Monday, August 9, 2010

Online Ad Tech Curriculum: Links

[I am going to make additions/changes to the list by editing the post itself.  I think that's better than cluttering everyones' feed.]

A VC friend asked what he should read to better understand the online advertising market.  At the time I thought I could offer some decent advice.  But as I started to think about it I realized that the stuff you need to know to know how this stuff works is scattered all over the place.  Simple things--like a flowchart of how an ad is delivered to someone visiting a site, complete with multiple ad servers, redirects, etc.--I can't find.

So I figured I'd start making a list.  It's nowhere near complete.  In fact, it's sort of off-the-cuff.  I could use some help improving it.  If you were going to point someone to a few resources that would improve their knowledge of the fundamentals--not the news, not the opinion--of the online ad business, what would they be?

In no particular order.

Books and articles:
Randall Rothenberg, Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign (link to Amazon)
The book to read on the messy details of how an ad campaign gets made with all the wacky interplay between agency and client.

Mark Tungate, Adland: A Global History of Advertising (link to Amazon)
The other day someone tried to tell me just how little I knew about the history of the agency world.  Upon pressing him, I learned he got all his info from watching Mad Men.  I told him to read this book.

Dean Donaldson, Online Advertising History (PDF)
A good--if woefully incomplete--history of online advertising.  And the only one I could find out there.  Part of Donaldson's master's degree program.

Kyle Bagwell, The Economic Analysis of Advertising (PDF)
What does advertising do and what is its societal purpose?  Bagwell provides a nice survey of the various academic work over the years.  In the end you might be underwhelmed by how little we know, but there it is.

Demetrios Vakratsas; Tim Ambler, How Advertising Works: What Do We Really Know? (JSTOR link, unfree*.)
If Bagwell is top-down, this is bottom-up.  Various cognitive models of advertising.

Gerard Tellis, Advertising's Role in Capitalist Markets (PDF)
I think it's important to note that advertising is a necessary part of our economic system.  If it were not, it would not be much use thinking about it.

Core Online Ad Enabling Technologies:
Cookies are one of the core technologies used in web advertising., Cookies (PDF)
Flash Cookies Explained (HTML)

Ad Servers:
Understanding ad serving is one of the trickiest parts of understanding the online ad infrastructure. 
Eric Picard, Ad Serving 101, Revised (HTML)
Pointed to this by Ian Thomas, below, but his link is broken.

Why do Publishers and Marketers have Separate Ad Servers? (HTML)
There's more to it than this, but it's a start.

Ad Tags:
Operative's Blog on Ad Tags (HTML)
How to Read Doubleclick Ad Tags and Ad Tag Variables (HTML)

Promotional material:
OpenX White Papers
Pubmatic White Papers
In general I find industry whitepapers to be self-serving.  Doesn't mean you can't learn something from them, though.  These two companies have some informative stuff.

Terry Kawaja/GCA Savvian, Display Advertising Technology Landscape (PDF)
DeSilva+Phillips Online Ad Networks: Monetizing the Long Tail (PDF)
DeSilva+Phillips Ad Exchanges, RTB, and the Future of Online Advertising (PDF)
Investment Bank whitepapers.  When these reports are good, they're invaluable in their industry coverage.

Government Scrutiny:

FTC, Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising (PDF)
The Office of Fair Trading Online Targeting of Advertising and Prices (PDFs)
Some of the most informative publicly available industry coverage is in the reports prepared for government agencies looking at whether and how to regulate.

Bloggers are flaky and difficult people who write about whatever they please whenever they please.  Um, present company excepted.  So, instead of plugging blogs, some posts I think are worth reading.  All of these are from bloggers in my feed.  They're not all the bloggers in my feed, of course, but posts specific to this discussion.

Jay Weintraub, Risk, Arbitrage, and The Root of (Much) Evil
Ian Thomas, Online Advertising 101 series
Mike Nolet, RTB Part I (and parts Ia, Ib, II, III)
Jonathan Mendez, The True Media Value Delta
Brent Halliburton, The Chaos of Second Price Auctions
Greg Hills, Shouldn't It be Cheaper if I Buy More?
Darren Herman, Advertising to Audiences

* If you head to your library, and they have access to JSTOR, you can get it for free.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The future of free media

Monday's Wall Street Journal article on cookie tracking was a bit underwhelming. So although (a) we've been having the same conversation over and over again since 1996 without getting anywhere*, (b) the article was a bit misleading and maddeningly vague, and (c) industry rumor has it that the church/state divide at the Journal does not quite live up to the J-school ideal, I am siding with Jeff Jarvis in believing that News Corp is not well enough organized to stage a conspiracy: the article was just poorly done.

These arguments are nominally about privacy. And providing privacy is a worthy but complicated** goal. But given the general level of philosophical confusion about privacy, I believe much of the commentary (and the comments to the commentary) is motivated by a hostility to advertising in general.

If you hate advertising, you hate advertising. Arguing that not paying for music means a diminished supply of quality music does not sway the downloader. Not paying for media--in whatever sense of pay--means a diminished supply of quality media. This argument does not sway the hater of advertising, but I'm not trying to convince them. Advertising provides something important: free (as in beer) media. This may not mean much to Rupert Murdoch--who can afford to pay cash for his media--but it means something to society. And it should mean something to those of us who are trying to find a way to make quality ad-supported online media a viable proposition.

Paying cash for media is regressive. High cover prices exclude those with less disposable income. (This strategy is used purposefully by mixed-model high-end media outlets to produce a demographic appealling to better-paying advertisers.) Advertising democratizes media***. And media allows a democracy.

Online media is suffering. Susan Athey and Joshua Gans say "the adoption of targeting... leads to higher impression prices, higher profits, and higher social welfare." Online media is in dire need of profits, much less higher profits. The alternative to targeting is the pay-wall. The FTC, in thinking about targeting, needs to seriously weigh the regressive impact of limiting advertising against the opinion of news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, who have consciously set out to exclude those who don't have a spare $363 per year to spend on something they can get elsewhere for the nuisance cost of seeing a few ads.

* i.e., The Financial Times, February 12, 1996, "This Bug in Your PC is a Smart Cookie"; and San Jose Mercury News, February 13, 1996, "Web 'Cookies' May be Spying on You."
** If you can quickly and simply articulate what privacy is and why it is important, I will quickly and simply point you to a counter-example. Privacy is not a single thing, it seems more like a bundle of things, so it defies easy analysis.
*** A fact evidenced by laws compelling certain content to be aired "free." This content, naturally, is usually sporting events, but that's a rant of a different color. Hansen & Kyhl "Pay-per-view broadcasting of outstanding events: consequences of a ban" talks about the EU directive of 1989.