End Of Term Party

Thanks to all of our customers for making 2006 a great year. To celebrate we threw a little party.

Accipiter 2006 London Christmas Party
Accipiter 2006 London Christmas Party

When you walk into a bar and they have created an orange cocktail for your Christmas party, what on earth would you think? As you can see from the photograph our company logo contains a fair amount of orange so, perhaps, it’s not surprising but it was an interesting twist and an excellent introduction to a superb evening. We throw a customer party each year to say thanks them and also because it’s great to see them. I think they also appreciate the fact that they get to meet people in the industry – sometimes, competitors – that they wouldn’t otherwise talk to. I introduced two London based radio stations to each other. They’re less than ten minutes walk from each other’s offices yet these on-line guys had never met. As it’s that time of year, I’d like to say thanks to all our customers for making 2006 a memorable year for us. Thanks to those of you who travelled from overseas to be with us. Have a great Christmas and we look forward to working with you in 2007.

A Blog Is Like Concrete Shoes

After a while a blog becomes like a pair of concrete shoes. It weighs you down and you begin to sink. I wonder if you can get treatment for some kind of non-blogging depression? That’s what happened here. I wanted to post daily. I wanted to build that sense of personal history. But I couldn’t. It was too much so it faded.

On Monday I blew some of the cobwebs off the site and actually posted something of length that wasn’t a link to another site. I blamed the urge to write on reading The Guardian on my flight to Finland and that might be relevant but I suspect it’s also something to do with the current state of the blogs I read.

At various times on this site I have tried to avoid the term ‘blog’. I don’t really like it. Some people don’t like the word ‘moist’. It makes them feel a bit, well, ikky (is that a word?). The term ‘blog’ does the same for me but I shall have to seek therapy because these days everybody from the afore mentioned Guardian to the BBC via The Telegraph and The Economist seems to have a blog of some description. I am now embracing the word from this point on. Bloggety blog blog (see, cured).

Anyway, at last count (about 5 seconds ago) Bloglines had a feed of 124 subscriptions for my account (not all of them public). Take off the 15 I read for work (well, I subscribe then delete all the items when they get to about 100) and that’s still well over 100 things I am ‘watching’. But only a few of them are things I read. I listed some of them in 2002, although that list is dated with a good number of dead links. But few people are writing any more and those that are penning words are doing at such a rate that I have a scary back catalogue of entries to read: Steve, that includes you. So, either I have too much to read that I’m scared to wade in or I have reams of other people’s links that I don’t want to follow.

Anyway, in need of something better I decided that I should start writing once again. I once said that I only did this for my own amusement (and when I used to look at the logs I would have said that was very true) so I’ve decided to add a few more entries and see how we go but, and I bet I’ve said this before but I can’t be bothered to check, this time it will be different.

When I started this (for my own amusement, remember) I enjoyed the act of sitting down and writing. Truthfully, I am not sure I ever wrote a word that was very interesting to others (although Happy Birthday in Russian seems to keep bringing people to the site – twice) but it’s a record of my life that isn’t captured anywhere else. There’s a reason the ‘on this day’ links are at the end of every entry. I click. I find it interesting to place myself back a few years. Last Monday’s entry had four back years for that day and I was fascinated to see that I made references to Blur, traffic congestion, spam and Big Brother in the preceding years; I guess they are still topics of conversation now. And you don’t really get that sense of personal history from a list of links to other things (which become dead links by the time your nostalgic enough to check them).

After a while, however, a blog becomes like a pair of concrete shoes. It weighs you down and you begin to sink. I don’t blog about specific work or my family (hey, Dave, you’re not the only one) and sometimes I ask what am I doing it for? I wonder if you can get treatment for some kind of non-blogging depression? That’s what happened here. I wanted to post daily. I wanted to build that sense of personal history. But I couldn’t. It was too much so it faded.

And now I’m starting again. Less concerned about tracking life and probably with not much more to say but with a heightened sense of why I am doing it.

I wanted to end with a triumphant ‘read on’ but you can’t do that until I write the next piece. And who knows when that will be?

My Name’s Not Bond

Casino-Royale-BondI really like the new James Bond film. I think what Daniel Craig has done with the role is excellent. I prefer the back-to-basic approach over the movies that relied on gadgets and digital effects. It’s more Jason Bourne and, for me, that can only be a good thing. This, however, isn’t a review as I am certain you can find plenty of decent ones if you Google.

