Although it was not squeezed in anywhere – the grounds of the old house were substantial – it was squeezed in

When I was 14 years old my family moved house to a place on the road into (or out of, depending on where you are heading) Shrewsbury, Shropshire. In my mind, I probably have a bunch of stories buried from that time. But one thing that sticks our from the first months (or maybe years) that we lived in Shrewsbury was how difficult it was for anybody – including, at times, the Royal Mail – to find our house.

We moved to a newly built house with an address supplied by the Royal Mail. But the building was in the grounds of another, much older and grander, house and our patch of land was out of view when looking from the main road. Although it was not squeezed in anywhere – the grounds of the old house were substantial – it was squeezed into the postcode and numbering system that existed along the road. It was 89a and, a few years later, we were joined by a second new build home imaginatively numbered 89b.

If we’d been dwelling in a property along the main road, perhaps a property split into multiple units, then I think that deliveries would have easily found us. But, being out of the way, behind the trees, it was hard for people to know we were there. When talking to visitors I was able to describe the post box on the street and the driveway to the right which needed to be followed. In the days of online delivery where every address is database-matched it was harder to leave instructions for somebody to actually locate the front door.

Last week I was introduced to a piece of technology and a mapping algorithm that would have solved all of that. In fact there’s a lot of problems this solves. For example, I work in a large building in central London. The main entrance in on one street while the goods entrance is around the back on another street. But they have the same address. Think about how many times your GPS has taken you to the front door of a building when you’re actually in a vehicle and need the car park at the rear. Or what happens if you need emergency help stuck in the middle of the countryside at a site devoid of postcode and building number?

I haven’t written about too many technologies recently but the possibilities for this one are amazing. If your shopping is to be delivered by drone then much better given them an address that is actually your roof terrace or your back garden rather than the pavement in front of your door.

So, do go and get what3words (there’s an app). They have divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address which is easy to remember, clearly located and remarkably simple to use. You are able to talk about specific locations, in multiple languages, with real recognisable word sequences. Words are easy to remember and, usefully, are simple for voice assistants to understand.

But, I do have to wonder, if the Queen really uses Buckingham Palace’s entrance at turkey.rats.lobby: https://map.what3words.com/turkey.rats.lobby

History of Online Advertising

Thankfully, somebody is preserving the history of online advertising.

I’ve worked for a number of digital advertising companies. Many of these no longer exist: Engage, Accipiter, aiMatch and StickyADS.tv to name four. Three of these were bought and their legacy lives on with other companies. Engage moved on from the digital advertising world in 2002.

There’s a history of the internet – and more importantly of the way our media adapted to the rise of a connected digital world – buried in the history of those and many other companies that existed in the early days of the world wide web. Much of that history is probably lost. I think that’s a shame so, earlier today, it was really good to see Digiday publish an oral history of the first banner ad.

(Of note: I got the new Twitter 280 character option today so this was the first of my longer tweets)

In related nostalgia, I’ve been working in London 24 years today. I haven’t the time to write anything about that but I just discovered I did write about it in 2004 after 11 years in the city which is probably still relevant.

And She Said, “Life in plastic has been fantastic”

But really, the job I’d really want, is writing the answers to the daft questions people ask.

Earlier, on Facebook:

Voice recognition systems – Amazon’s Alexa or any other – must be one of the most fascinating areas of computing to work on. There are a lot of very smart brains working on artificial intelligence systems that enable Alexa to answer the millions of questions asked of her every day.

But really, the job I’d really want, is writing the answers to the daft questions people ask. “”Alexa, what’s the first rule of Fight Club?” or “Alexa, do you really want to hurt me?” Anybody who job means they get to write “.. and happy birthday to Barbie whose life in plastic has been fantastic for 58 years” must be having a blast.

Mashable has a story today about a woman who asked Alexa about any connections to the CIA – at which point the system appears to crash. Obviously proof that all conspiracy theorists are correct.

The person with that fun job was swift off the mark. Now, somebody’s waved their neuralyzer & Alexa’s been updated and claims to work for Amazon. If it was me, I’d update Alexa’s sense of time and stop responding to my happy ‘good morning’ at 10pm with an equally up-beat ‘good morning’ and make her grumpy and tired.

Or maybe that would be a bit too human.

Right Place, Right Time

A little research tells me that reality TV personalities Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer first entered our lives in May 2010 when “Location Location Location” appeared in the Channel Four schedule for the first time.1

Location was the buzzword of 2010. It was the year that Foursquare entered the mainstream, having launched the previous year2 and January 2010 was my first location-based check-in on the service (The Cardinal Cafe inside 80-100 Victoria Street in London, if you’re interested).

