Tag Archive for 'utility computing'

Advertising on the Internet needs innovation

On the weekend, I caught up with Cameron Reilly of the Podcast network , and he was telling me about his views on monetising podcasts. It got me thinking again about those things I like to think about: how content can be monetised. Despite the growth in online advertising which is tipped to be $80 billion, I think we still have a lot more innovation to go with revenue models, especially ones that help content creators.

Advertising is a revenue stream that has traditionally enabled content-creators to monetise their products, in the absence of people paying a fee or subscription. With the Internet, content has undergone a radical changing of what it is – digital, abundant, easily copied – whilst the Internet has offered new opportunities for how advertising is done. However, the Internet has identified the fundamental weaknesses of advertising , as consumers can now control their content consumption, which allows them to ignore embedded advertising altogether. Content on the other hand, still remains in demand, but means of monetising it are slipping into a free economy which is not sustainable. I make that point to illustrate not that professional content creation is a sunset industry – but rather there’s a big market opportunity as this massive industry needs better options.

time mag

"Hey man, there’s this new thing called the Internet. Sounds pretty cool"

One of the biggest innovations in advertising (and enabled by the Internet) is of contextual search advertising. This has been popularised by Google, which now makes 98% of its $17 billion revenue from these units. This advertising dominates online advertising (40% of total) because of its pull nature, whereby key-words stated by a consumer in effect state their intention of what they are interested or would like to purchase. Whilst this is a highly efficient form of advertising, it also has its weaknesses – for example, it is not as effective outside of the search engine environment. Google makes 35% of its revenue from the adSense network , where these contextual ads are placed on peoples personal websites. Evidence from high traffic bloggers suggests they barely make enough money through this type of advertising. Another point to consider is that aspects of the Google network include significant partnership agreements like the one with AOL which accounts for 10% of Googles revenue (this is a 2005 figure which has likely changed, but Google does state in their 2007 report "Our agreements with a few of the largest Google Network members account for a significant portion of revenues derived from our AdSense program. If our relationship with one or more large Google Network members were terminated or renegotiated on terms less favorable to us, our business could be adversely affected.". AOL most recently reported for Q1 2008 half a billion dollars largely from search advertising ).

Other attempts at creating more efficient advertising which have existed for over a decade, have come in the form of profiling or behavioural tracking. However, these forms of advertising has also highlighted the growing awareness of consumer privacy being eroded, and is under heavy scrutiny by activist groups and government. Facebook is a company that is best posed to deliver new forms of advertising because of the rich profiling data it has, but it itself has faced massive backlash .

My view is that the majority of online advertising for successful individual publishers at least, has largely come from traditional approaches to advertising – a masthead blog with a sales team that uses display advertising. How effective this display advertising is is debateable with widespread banner blindness and consumer control over their content, but it would appear that this is more a case of advertisers seeing this as the least bad on the overall scale of opportunities. The fact it replicates the mass media approach of number of unique consumers viewing the content, and not the types of users, means this isn’t anything new other than being done in a digital environment.

Digital content is in need of a better monetisation system.
Targeted advertising is the most efficient form, yet consumer privacy is a growing force preventing this. What we need, is not a new advertising technology, but a new way of thinking about advertising – in a way that can help the content economy rather than riding on it without giving benefit. Contextual advertising sounds great in theory as it calculates key-word frequency of words on a website, to match it to a key word ad – but it’s proving in practice these ads are not very relevant. Yet trying to think of a smarter way to advertise, may be the wrong question – perhaps half the problem itself is advertising as a concept?


Are we running down a tunnel, only to find there is nothing there?

Content which comes in the form of news (historical and breaking), analysis, and entertainment can be monetised via a persons attention or through a transaction (ie, subscription, fee, etc). Both this approaches have different barriers.

– Attention: The key driver is increased dollars per unique person, over a period of time. The barriers to this approach is the challenge of identifying the individual in a way that gives advertising that is highly relevant and will result in a conversion. In other words, privacy privacy privacy.

– Alternative payment: Requiring consumers to pay for content is a barrier due to the paid wall. What is more problematic for digital content, is that the ability to replicate it freely makes it not just easy to do for the masses but has created a culture of if it’s not free, it’s not worth purchasing unless its really necessary. There needs to be a strong value proposition for a consumer to purchase content, and in the absense of a brand and marketing, the restriction of what value the content offers is a barrier for consumer demand as they don’t know what they are missing out on.