I saw Casino Royale last Saturday. On the way home I mentioned – in passing – that I had always wanted to be a secret agent. I have always assumed that every kid wanted to be a secret agent at some point. Isn’t this is a perfectly normal thing to say? PY, however, couldn’t stop laughing. It was the kind of amusment that was induced as soon as he set eyes on me. His mouth would curl up and his shoulders start that laughter quiver; he had to look away. I was a little dumstruck. I take it for granted that I don’t look like a spy but isn’t that what being undercover is all about?

Sadly, however, I have to agree that I am not very spy-like. For starters I am not sure I could, Bourne-like, blow a house up with a toaster and a rolled up newspaper. I couldn’t leap building cranes with anything approaching a Bond-like skill. The final proof that I couldn’t cut the MI6 mustard is that I’m useless in foreign restaurants.

You may have gathered from Monday’s post that I am in Finland. I am on business but I am not with any colleagues. Sometimes I must eat on my own in a foreign city. I paced Helsinki the other night looking for a restaurant. I had forgotten my book which, as any solo traveller will tell you is the key to eating alone in restaurants. Have a good book and hide behind it. You eat slower that way and can hide from the local’s stares as they wonder why you have no friends and must resort to dining alone.

Had I been a Bond/Bourne spy I would have walked into the finest dining room in the city, ordered drink in fluent Finnish, had the maître d’ find me a decent table and have struck up an interesting conversation before they put the olive on the stick. Whereas I sulked in a corner and tried to not to lose my scarf.

You hear that travel broadens the mind (it’s like an exercise for the brain, apparently) but I don’t agree. I am sure a certain type of travel expands horizons but my kind only serves to expand the waistline (dining alone you comfort eat for a party of five). I’ve done the airport-taxi-hotel-office-taxi-airport run enough times to make almost every European city appear identical. This week’s arrival in Finland reinforced the feeling that I want to be here on holiday but not on business; I want to see something new.

The day was damp and cold when we landed and it was already getting dark at 3.30pm. I had hoped for snow but there wasn’t any so I got taken straight to my hotel. We passed the outdoor ice-hokey game which, I guess, must be everywhere in winter. I wanted to watch but I have no idea how to get to them. I worked in my hotel room. I didn’t sleep on the first night (I never sleep well on the first night in a hotel). I went to meetings. I drank too much coffee (do secret agents rely on caffeine too?).

It is a perfectly normal business trip. Sure, I hear you. Go out, mix with the locals, live a little. That, though, is a little too Bond-like for me. I guess Bond would have had a hidden revolver to get himself out of any local difficulties. I wouldn’t have made it through the airport with one and so, I comfort myself, that I don’t look good in black and, truthfully, Judi Dench scares me a little.

Children In Need Is Britain’s Version of Thanksgiving

Children In Need is Britain’s version of Thanksgiving. It comes around every November and it changes the television schedules (not always for the better). And that’s about where the similarities end but they say you start a piece of writing with a punchy statement to hook your audience. So, there you go. Thank me later.

I am fairly sure that the good folks in America have their very own Terry Wogan (the American version may also be a genial Irishman given the number of people from the Emerald Isle who shipped across the water) but I have no idea, and can’t pretend I care, for there really is nobody to rival Sir Terry (he is a Sir, Wikipedia told me so and – therefore – must be true).

Children In Need, of course, was last Friday night. You might have tuned in for Jonathan Ross but you got Kim and Aggie trying to clean a Status Quo dressing room. I imagine you’re over the trauma now. It’s Monday and I am whittering on about it purely because The Guardian – free on Finair flights from London Heathrow – has an item on a week in the life of a Pudsey (well, the bloke in the costume, Leeds version). As one of Wogan’s listeners would no doubt email his show, ‘what is the world coming to when Pudsey is attacked by scallies in Bradford’? Seriously, I’m turning all Daily Mail indignant about it.