Fast-forward six and a half years (I’ll say that again: six years) and last Friday I passed 10,000 check-ins. Check-in number one was the aforementioned cafe outside my office at the time; check-in 1Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 22.34.090,000 was the square outside my current office. That averages just over 4 check-ins for each of the 2380 days between 29 January 2010 and 5 August 2016. And, although it has no real significance, it turns out that both were on Fridays which I take as a sign of something. Although I don’t know what.

A couple of years ago Foursquare separated into two: the Foursquare app removed checkin-ins and the gamification of location data to focus on reviews and recommendations of places you might want to go. Check-ins, mayorships and the other signals of location moved to the Swarm app. I kept checking in.

The company used the game to build up an impressive (maybe the most impressive) database of places on the planet. And, unlike most other directories, this was a database of places and how popular (or trending) they were at any point in time. Critical to the value of the data is that Foursquare can understand how people move between places. Check-out the pulse of London to get an overview of behaviours at a city level.

10048 check-ins mapped by Where Do You Go
10048 check-ins mapped by Where Do You Go

I’m fascinated by this kind of data and what it can tell us about ourselves and our society. Each of my check-ins is sync’d to a calendar so that I could, in theory, look back where I have been. I don’t do that very often. A few years ago when I was spending a lot of time in Melbourne for work I generated a heat-map of the locations I visited just to see where I was spending time. It’s interesting to see the map but it’s not that useful. I’ve just generated another one for Europe3.

The Swarm app itself tells me more than half of my check-ins are at railway stations followed closely by coffee shops, offices, hotels and bars. I wonder how accurately that sums up my life? Is it that useful to me?

Occasionally, people see me opening a phone, selecting the Swarm app and doing the little check-in dance and wonder why I am still playing a game that many people stopped playing when the free beers for Mayors vanished. I think it’s an interesting question and, besides the fact that I do have a calendar showing the places I’ve been to, I’ve been wondering why I do it. I think I do it because the value isn’t only in the chronological history of my travels but how my experiences are useful to informing others.

A day in the centre of London tracked by Google
A day in the centre of London tracked by Google

I find maps so fascinating that, much to my frustration, I’ve spent many hours trying to make Apple Maps accurate for places around my house. For some reason I regularly resubmit more-or-less the same data. I’d love my phone to store a history of every journey I have taken and show them on a map and save them for future historians (a little like Google Maps can do for you). Can you image how amazing it would be to be able to see the paths our ancestors took around towns and cities of the past? The lessons we could learn!

I think Foursquare is the best alternative to those maps and historians will find their data critical for research. But, their database seems to be to be getting more and more accurate. And their ability to suggest interesting places is improving which means it’s also valuable to us today.

When travelling I find Foursquare particularly useful. That great breakfast place in San Fransisco when I was last there? Discovered on Foursquare. Oh, and the one I found the next day that was quiet but had great coffee was added to the database to help the next traveller in the area. This globally shared database of places, tips and tricks is invaluable when on the road and I’m happy to add my recommendations.

In his book Skyfaring, Mark Vanhoenacker has a theory he calls place-lag: a jet-lag like feeling of disconnect when you’re in a place suddenly very different from the last you were in.4 A feeling that is most commonly felt because of long distance air travel when your presence is the only real connection between two locations. Yet Foursquare – and similar – is able to make far off towns feel more familiar because it’s developing the powers to recommend places that we’ll like.

An understanding of place is critical to everything from taxi-hailing apps to controlling your heating (my heating knows when I am moving away from home and suggests I turn the temperature down ). We’re already hooked on GPS navigation systems but they’re improved when they understand not just where something is but how it relates to the world (which is the best entrance to the building from this direction?).

And an understanding of place is increasingly useful to the advertising industry. When I was first using Foursquare I discovered offers around San Fransisco that encouraged me to visit new places. They don’t seem to have Mayoral Specials any more but, nonetheless, if advertising’s ultimate aim is to give to you the right message, via the right medium, at the right time then knowing where you are is vitally important. Knowing where you are is more than just reading coordinates from a GPS system: it’s truly understanding the place you are in.

And these are all reasons I keep checking-in with Swarm. Every little piece of information is helpful to somebody’s future need to understand place. I want to help the world understand that the popular coffee place is inside the station rather than the one outside; that the best entrance when driving to the supermarket is the one on the other road and that people around here are looking for dinner and an offer right now could help somebody decide to where to eat.