So as you see above, content creators are in a difficult position. Charging people reduces their opportunity unless they are really established, but even then, due to the digital environment they don’t have any control over subsequent distribution (with rampant piracy). Yet advertising is fraught with being irrelevant and hence not effective (so advertisers go to other forms) and any attempts to make it more relevant, gets held back by the concerns of privacy advocates (and rightly so). Whilst the Internet parades itself as an advertising growth machine, it’s growing in new areas but not the old areas that have traditionally been the medium for advertisers.

This advertising growth is largely being driven through utility computing products that aim to make information retrieval more efficient (ie, search). However, the growth for the content creators, is not happening. As Cam was telling me, in a market like Australia – small content organisations like TPN and Bronwen Clune ‘s Norgs , don’t have access to the big end of town for a sales team. And he didn’t have to tell me, those Google ads for the smaller guys, are not enough to pay the bills. That small to middle end is not being really catered for.

But before you jump on the phone and create some mid-tier advertising network that caters for a niche, think about the real problem: content creators need a better solution to monetise their content. But advertisers also need a better way of selling, other than some slick-talking sales person who can sell ads on pageviews (a broken model with weak alternatives ) They need advertising that is suited for their product, but the market now includes other products media outlets never had to compete with like marketplaces now happening online and utility computing products. Whilst the technology community obsesses about search , let’s also remember we have yet to see a new way to monetise content that is superior to the old world. Contextual advertising of text is the latest new thing area, but that technique is nearly a decade old. As I prove above, outside of the search environment, it is showing to not be that effective.

Where is the innovation going to come from? Not through technology but with a new paradigm shift like how content creators operate . New ways of thinking about the way we ‘sell’ like what the VRM Project is challenging. But perhaps more fundamentally, is an understanding that the holy grail of targeted advertising has got a speed hump called privacy – and that may actually be a sign of not going faster towards better targeting, but changing the vehicle all together.

Analysing the user experience from two social networking sites

Yet again, MySpace has e-mailed me a useless e-mail that frustrates me more than it gives me value . But what I noticed recently, was another social networking site, taking a different approach.


Whereas MySpace is simply alerting me, which is forcing me to painfully log into their service, Geni is actually alerting me the information without me having to take another action.

A few points of reflection on this:
1) Using my business analysis on the consumer Internet , MySpace is offering a content model (hypermedia is how I referred to this in my post) whereas Geni is offering a Utility computing product. Both these businesses consider themselves "social networking" sites and yet both offer a different product model.
2) This also highlights two different business models: MySpace is a platform whilst Geni is working on a network model. Meaning, MySpace’s business model is premised on you visiting them for you to get value; Geni’s isn’t. To be perfectly honest, both MySpace and Geni are irrelevant for me. However platforms can come and go, but network models always stick around. As irrelevant Geni is to me, I still value it – a network business strategy (meaning you follow the user, rather than expecting them to come) builds a long term relationship.
3) Social networking sites when it’s the core product, work best as utility services and not a content business. Look at what a different user experience it is for me, because I can get benefit from my Geni account despite not having to log in. Although I am not giving them pageviews, I am giving them my attention which is translating into greater brand equity for them. When you treat social networking as a content business, this distorts the service offered to users, as misaligned business views on generating revenue drive strategy in a way that is harmful to the consumer ie, I feel like saying "f**k off" whenever I see those e-mails for MySpace . But "thank-you" to Geni.

The main point I want to get at though, is that the user experience is just as important when the user is not on the site as it is when they are on the site. People shy away from the recently-recognised network model of business, because they don’t get the same traffic. I say embrace it, because the market will eventually correct itself to recognise this is a superior type of strategy.

How business is done on the Internet

Day in and day out, the Internet continues to show innovations from people all around the world. Yet for all these innovations, it all comes down to the very core of trying to do business in a new way.

I’ve been doing some research recently for an internal publication my firm produces on the future of the entertainment and media industries, and I wondered what exactly does it mean to do business on the Internet. Whilst there are some brilliant thoughts on what business models on the Net are, I think we lack a proper analysis of what it means to do business.

