldsense/
http://mashable.com/2007/10/02/widgetbucks/
http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1633488_1633458_1633489,00.html
http://blogs.mpire.com/?p=135
http://blogs.mpire.com/?p=135
http://web2innovations.com/money/2008/01/19/proximic-lands-deals-with-yahoo-and-shoppingcom-said-to-be-taking-on-adsense-which-is-bad-pr-approach/
http://widgetbucks.blogspot.com/2007/11/widgetbucks-offering-cpm-ads-for.html
http://mashable.com/2008/01/16/widgetbucks-yieldsense/
http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/10/02/a-widget-that-actually-makes-money/
http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/05/09/mpire-launches-widgets-for-ebay-and-amazon-affiliates/
http://web2innovations.com/money/2008/01/11/behavioral-targeting-is-busted-but-marketers-are-barking-up-the-wrong-tree/
http://web2innovations.com/money/2007/12/26/behavioral-recommendation-service-for-shoppers-raises-10-million-market-heats-up/

Behavioral Targeting is Busted; But Marketers are barking up the wrong tree!

Behavioral Targeting (BT) has been around since the first dotcom days. It got really hot again in late 2007 thanks to a few big promoters like Facebook. But what is it and does it really work as it sounds?

BT tracks a web visitor’s browser-click-streams, typically in the last six visits, to predict what he or she may want in the future, and target ads, content or products based on those “personalized” past behaviors. The hope is that BT will show the right ad or product to the right user who is most susceptible to it.  This sounds ideal to advertisers, but, put yourself in the shoes of a user and two huge problems leap out: privacy and quality.

The Privacy Issue
With such a glut of products and information online, the motivation behind behavioral targeting makes sense – it seems to be a good thing for Yahoo to get me a more relevant ad because they happen to know I checked out a Prius in my local dealership. For consumers, however, there is an obvious psychological aversion to behavioral targeting, as they feel they are being personally tracked and watched.

In this age of identity theft and mounting concerns over privacy in general, a practice that proactively profiles a user, perhaps over the scope of many websites and over a period of several months, will sound alarms even among the least conservative of us. And while BT advocates will defend their practice of storing only anonymous data —
which is the proper thing to do — knowing that your likes, dislikes, shopping history, and viewing tendencies are being tracked and possibly shared or sold to advertisers is disconcerting at the least.

In addition, with so much information about us on the web, an anonymous individual on one site can quickly become a known/named user on another site once BT starts to compare and contrast user behaviors across multiple sites. So our private information can spread out very quickly without us even knowing it.

Not surprisingly, many advocacy groups are very concerned about the issues surrounding this type of targeting.  Privacy groups have recently proposed a “Do not Track” list to limit behavioral profiling techniques similar to “Do Not Call” lists that keep pesky telemarketers away. 

Privacy concerns seem to be enough to limit the impact of BT. But there is more.

The Bigger Pitfalls of Behavioral Targeting
Beyond privacy concerns, there are accuracy and quality issues with BT that all online marketers and e-commerce managers may not be aware of.  Traditional BT struggles precisely because it tries to discern what I want now based on my past behaviors. Consider the impact of focusing on historical interests instead of current intent – if I bought a gag gift for a bachelor party, I certainly do not want to be bombarded by ads for similar “products” that might cause embarrassment or make me the butt of the joke around the office.

Another way to think of this problem is the idea of roles or personalization.  Humans have far too many roles in life – or what personalization systems might call profiles – to possibly predict what a given user wants on that day.  A woman shopping for baby clothes, a tie for her husband, and a gift for her sister may appear schizophrenic because she is acting in three different roles – mother, wife, and sister.   What do you show her next?  Tossing ads at her about strollers is not going to appeal to her now that she’s shopping for a new cocktail dress for herself.

This is the pitfall of profiles.  In a given month, an individual will have thousands of roles. Knowing my past is not necessarily a better way to predict my future. In fact, this phenomenon has been known by psychologists and other scientists for years – humans are animals of context and situations, much less so of our historical profiles or roles.

Let’s look at Facebook’s behavioral targeting practices. Alex Iskold recently wrote a good blog in ReadWriteWeb about a little myth regarding how behavioral targeting is going to help Facebook justify their $15 billion valuation. I like Alex’s summation of the myth: “because Facebook knows everything about us, it will always be able to serve perfect ads.” But the reality is very different.

Facebook does not really know much about us, especially anything about our true intent at any given moment when we are on the network.  Their user profiles are historical artifacts and not tied to current intent. In addition, the behaviors that users exhibit on Facebook are about connecting with one another – not about reading, researching, and buying like the rest of the web. And finally, when users connect they’re only acting in one of their infinite roles.

In the end, the ads we get served on Facebook today are the direct result of the lack of understanding of its users.  Those in the ad industry liken these to “Run of Network” ads which are not targeted and are simply designed to get a fraction of a percent click-through.  Unsurprisingly, most ads are about dating.

Enter Intent-based Targeting
An alternative that solves the issues with both privacy and effectiveness is one centered on understanding the user’s intent, instead of their clickpath or profile, and pairing that with specific content, product, and advertising recommendations. This approach relies exclusively on the collective wisdom of like-minded peers who have demonstrated interests or engagement with similar content and context.

The concept of profiles is completely removed in this case, and instead by understanding the user’s expressed or implied intent that user will see the content that is appropriate to their current mindset.

This is the next evolution in user targeting that gets beyond clicks and analytics, and instead rests on a proven foundation of modern social science theory.  The approach is conceptually simple and mimics how we learn and act in everyday life – making choices based on what others who are in the same current mindset as us have done.

Since humans change roles rapidly, intent-based models allow content recommendations, ads, and even search results to change instantly as users act in a new or different role.  Further, because historical actions and profiles are not needed, 100 percent of the new visitors coming to a website can be targeted with precise content before the first click.

Win/Win
Website users care about privacy and usability on the web.  Targeting visitors based on their intent, which is validated by the collective wisdom of those before them with the same intent, is a natural way for visitors to interact with your website – it’s the way humans have been programmed to work.  Most importantly it kills two birds with one stone: users get useful, accurate recommendations and ads while still avoiding the whole privacy mess. 

~~~~~~~~~

Jack is a founder and CEO of Baynote, Inc., a provider of Intent-driven Recommendation and Social Search technology for websites. Previously, Jack served as SVP & founding CTO of Interwoven Inc. with responsibilities across engineering, products, marketing, corporate vision and strategy. Prior to Interwoven, he was a founder and CEO of V-max America. Jack also led operating systems and applications development at SGI, Sun Microsystems, Stratus and NASA. He is a frequent major conference speaker and has appeared on television programs in several countries. He is a contributing author in “XML Handbook, the 4th Edition”, “Online! The Book”, “Content Management Bible”, and writes regularly about key technology issues and trends. He can be contacted at jack@baynote.com.