So, even if mine is just a very small piece of the location jigsaw it’s all adding to the vast knowledge of places that helps everybody else. Clicking a little check-in helps build a better data set. And it gives me a lovely history of where I have been.

Here’s to the next 10,000.

About BEWA 2016

BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction a couple of weeks ago and the first in this series championed an Olympic legacy.  There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year).  Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.


1 Location, Location, Location: Wikipedia.
2 Foursquare, Crunchbase
3 Foursquare heat map generated by Where Do You Go
4 Skyfaring, Mark Vanhoenacker, p23

The Original App Store Was Your TV (or Radio)

Regular readers (ha!) will know that I tend to keep track (or a copy) of significant postings I make elsewhere on this site so that I have a consolidated view of my various ramblings. Don’t ask me why.

Earlier today my friend Austin sent me a link to the video embedded here. My original response was on Facebook but I’m saving it here because the video makes me smile.

Austin Scott shared this video today. It brought back so many memories. It’s funny to think that we downloaded programs from the television & radio in the way that’s shown towards the end of this video. “Stand by for the software transmission” (at 5 mins 30) is very funny but it’s really how we used to do it. Who could have foreseen the app stores? I remember recording programs from the radio which was much easier. Who had a TV that connected to a cassette recorder?

10 years after this TV programme aired, somebody asked me “why do we need email when we have the fax”? Naming no names here to protect the guilty.

Seeing the old BBC Micro really reminds me of my final years at school. My O-level computer project was to design a piece of software and I developed a contact & mailing management system. It was too great a task to undertake in BBC Basic. I finished it but only managed to submit the coursework thanks to my parents spending an evening printing the code (yes, we had to do that) and helping me file it properly. Today, I guess we’d call it CRM. If only I’d kept at it. Perhaps it could have been Salesforce.

Feel free to comment on Facebook.

Contactless Payments: All Rise

Some comments are just too long for Twitter but I’m unsure they are worthy of a post like this. Still, having no other place I want to comment, here goes.

Last October Apple launched Apple Pay; the contactless payment mechanism using your mobile phone and not a plastic credit card. At the time I wrote a quick summary of my payment day for those who were new to contactless payments (hint: not really aimed at the UK market). It’s now pretty mainstream.

According to the BBC, in the UK, £2.3billion was transacted this way in 2014 where “30% of all transactions [in London] below £20 were contactless,” according to Barclaycard. Last Friday the BBC even had a Six O’Clock News item on the rise of contactless payments, with the three-fold year-on-year rise amusingly illustrated with loaf tins at a bakers (pun, one assumes, absolutely intended). They also noted an increased transaction limit is coming, which is useful. See the video on BBC News.

But no mention of any of the non-plastic card ways to pay: pay tags or mobile phones. I found that a bit odd given they are likely to grow quickly as they are introduced.

Elsewhere: Writing the perfect RFP

One of my former colleagues, Louis, has written a piece on LinkedIn about the process some companies go through when putting together a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a major technology purchase.  His essential point, that the process – especially in the larger corporates – doesn’t really lend itself to the best outcome for the ultimate system users, is well made. I’ve been meaning to write something about this process for some time because, so often, it’s a process that prevents a technology seller working closely with the buyer to tailor the response (and, therefore solution) to meet the ultimate business goal. This is done in the name of fairness and transparency which is, of course, a laudable process but if it doesn’t get the best outcome, is it the right one? Although he’s writing in the context of marketing analytics, the words could just as easily be written for the ad tech industry and – probably – for any major modern technology purchasing decision.  Most of today’s tech solutions are complex and can be used in whole (or in part) in many ways as well as being integrated closely with existing systems. What this means, of course, is that there really isn’t a single solution to a customer’s problem from any vendor but a number of approaches that are best discussed and evaluated beyond a series of ‘compliant/not compliant’ statements in a document. Louis suggests some initial stages which are much more discussion than Q&A. I’ve seen – and been involved in – pitches where this works very well.  So, if your putting together any kind of technology RFP then it’s worth reading to make sure you’re giving yourself – and your tech partners – the best chance of success. Here was my small addition to the conversation:

Great advice.  The RFP process in many areas is broken.  I was once part of a team that was begged to complete an RFP for which we were not a good fit by a prospective client: a process that benefitted nobody but a procurement checklist. I really like your alternative suggestions. But, do you really think that your alternative approach requires a lot more time upfront? I don’t think it does but it needs a different kind of relationship with vendors.  In many organisations there’s already a large team putting an RFP together and it’ll go through many iterations before finally being issued so your alternative is just changing the way people evaluate the market: it needn’t take that much more effort. Having said all that, sometimes it’s best to accept that the RFP is the beginning of a process not the end. You may lose an individual RFP but that can mean the start of a business relationship.

