A call for an open-source ad tag

A call for an open-source ad tag

: I want to make a proposal for an open-source ad tag.

We need to enable advertising across citizens’ media, to support our new medium, and to serve marketers more efficiently than we possibly can today.

The problem today is that you have to pick the ad call you put on your site and that’s fine — except that let’s say an advertiser comes along wanting to buy ads on, say, the top 100 food blogs. Well, today, some of them will have BlogAds ad avails, others Burst, others Google, others Kanoodle, and so on. The advertiser can’t buy the best and largest network they want and they won’t bother going to each blog. So they lose the opportunity to reach this audience of smart influencers. And we miss the revenue.

It’s true that you can shift from one network to another: I recently spoke at the Burst company meeting and they explained that their publishers can set their tags so that, if Burst doesn’t have an ad to serve, the call can go to one of Burst’s competitors. But that still doesn’t really allow the advertiser to come in and create a customized network of the best sites to meet its goals.

I’ve been fretting about this for more than a year. One solution to this would be to create a citizens’ media ad network and infrastructure and work like hell to make it the ad network of choice. But that’s unlikely to work and it only presents another choice in a world where people are getting good revenue from BlogAds and Burst and Google.

So I started thinking about this idea of an open-source ad tag. I’m sure I’ll mess this up and others who know a helluva lot more about this will come in correct me — that’s what we do, eh? But try this on for size:

: You put the open-source ad tag on your site and it pings some central server (or is scraped by a spider) to announce itself, to make itself available to the network.

: Perhaps the ad can be associated not just with a site or a page but with a post and tags describing its content. That is targeting nirvana.

: You post data about your site with standard tags: topics, author, the kinds of ads you won’t take, etc.

: You also agree to put on your site a standard identifier so traffic, audience, and demographics of your audience can be collected (you can opt out, but you’ll sell less). You serve standard cookies to enable this.

: This standard identifier is also used with other data services so advertisers can put together ad hoc networks according to an amazing array of requirements — more than in any other medium: With the traffic data and with, say, Technorati, they could determine the 100 top food blogs as defined by (a) audience, (b) traffic, (c) influence, as defined by incoming links, (d) meme starting, as defined by your spot on the progress of stories. Or they could choose to buy blogs not by the demographics of the audience but instead by the demographics of the authors (sell a new album on blogs written by teenage girls, for example). This kind of targeting will be a key differentiator vs. other media.

: An ad agency or publisher or another organization can put together “quality networks” of selected sites, vetting them for quality, content, safety, whatever. So an agency can find the most influential sports blogs. Or a publisher can find compatible blogs to extend their reach or to bring in influencers for joint sales to advertisers. Or a church could vet blogs that are OK for Bible publishers or kids. This solves the problem of advertisers not wanting to be on “unsafe” content.

: You can accept or reject any ad. You can set your tag to take ads from the highest bidder. Or you can choose to approve every ad. You can set a time period to review ads so you can accept the best bidder. Or you can automatically accept ads from sources you trust. Or you can accept only ads that pay over a certain rate. I’m not sure how the bidding process works: Perhaps advertisers can start with a low price and increase it only if they don’t get takers.

: You can be paid on various models: sponsorship (cost per time period); CPM (cost per audience); performance (cost per click or per sale).

If this is done and if it becomes ubiquitous, then anyone who wants to sell or buy advertising can. The universe of sites for advertising — via networks or not — increases. The pool of money coming into advertising on citizens’ media explodes. The marketplace is efficient for buyer and seller and gives each maximum control of what matters to them.

I have been saying for a year that advertising on citizens’ media will not grow to its potential until we have three things:

: Metrics: How big, who, how they behave, etc.

: Serving: The ability to put together ad hoc targeted networks and place ads on them with no effort and high reliablity.

: ROI: The ability to measure return on investment and tune ad campaigns accordingly.

Again, one could build a network that does all that but it only competes with — rather than helps expand — the incumbents. And at the end of the day, as one VC friend said, you may end up with the DoubleClick of citizens’ media… except, in his words, “DoubleClicks’ business sucks.”

So I had my ‘ding!’ moment and decided that this should be an open-source solution. The goal is to get the ad call on any site that wants it and to collect the data advertisers want and to enable efficient buying and selling.

The net result of this — the good reason to do all this — is that it supports citizens’ media, bringing more revenue to it, allowing more people to be able to afford more quality media and I think that’s a good thing for those who want it.

I’m eager for feedback on how to make this happen, on whether it’s a good idea, on how to improve it. Pass the word….