It’s this sudden surge of middle-Englandness that has prompted me to pick up the quill once more. For it’s not only hoodies attacking Pudsey that got me all stirred up while reading the paper but the very notion that Dame Shirley Bassey is singing about an night on ecstasy in the current Christmas Marks and Spencer television commercial. I imagine, if I wear a legal type, I should add that Dame Shirls probably didn’t know what Pink’s ‘Get The Party Started’ was all about. And why should she? If truth be known, nor did I until I read it in, guess, today’s Guardian (really, there was nothing else to do on the plane).

Should you ever admit to liking a television commercial? I am not sure that you should but I do like the M&S ad. If you don’t know Marks and Spencer – and their place in British life – then you probably won’t get it and you could skip to the last paragraph. But it’s smart, plays nicely on the current James Bond mania and, let’s face it, must have cost a fortune (which I think is a good thing in tv advertising).

In fact, I love it so much I YouTube’d it (isn’t that what all the kids are doing these days?) Go view it. But then I found a rendition of Goldfinger by the very same Dame Shirley Bassey which is also fantastic (and is, if you believe Saturday night’s Channel Four countdown show, the most popular Bond theme of all time). Then I found Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only. You know that one. Sheena was a nice girl-next-door type who sang about being a Modern Girl but then went glam singing the Bond title sequence and gazing into your eyes as you gazed at her in the cinemas of 1981. Oh, You Tube has Modern Girl too.

So, before I get hooked, I better go.

Technology Overkill?

Do I really need this box of tricks?

I’ve been reading Lifehacker for a while now. I really like the Getting Things Done (GTD) articles. Keith Robinson’s Getting to Done: How GTD made my Treo obsolete really made me thing about how I use my Treo! Mind you, I am still using the little gadget even if I do feel that I am carrying too much stuff around with me. Having all those client phone numbers when in the pub can’t be a good thing.

In The Air Again

Travelling again. And, once again I am heading for Oslo.

In The Air AgainPhoto at Flickr: In The Air Again – 29 Aug ’06, 2.37pm BST
I am off travelling again. This morning it was a very early start to get me to Heathrow so that i could make a flight to Oslo. To give myself some extra time because of the sceurity I arrived at 5am – only to find that check-in wasn’t open until 5.20am. Then a nice queue at security and a plane ride to get me here. I am now too exhausted to enjoy the lovely evening. Still, I hope I can get a decen’t night’s sleep so that I will be awake for tomorrow’s meetings!

Who Will Be Mayor

I wonder what would happen if Jeremy Clarkson were to become Mayor of London.

Yesterday, I spoke about my liking of the BBC’s Top Gear programme. It’s odd because I would not have pegged myself as the kind of person who would watch it. Regardless, I find the three presenters funny, infuriating and very watchable. Now, I wonder what would happen if Jeremy Clarkson were to become Mayor of London. It is rumoured, you see, that his name has been suggested as a prospective Conservative candidate.

Give that the current Mayor blamed Jeremy for global warming and the possible destruction of life on earth, [The Times Online] I think it would make an interesting election indeed. Now I have a lot of time for Ken Livingstone but I can help thinking that I would like to see him as the ‘star in a reasonably priced car’. Especially as he, apparently, has no licence and can’t drive.

What’s The 20th Most Complained About Show On UK TV?

When somebody loves what they do, how can that enthusiasm not be infectious?

Occasionally you are required to browse the information super-highway for things related to work. And, more often than not, on that journey you get side tracked by something in the way. A little like driving to Abergavenny and being stuck behind a caravan for most of the time on the A40. Which is interesting as I suspect that caravan owners are the biggest group of people to complain to the BBC about Top Gear. And it is the fact that, according to Ofcom, Top Gear is the 20th most complained about show on TV that stopped me in my tracks today. The BBC has – apparently – been forced to make a statement, “We acknowledge some viewers do not appreciate the Top Gear team’s sense of humour but their provocative comments are an integral part of the programme and are not intended to be taken seriously,” [Top Gear: 0 to offensive in 6.5 seconds from Guardian Unlimited: Organ Grinder] said Auntie.

The thing is I, John Plunkett (who wrote the article for The Guardian’s website) and, I guess, millions of others love watching three blokes talking about cars on the telly. And I am not interested in cars that much. I’m not sure Jeremy Clarkson and I would get on very well (mainly because I wouldn’t be able to stop laughing at him) but that doesn’t stop me enjoying every word that he speaks. Richard Hammond is, of course, there to be both amusing and the totty to watch. And then there’s James May. You couldn’t have Top Gear without him but one of the great mysteries is why not. Ultimately, I love the banter between the presenters more than anything else. Except the bits about racing fast cars. I like that too.