Below is a summary of my understanding from a consumer perspective of doing business (enterprise is a different beast), but which I think will help people better understand how it all works.

First of all, we need to split the three key factors about business:

  1. Business models: What the structure of a business is.
  2. Revenue models: How the business generates cash from customers to fund its operations.
  3. Product models: What the product is that you provide to your customers to generate the cash

Too often, these three components are mixed as one or the same. Another thing that happens, is we struggle to classify the Internet because it contains so many different types of business. Breaking it down gives us more complete view.

Business models

The first thing to understand, is how a business is structured of which there are three varieties:

  1. Destination: driving consumers to a point ie, a website that you try to drive usage by consumers. This was very much what the early Internet was in the manifestation of the world wide web; websites attempting to get ‘eyeballs’. Your business model is based on the premise of getting people to visit your destination.
  2. Platform: a service that you try to build usage by creating an ecosystem for. Arguably, the web is the platform but in reality we are seeing a different type of platform akin to the Microsoft Windows approach of creating a core service that others can build on. You could classify the web2.0 view that websites are communities in this, whereas there are companies trying to create operating systems on the web for widgets that are a similar thing. Your business model, is built on the premise that people interact on your service or use your platform.
  3. Network: a service that people use regardless of where they are on the Internet. This type of business is about attaching to a user as they use the Internet. It’s almost like the flipside of the above two models: instead of having everyone come to you, this is about following everyone wherever they are. Your business model is built on the premise that people use your service in a decentralised manner.

Revenue models
Revenue models are a key factor to understand as they are what sustain long term changes to an industry that is currently been pushed by venture money and acquisitions from the dominant players. There are four types of monetisation models that I can observe:

  1. Fees: Payment of a fixed amount for access or usage of goods and services over the internet
  2. Subscription: Payment of a fixed amount on a periodic basis for access or usage of goods and services
  3. Commission: Payment of a percentage fee of a transaction
  4. Attention: Consumer gives their time, such as viewing an advertisement, in exchange of goods and services

Product models
There are three types of product models:

  1. Markets is the term I am using to explain when businesses use the Internet as a way to allow others to transact goods and services. The product offered by these companies is effectively a mechanism to do commerce. For example, eBay offers a product model that gives the ability for people to auction goods. Their product is to offer the facility for vendors and consumers to transact. They are like a shopping centre, giving space for vendors to sell and centralising the space so that consumers know where they can buy from these vendors. Markets offer the ability to perform trade of some sort with other parties
  2. Hypermedia is the term I am using to describe any type of content offering to people. Philosophically, it falls under the “new media” category that I have previously linked to and I use the term coined by Ted Nelson which is the broader term coined at the same time as “hypertext”. Effectively, you are offering content to a consumer in an Internet environment. Formally defined, it is access or supply of content via visual, audio and/or text over the Internet
  3. Utility computing is what you can call search engines, web applications, and the software as a service variety, which essentially is about providing computing services for information. Maybe a better way to define the concept is that they are computing services that allow for productivity through information retrieval, creation or management.

It is important to note that a business doesn’t have to restrict itself to just one of the above sub-categories. A business must have at least one business model, one revenue model, and one product model (or rather, they should – web2.0 startups seem to forget the revenue model bit). But within those groupings, it doesn’t have to be just one.

Take for example Facebook, which was initially a destination business – people logged in, viewed peoples profiles and their news feed, and the company generated value for the user by them ‘visiting’. With the launch of the applications platform, Facebook became a platform, because it allowed other entities to build on top of its core service. In this regard, Facebook generated value by creating an ecosystem of applications within its confines. As for a network model, Facebook is yet to to this, but imagine if they created an ad network like Google’s – whereby information about you in Facebook is used to determine what advertising to see across the entire internet. Here the value is that Facebook helps add to your experience across the entire Internet (despite being off the actual site)

So as a concept, below is my matrix of doing business on the Internet (I’m graphically inept, but I want to illustrate the three dimensions conceptually). What do you think?

business on the net

If you can draw better than me (not hard), I’ll credit you on this post!

Update May 27 2010: Rethinking this two years on, I think this still stands as a rough analytical framework. But I now believe that business model makes sense for the overall discussion above (ie, the combination of all the components), and what I term as ‘business model’ in the post is actually more like the ‘operating model’ of a web business.