If targeted advertising is the currency of free. I’ll pay.

February 2, 20121 Comment
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If you are as much a techhead as me, no doubt you’ll notice that this week, the web has been all a swirl with a couple of meaty main topics.  Facebook’s recent S1 filing, Google’s introduction of Search Plus Your World and decision to change their privacy policy to consolidate data about you and me across their services. Watching these two tech giants playout against each other in the battle for the social web is fascinating, and we will undoubtedly be watching the moves each company makes to either keep competition at bay, or forge ahead into new territories over time.

For Google, they are right now, (in terms of social) very much underestimated, and something of the underdog. Their decision recently to bring Google+  social data into the main search results is a strong defensive maneuver designed to force the hands of Twitter and Facebook to open up their data further, and give Google back the personal information that they so desperately seek. Facebook keeping the data behind a walled garden (as is the current Facebook approach) is their defensive strategy against too much Google power, who may use it to supplement their own social efforts and allows these networks to consider other markets, such as search as they evolve.

See Eric Schmidt video below, which more or less undermines Facebook and Twitter’s position.

I’ve read various articles on Google’s announcement over privacy, may of the critics shout war cry’s of ‘Go back to core search, and leave social alone’ or argue that Google are losing their focus on what once made them great. Just as Facebook in the past have suffered from PR shit storms before, now the barrels of the privacy gun have shifted to Google. Not least because this particular blend of Google bashing is great linkbait. Many of the reports I’ve read are grossly exaggerated and whilst they make for interesting pageview fodder, fundamentally miss the mark on exactly what the new policy entails. Microsoft, in typical bandwagon jumping fashion have thrown their hat in the witch hunt ring as well, with (obviously) the perfect solution to your privacy concerns- Bing.

Don’t make me laugh.

MS have an inferior product, and everyone knows it. If they’d concentrate on improving rather than taking cheap shots at the competition in times of furore, maybe search would be a more competitive space. The response from Google calling them out on such bullshit tactics speaks volumes.

Isn’t it time that we all grew up and realised that advertising on the web has to evolve? Let me quote from Tim O’Reilly who echos my own sentiments.

The world is changing. We give up more and more of our privacy online in exchange for undoubted benefits. We give up our location in order to get turn by turn directions on our phone; we give up our payment history in return for discounts or reward points; we give up our images to security cameras equipped with increasingly sophisticated machine learning technology. As medical records go online, we’ll increase both the potential and the risks of having private information used and misused.

We need to engage deeply with these changes, and we best do that in the open, with some high profile mis-steps to guide us. In an odd way, Facebook is doing us a favor by bringing these issues to the fore, especially if (as they have done in the past), they react by learning from their mistakes. It’s important to remember that there was a privacy brouhaha when Facebook first introduced the Newsfeed back in 2006!

If you haven’t already noticed, the reason Google are putting their fingers in the proverbial social pie, its because this is where content is now being created, its where its being shared, and it contains a boatload of data about the relevancy of web pages. For Google, social isn’t some sort of “me-too” effort, its a reflection of a fundamental evolution of the web, and how we are now finding information. The lines between search and social are blurring at an alarming rate. A rate that Google is all too aware. There is a slowdown in their core search business, and social and other markets such as television provide the much need reinvigoration that they need to stay at the forefront of their business.

Q4 earnings missed the mark – see Forbes article on ‘Google’s Big Problem they don’t want you to know about‘. A telling tale for future forecasts for the company, that predicts that as mobile searches grow in popularity, this could be inversely proportional to click through rates on ads. For anyone familiar with Adsense, you’ll be all too aware of the challenges of advertising on mobile devices. Facebook have also shown through their S1 filing have shown just how important mobile is to their business, and in turn the difficulties with monetising mobile. (They have yet to do so).

425 million people visited the site on a mobile device in the month of December. That’s over half of the company’s user base.Wired.

Those critical of Google’s approach often forget that its evolve or die time for Google. If they fail to get social and mobile right now, they will end up losing control of the web, and the advertising dollars that go with it – and they know it. Now is not the time for hesitation, or faltering. Larry Page’s team talk shows just how passionate he is about making that part of the business work, and its a roadmap for future success of the company.

I for one recognize that there isn’t any place for altruism in business, and considering that Google fundamentally need to get into these areas of the web to survive, am neither surprised at their recent announcements, nor do I particularly care. With algorithms performing the work behind the scenes, with automated systems (a fact often left out of relevant stories about the privacy issues), I’m not quite sure how we can call foul play when Facebook et al arguably are *alot* more sophisticated in their targeting of people, and yet 845 million of us have given Facebook access to our personal connections. Those same people complaining about the loss of their privacy on Google, can often be found sharing geo-located photos on Facebook. Show me a tech journalist complaining, and I’ll show you someone happily embroiled in social media, willingly giving up their personal information to advertisers on Facebook or other platforms. It’s the ironic echo chamber in feeding frenzy.

If we apply these principles to the real world, how many of you have thought about the information stored about you by say your credit card company. How long do they store the purchases you make, or how many of them resell the information? Or our phone providers who record how long a telephone call we make to friends lasts? Can’t remember the last article I read on these subjects, yet there isn’t anywhere near the level of controls over privacy that Google and Facebook currently provide us.

Such is the world we live in. Personalised advertising isn’t going anywhere, and I’d rather have a relevant ad that is useful, than be bombarded with crap that clutters my online experience. I also believe that as these services evolve, we’ll eventually find ourselves accepting that personal advertising can be useful and relevant. Call me stupid, call me reckless, but if  we all think about the amount of time (and therefore money) we’ve all made and saved with the aforementioned services that we take for granted as being free over the years – if personalised advertising is the currency of free, I’m willing to pay.

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About the Author ()

Paul is a regular 30 year old web bloke / programmer with a penchant for online marketing. This blog is a personal outlet, with an eclectic mix of articles.

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  1. I agree – mobile is most definitely a problem…

    Not only do people want stuff for free – but increasingly they won’t be clicking on adverts either, so something is going to have to give…

    With regard to AdWords (I know you didn’t actually ask) – in my experience so far, returns from mobile only campaigns really suck big time. There is, of course, the possibility that people visit your site on mobile, then convert later on another device, but currently there is no way to measure this and an AdWords account manager at Google was unable to give any figures / percentages of what this might be.

    Maybe Google will start associating users with a Google account at some point in the future (e.g. ppcni.com@gmail.com clicks on an ad on mobile and then ppcni.com@gmail.com converts on a desktop the next day) but they don’t currently do this.

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