I am not surprised so many people complain. It’s often rude, politically incorrect and responsible for a large part of the hole in the ozone layer. It’s also funny, self-deprectaing and addictive television. It is, also, television made with passion. And that’s what makes it stand head and shoulders above much of the dross on the box at the moment. When somebody loves what they do, how can that enthusiasm not be infectious? Sunday nights. BBC2.

Where Are My Palm Treo 650 SMS Messages?

What happens when the SMS database on your Treo 650 stops working?

You may be aware that I have been a long-time Palm user and fan of their products. Sure, like many, I have been frustrated that their development lacks the pace of some of the others in the same space and their product range is limited. But, I was a user of the Treo 600 when it was first launched in the UK and am, currently, a Treo 650 owner. They may not be the best ‘phones in the world and they’re old-school when it comes to PDA functionality these days but they more-or-less work for me. I also have a Palm Lifedrive that I don’t really use and am trying to find a sensible use for.

Having said that I am a fan I really must impress upon the product managers to work with users. It’s always the technology that lets me down. Yesterday, just before I went to Helsinki, my Treo’s SMS Message program somehow corrupted leaving me with limited access to messages. There are a few users who have posted handy hints but little official help (its the Messages Database in case you’re wondering and not the SMS Messages as some threads seem to hint). I spent a good hour trying to fix it as SMS capabilities are quite important to me when I travel (it saves on the cost of the calls).

To resolve the problem I had to completely remove the Messages Database and then we were back to normal functionality. On my journey of Palm discovery, I realised there is really no SMS back-up help. I sync my Palm daily and you would have thought that SMS and MMS messages would have been archived in the Palm Desktop. But no, they are stuck in their little databases with almost no way to get them out – and once your database is corrupted all hope is gone.

Fortunately for me, it’s not that important to keep old messages but it’s nice. This site is a reminder of things I did and I increasingly use my Palm Treo 650 photographs on Flickr as a visual reminder of what I have done. It would be nice to add a SMS/MMS timeline to that as a personal record (a little like Nokia’s Lifeblog). So, c’mon Palm: help us keep our data in multiple ways.

What Is An Ad Impression?

Lots of publishers I have spoken to get a little confused when their ad impressions counts are different to their page impressions. So my goal here is to try and identify the common reasons for the differences. The fact that advertising systems counts ads not pages is the first key difference.

The other day, I wrote, what I thought was, a handy guide to the basic web measurement concepts of page impression, visit and unique user metrics. Haven’t read it? Please do so before reading this one.

Back? This time I’m going to talk about a new impression metric that is often confused with the measurements I spoke about last time: the ad impression. To those of us in the digital advertising tech business the ad impression is our measure of scale and value for a website. However, our measurement counts advertisements and not most of those other things that I talked about last time.

How do they differ then?

Last time I noted that a page impression was counted every time somebody viewed a page of web content. That page, however, may have three or four (and often, many more) advertisements on it. Our industry, therefore, counts the number of times advertisements are shown. So, one page impression may be one ad impression but it may also be three ad impressions depending on the number of advertisement spaces a publisher has built into their pages. It’s important not to confuse them as these impressions are very different.

Lots of publishers I have spoken to get a little confused when their ad impressions counts are different to their page impressions. So my goal here is to try and identify the common reasons for the differences.  The fact that advertising systems count ads not pages is the first key difference.

Secondly, the advertising system will only count an advertisement impression when it is asked, by the browser, for the ad. It is not inconceivable that the advertisement system may not get the request for the ad and, therefore not count it (if the ad system is broken, or if it is slow, then the user may not wait around for the ad). Result: the page impression is counted but not the ad impression(s).

Thirdly, advertising systems try not to count robots, spiders and other automated web systems that make the web work for us but do not represent a human actually looking at an advertisement. After all, a computer is not really in a position to buy a new car.  I noted last time that when counting page impressions then those things should not be counted either. However, if the system measuring your pages is configured with a different list of what is – and what is not – a web robot then some pages may be counted when the advertising system might not count – or vice versa. Ideally, vendors of both systems would be using the same list but, sometimes and for many different reasons, they can’t. So the result is that a page counting system may not quite be counting the same people that an advertising system may be counting. The main thing here is that this is OK.  The systems have different counts because they look at different things. You know sometimes there are apples and sometimes oranges.

