Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More on what to advertise when there is no commercial intent

Some of the advertising out there is getting spooky. If you look at a product at many online stores, that product will then follow you around the web.

Go to BBC News, for example, and there will be those dishes you were looking at yesterday on Overstock. Not just any dishes, the exact same dishes. Just in case you forgot about them, there they are again next time you go. And again. And again.

A few years ago, I wrote an article, "What to advertise when there is no commercial intent?". That article suggested that, on sites like news sites, we might not have immediate commercial intent, and might have to reach back into the past to find strong commercial intent. It advocated for personalized advertising that helped people discover interesting products and deals related to strong commercial intent they had earlier.

However, this did not mean that you should just show the last product I looked at. That is refinding, not personalized recommendations. Refinding is all a lot of these ads are doing. You look at a chair, ads follow you around the web showing you ads for that same chair that you already know about over and over again. That's not discovery. That's spooky and not helpful.

Personalized ads should help people discover things they don't know about related to past purchase intent. If I look at a chair, show me highly reviewed similar furniture and good coupons and big deals related in some non-obvious way to that chair and that store. Don't just show me the same chair again. I know about that chair. Show me something I don't know. Help me discover something I haven't found yet.

I understand the reason these companies are doing refinding is because it's hard to do anything better. Doing useful recommendations of related products and deals is hard. Helping people discover something new and interesting is hard. Personalized recommendations requires a lot of data, clever algorithms, and a huge amount of work. Refinding is trivially easy.

But publishers aren't doing themselves any favors by allowing these startups to get away with this kind of useless advertising. As a recent study says, "the practice of running annoying ads can cost more money than it earns." That short-term revenue bump from these spooky refinding ads is like a sugar rush, feels good while it lasts, but hurts in the long-term.

They can and should do better. Personalization, including personalized advertising, should be about helping people discover things they could not easily find on their own. Personalization should not be refinding, just showing what I found before, just exposing my history. Personalization should be helpful. Personalization should be discovery.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Quick links

Some of the best of what I've been thinking about lately:
  • Tiny cheap satellites will provide near real-time imagery of the entire Earth to anyone who wants it, starting in about a year ([1] [2] [3])

  • Amplifying motion and color changes in video, which allows augmented perception ([1] [2])

  • Birds can hear the very low frequency sound produced by severe weather and are able to flee well in advance of incoming storms ([1])

  • Nice example of blending computer science with another field, in this case genealogy, to yield big new gains ([1])

  • "An energy gradient 1000 times greater than traditional particle accelerators" ([1])

  • People "don't want to watch commercials, are fleeing networks, hate reruns, are increasingly bored by reality programming, shun print products and, oh, by the way, don’t want to pay much for content either. Yikes." ([1] [2])

  • Everything we know Google is working on ([1])

  • Funny and informative: "Riding in a Google Self-Driving Car" ([1])

  • Google is rejecting security based on firewalls ([1] [2] [3])

  • "Whether you call it a Star Trek Universal Translator or Babel fish, Microsoft is building it, and it's incredible." ([1])

  • "Every dollar a worker earns in a research field spills over to make the economy $5 better off. Every dollar a similar worker earns in finance comes with a drain, making the economy 60 cents worse off." ([1])

  • "I’m a big believer in making effectively infinite computing resources available internally ... [Give] teams the resources they need to experiment ... All employees should be limited only by their ability rather than an absence of resources or an inability to argue convincingly for more." ([1])

  • "We think of it as a one-on-one tutor. It will test you and generate a personal lesson plan just for you." ([1])

  • "Apparently, a sufficient number of puppies can explain any computer science concept. Here we have multithreading:" ([1])

  • Fantastic to see a US president promoting computer programming to kids: "Becoming a computer scientist isn't as scary as it sounds. With hard work and a little math and science, anyone can do it." ([1])