The next reason for the difference is simply to do with the way websites are set up. Many sites do not put advertisements on every page on their site. It may sound obvious but, if there is no advertisement placed in the page, it’s never going to count as an ad impression  I once spent a day trawling through the data for a very large, well-staffed, UK website to help explain differences in page and ad impression counts and I discovered hundreds of pages that contained no ads. The site had sprawled and their site management systems were simply not inserting all the right codes. The clever coders and designers who build websites sometimes miss this. There’s a whole other post about how, if your site is ad-funded, advertising should be part of the design process – but I digress.

Ask your web development team to look at all the places where there are advertisements on your site but they don’t call the ad-server to deliver them. This is often referred to as ‘hard coding’ because the advertisement code is hard-wired directly into the web page rather than designed to ask the ad-server to select an ad. This is a very common cause of differences between website page counts and ad impression counts. It’s often done because the ‘hard wired’ ad will be around for a long time the publisher does not want to pay the ad-serving company to continually select exactly the same advertising copy in exactly the same space. But, as with our examples above, if the ad-server is not asked to select the advertisement it can’t do its job and count it.

It’s worth pointing out that sometimes the ad-server appears to be asked for lots of advertisements and, even when accounting for multiple ads on a single page, the number looks too high. Here it’s worth checking that the ad-server code is correct on the page. Because ad-server code tries to do clever things to account for the many ways in which people view your site (with multiple browsers that support different standards) then incorrectly formatted code may ask for several advertisements when only one is displayed. The result is too high counts because the ad-server is unable to determine exactly which one will be displayed so assumes they are all valid. This is one for your coding team.

Also in the ‘too many ads counted’ category is the fact that you must be comparing the same site boundaries. Is your ad technology serving advertisements into other places? If it is, then we must ask if the code on those ‘other’ places is correct or is telling the ad-server that the request is coming from somewhere else. Most ad-servers rely on the code on the page, the ad-request, to know where the ad is being delivered to. If your request is telling the system it should be selecting an advertisement for Site A but it is, in reality, Site B then the ad system may assign the count to the wrong site (worse, it will also select an advertisement that may not really be valid for Site B).  Is the right code in the right place?

Finally, there are a couple of other reasons that add to the differences. Some people actively block advertisements using special software in their browser. If they do then the advertising system won’t count them. Some ad systems  also try to track suspicious behaviour (such as people clicking lots of times on advertisements trying to inflate the click-rate to make the site look better or generate additional revenue). If such browsers are detected then they are often blocked and removed from the advertising counts while they may not be removed from the page counts. Again, it’s valid because we’re looking at website traffic and audiences from different perspectives.

You also need to take into account the time is takes the advertisement to be served. Advertisers generally prefer that ads are counted when the entire piece of copy or creative is delivered. If it’s one of those rich, interactive, animations it could be taking longer than you imagine for all the file to be delivered. If the count happens once all content is delivered to the user’s browser then your ad-system may not be counting the ad for a short period after the ad looks like it’s been shown. This is one to check with your ad-server technology vendor. When do they initiate the count?

Thus, your web analytics and your ad-impression counts may differ for valid reasons. The key is to ensure that, if you rely on advertising to fund your endeavours, you’re giving your advertising system the best change of showing an advertisement in all the places you want them to appear.  Make sure your content control systems are inserting the right codes in all the right places.

In summary, if you’re doing all the checks and you’re content systems are inserting the right codes then your advertising system is doing the best job it can to count the advertisements for you. If it gives you a different number then you shouldn’t worry too much – there’s an acceptable difference that you can work with.

Update: it’s taken me over two years to write one of the pieces I suggest above: the one about if advertising is central to your offering then you need to think about it in the design process. Read Get Your Product Right Or Get In The Liferaft for some insights there.

What Are Page Impressions?

For anybody who works with web-based content then the impression is a very important metric. It used to be the world talked about hits but I think we’ve moved on from that: it being the least descriptive and most open to abuse metric upon which we measure successful web content.

For anybody who works with web-based content then the “impression” is a very important metric.  It used to be the world talked about “hits” but I think we’ve moved on from that: it being the least descriptive and most open to abuse metric upon which we measure successful web content.

So, if you are a publisher of web content impressions are important. Essentially, every page somebody views (and it really should be a somebody and not a web crawler, spider or robot) is counted. The total number of page impressions is one measure of the popularity of your website.  Lovely. Such counts help websites understand what’s popular and what’s not and help them refine what they do.

As the boffins who look at all this data got smarter and as web analytics became big business people acknowledged there were other metrics. The number of pages read is not always a good indicator of success. Is it a million pages read by one person or by a million people only reading a single page? Analytics progressed to give us visits and sessions. These “smarter” metrics understood if individual browsers looked at more than one page and over what period of time. If I read 5 pages in the morning, that was 5 impressions and 1 visit. 10 more pages on your site in the evening was another visit and another 10 impressions but, crucially, I was one unique user.

Ooops, I just threw in another metric. Sites needed to get better at understanding all these impressions and visits because, while nice, numbers didn’t tell them much about their audience. So, unique users became important because it told sites how many people come to their site. From that sites can understand how many visits users make and how those visits end up being all those lovely page impressions.  It’s like a TV company telling us how many people watched Friends last night. It’s nice to know.

But, generally, websites don’t know who you are (unless they are one of those that let you create a user name and log in).  So they started to use cookies to identify your browser. That statement is actually quite important. Sites don’t know who you are they just assign a unique number to your browser to help them better understand all these unique users. Importantly, if you delete your cookies – or sometimes use another web browser – then they don’t know that you’ve done that and those actions can inflate the numbers for the site. Still, TV and radio are measured by small samples of people filling in diaries so all systems have some margin of error and cookie deletion is generally understood, accounted for and accepted.

So, why am I talking about all these web analytic terms? Well, that’s for two reasons.

Firstly, any website that sells advertising needs to tell advertisers approximately how many people will see the advertisement. They do not want the scenario that allows one person to have seen all one million of their advertisements. With apologies to my friends in advertising agencies, let’s say that Advertisers tend to like a range of people to see their messages. These measurements are great for helping sites understand audiences.

As a side note, sites generally like these numbers to be as big as possible because it makes them look good. They have a range of tactics to make the number look as big as possible (such as automatically refreshing the page “or part of the page” to make it look like there was another impression).  Properly managed websites who sell to big advertisers tend to have their numbers audited by companies like ABCE.  ABCE, if you like, helps advertising agencies know that the sites aren’t lying about these impressions, visits and unique users.

Secondly, I am trying to place these terms in context ahead of the next piece I am writing about another important metric to those websites: the ad impression. But that’s for another day.

Whenever you’re working with a site that starts quoting impressions, visits and unique users it’s worth asking how they were collated and are they audited. Are the numbers for the specific site in question or for a “network” or collection of sites owned by the same publisher?  Is the publisher using auto-refresh to inflate the numbers and are those numbers both collected and audited by reputable experts in this field? (It is worth noting that auditing can be expensive for small sites but you do need to understand how they have come up with the numbers and you should try to get an understanding of both the number of pages viewed and the number of users that make up those views).

I must caveat this with the notice that I am not a web analytics expert. Such folks will be able to explain the nuances of these measurements in more detail but, think of this as a handy cheat sheet so that you’re not impressed by somebody who talks about their large number of page impressions and then doesn’t put them into context for you.

If you like, I’m performing a public service.

Update: The second part of this mini-series about ad-impressions is now on the site.

The Largest City On The Mediterranean Coast

I’ve been running a training course for a customer in Barcelona. Sometimes, despite the early starts and late night returns that play havoc with my social life, there are rewards.

My plane left Barcelona airport at 10.30pm last night. It was the best value flight to get me home. Given that the other taxi picked me up at 6.30am on Monday then it’s been a very long two days but it’s been fun.

I’ve been running a training course for a customer in Barcelona. Sometimes, despite the early starts and late night returns that play havoc with my social life, there are rewards. Obviously, I had an early start yesterday but managed to get some sleep  en route so that I was sufficiently awake upon arrival to dive into the training.  The interesting part about this trip was that I was training a group of people to use our advertising management tools for, basically, non-advertising content. There are similarities: time based content that rotates based on a series of programmable targeting factors; content that is managed independently from the main site and a level of reporting required that generally does not come with content management systems. It was another fascinating example of how the kind of things that we come up with for the advertising industry can be put to all sort of other uses.

I’ve visited Barcelona once before, also for work, but this visit I got a little time in the late afternoon yesterday to see a bit more of it. People are always hospitable and this time was no exception. The hotel deal I had in Barcelona included free tapas, which was lovely, and it included some free Cava. I thought I’d get a glass. I got a bottle. I stayed at the Hotel Diagonal Barcelona, which I can recommend. Next door to the hotel is the 35 floor Agbar Tower. The tower was built at a cost of over 130 million euro to house Barcelona’s water company, Agbar. There are some great photos in the Agbar Tower Group on Flickr.

After the second day training my work was done. But given the very late flight departure time I had an early evening to kill in Barcelona. I also had all my bags with me but decided that sitting in a restaurant wasn’t something I wanted to do. So, I took one of those open top bus tours. Usually they are a great way of getting your bearings in a new city even if you don’t get a great insight into any of the tourist attractions. They’re also a pretty expensive way of getting around. However, when you have a small suitcase, lap-top and various bits and you have 3 hours before heading to the airport, an open top bus seems the easiest way to get yourself (and your luggage) around the place without worrying about it. It was about a 90 minute round trip. The conductor told me that it was hop-on, hop-off so I could get off at anything that took my interest. I was keener on knowing if it really took 90 minutes. Anything more would have meant I risked missing all the connections to the airport.

So, I saw Barcelona even if I didn’t really experience Barcelona. The tour is quite good, showing you old and new. It was timely that we visited the stadium.  The Barcelona football stadium is the 3rd largest stadium in the World after the stadiums in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Mexico City. Barcelona Camp Nou has a capacity of 110,000 people. The Champions League result was still in the air. How many times was I asked if I was an Arsenal supporter?

One day I shall head back an be a proper tourist!

Behavioural Targeting

I believe we have a lot of research to do to find the true value of inferring things from on-line behaviours. Inferences are either too simple or require a vast amount of data and analysis (which is expensive).

It’s Easter Monday (for my US friends, that’s a public holiday in here in the UK). What did you do this Easter?  I’ve been visiting family, and eating Easter eggs, in Shropshire and Wigan. I’ve been observing Roman ruins in Wroxeter (or ‘Viroconium’ as it was known when it was the fourth largest city in Roman Britain). I watched the film, Walk The Line, at Shrewsbury’s new(ish) Old Market Hall cinema. A lovely weekend.

So, if you were in the advertising business what adverts would you like to show to me now that I have shared this information with you? You know a little about my likes if not a lot about my dislikes.  Based on what I’ve just told you, would you promote a new film (Walk The Line was released in February so I am not sure it says I am big on new releases) or a new chocolate bar (I did extend my Cadbury’s love affair) or would you promote something historical? I am not sure there’s a movie based on Roman chocolatiers, but if there is then let me know!

Now, I know you’d actually profile me, determine that Walk The Line didn’t literally mean I loved country music but the fact that I bought Easter eggs and spent time with family firmly plants me into a demographic and the result of it all will be an ad for the new Volvo, or something similar. You get the idea. We can leap from A to C via M without much justification, can’t we?

This, however, is an issue I am struggling with at the moment at work. I know, I once promised not to write about work here but I’m not dwelling on specifics so go with me.

I’ve pretty much spent the last few weeks working with customers on how to implement behavioural targeting concepts for their web sites and if those concepts are right for their advertisers based on the customer’s behaviour patterns on the site.  Behavioural targeting isn’t actually as scary as I suspect some people think it is. It just suggests, anonymously, that if you have performed an on-line search looking for a new car then you might be looking for a new car. Now, if you do this on a car web site then it’s pretty much given you’re in the market. It’s not rocket science. Nobody knows who anybody is and I’m only working with technologies that do not share data between marketers. This way my behaviour on one site is not shared anywhere else. I’ve previously worked with technologies that tried to do this on a network level but it didn’t work then as the tech was too slow. DoubleClick moved away from network profiling in 2002 but, of course, technology has moved on and those working in that space should be able to be much more efficient.

The digital advertising industry is awash with people talking about behavioural targeting. I believe that reputable organisations will always exceed privacy legislation and protect their customers better than the law demands. After all, it’s in their interest. However, behavioural data requires so much analysis that I have to question if it is right for everybody. Certainly, publishers with a large user base who come back regularly might get some insight that would be useful to advertisers but we, as consumers, are complex beasts. Our likes and dislikes change based on many factors; advertising can help inform and change my mind and really don’t you want to advertise to all people interested in buying a car? Why just those who currently think it should be a new car? But what about my friends network or family? Aren’t they just as influential? We can’t look at their behaviours too but they are important in how I make decisions. Isn’t behavioural targeting too limiting then?

I believe it works in the right places. I believe that the technology I am working with is the best of breed for publishers. It’s anonymous and doesn’t enable any kind of network sharing so it’s good for consumers too. But finding the right use cases is the hard part.  How do I prove that this technology is working. I think we’ve some investigation to do yet.

I know that I am over simplifying arguments to make my point but I believe we have a lot of research to do in this space to find the true value of inferring things from my on-line behaviours. Inferences are either too simple or require a vast amount of data and analysis (which is expensive). I’ve got to spend the next few weeks reading a lot more data on this. If you’ve got anything that would be helpful then you know where I am.

Disclaimer: These are my view and not those of my employer. You have done the whole full disclosure thing, haven’t you?

Some People Are Helpful

The staff of the Orange shop in Wimbledon were very helpful. Thank you.

My mobile phone developed a fault. It started a few weeks ago but has made the device unusable now. There’s an electrical noise that became so bad other people couldn’t hear me. I could hear then but they had no idea what I was saying. So, I went to talk to the people at Orange and discovered they don’t have the right phone on the insurance that I have been paying for. They said it’s my fault, I said it was their fault. Anyway, after much discussion it appeared that I could upgrade for free anyway so there’s really not that much difference.

I spent a day or two thinking about what to do. I have had a Palm Treo 600 for several years. I think I must have mentioned before that it is not a perfect telephone but it does allow me to take a whole pile of numbers and information with me when I am on the road; and that is very useful indeed. So I decided to upgrade to the Treo 650. And that is where the problems started. The Orange shop I was in said that they have been unable to source a Treo for months and the other central London outlets that I contacted said the same. Other networks now offer the Treo so I contemplated switching – which is a big deal for me because I have an irrational loyalty to Orange despite recent poor service and packages I am not convinced are great value.

Fortunately, there were some very helpful people in the Orange store in Wimbledon. In fact, I can’t recommend that shop too highly and that is the point of this post. While other shops were unhelpful, Wimbledon were fantastic. It might have helped that they actually had the phone I wanted in stock but I think it deserves notice that they were more than helpful. So, on Wednesday I walked out with a shiny new Treo 650. Let’s see what it’s like.

But What Was The Year?

No matter how many times my media player tells me JoBoxers (and their classic, Boxerbeat) is from the 2005 compilation (Teenage Kicks) I know it’s a true pop treasure from 1983 (top ten in February no less).

Oh how I despair at all those compilation cds that are gracing my cd collection. Over the years I have collected a fair few. I think it’s something to do with being a pop fan. True pop is a three and a half minute tune mimed to some falling glitter snow surrounded by Pans People and introduced by The Hairy Cornflake.

To that end, the long player was never really on my turntables as a child. Thus, my musical memories are really quite happily contained across a collection of compilations.  This is all well and good until you come to rip them all so that you can add your youth to your mp3 player. For, lo, compilation cds neither sit well on mp3 machines nor do they rip well. The artist may be in the title box while the artist is just listed as ‘various’. I can live with that (I lie, I can correct that) but I can’t stand that the dates are incorrect. No matter how many times my media player tells me JoBoxers (and their classic, Boxerbeat) is from the 2005 compilation (Teenage Kicks) I know it’s a true pop treasure from 1983 (top ten in February no less). Thus, I must spend my evenings correcting each cd as it gets ripped.

My life will be over before this project is complete. My sanity will be gone sooner. But my mp3 player will know hits of 1978 are very different from those of 2002.

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