Further Reading This piece was written in response to ‘Writing the Perfect RFP‘ by Louis Fernandes and forms the second in my BEWA series. The first was BEWA: Sound the alarm! All the letters have been taken.

2011 Digital Advertising Horoscope

Transparency will be the watch word in 2011 and we’ll all be bombarded with links to opt-out screens. I trust that we’ll get better at explaining how and what, if any, data is used. I also suspect we’ll see an emergence of more data validation services.

Let’s see what our Horoscope tells us for New Year’s Day. And I don’t mean that I foresee a murder and you shouldn’t be living in Midsomer at 9pm tonight. No, this is my attempt to better my score from last year and see what’s coming up in the year ahead for digital advertising. Really, there’s not much else to do until the fireworks have stopped rattling in my ears.

Aquarius: Your Campaigns Will Be Better Targeted

I’m still placing bets on increased data usage in advertising targeting. Although highly targeted advertising placements have been around since the first digital ad technologies appeared, such sophisticated targeting was not adopted universally. It will become increasingly important and advertisers will look to target across the data spectrum to incorporate behavioural and declared data alongside localisation and social metrics. Of course, somebody will release a(nother) study to say there’s an over reliance on audience data at the expense of creativity and engagement but you don’t need to read Mystic Meg to know there’ll be an increasing flow of data in 2011. This tidal wave of data is increasingly complex to manage and nobody seems to have developed a widely adopted trading platform for audience data yet. Who will fall foul of the data regulators in 2011? Somebody will. From a publisher’s perspective this will become an area in need of attention: selling media with data, selling standalone data, buying data and guarding against data theft. Somebody needs to keep an eye on all this to and, I imagine, it’ll need more than a board and wetsuit to ride the breaking data waves. Publishers need tools to mange their data and, properly, understand the value of that data.

Pisces: You Will Wear The Cloak Of Transparency

None of this, of course, will happen without full disclosure on data use. Transparency will be the watch word in 2011 and we’ll all be bombarded with links to opt-out screens. I trust that we’ll get better at explaining how and what, if any, data is used. I also suspect we’ll see an emergence of more data validation services. Advertisers, their agencies and publishers can increasingly partner with a wide range of data suppliers across the spectrum but who, if anybody, is validating it? Just as we’ve seen the rise of Better Advertising to combat the disclosure issue, I’m sure an increasing number of parties will offer to validate your data soon. Enough people aren’t asking if the data they are using is actually accurate and, therefore, valuable.

Gemini: The Moon Is In A Customising Orbit

Last year I didn’t need to be Russell Grant to suggest that digital advertising markets will start to grow again. That growth provided confidence to publishers and media owners who will now start to look for an increasing number of ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. In a growing market, and for large pools of display advertising inventory, standardisation is a good thing but this will be the year more-and-more publishers add something bespoke to their media kits. Unique ad-units, integrated creative and an increasing number of sponsorship opportunities will appear to combat a continued rise of bidding and trading across more standard ad placements. And that approach will cross channels with iAd leading the way with more customised, non standard deliveries to iOS users. There has been a lot of talk about Apple’s iAd platform being either game changing or not but I don’t believe we’ve even scratched the surface. Increased interaction (yes, engagement) facilitated by this platform will pave the way for a change in the way brand-building ads are developed (will we even see them or call them ads anymore? They’ll be far removed from anything we have today). This will apply cross-platform as publishers will start to offer deeper experiences on mobile and on bigger screens. In the UK, Absolute Radio have already started to show what’s possible.

Cancer: A Job In The Financial Sector Awaits

Publishers will continue to embrace trading for part of their media. We’ll see exiles from banks and energy companies, who understand the deepest complexities of traded marketplaces, take roles at both ends of the trading floor. I wonder if Lori Reid can tell us if that will lead to a bonus culture to rival the big financial institutions? Customised ad placements and a growing marketplace will put pressure on the industry to deliver another type of data: the business insight. For publishers this will be about understanding advertising performance on their properties and tying that to financial and sales data. The buy-side of the industry will continue to pursue ad performance metrics but, I imagine, will also, increasingly, analyse the return on those other ads where awareness and interaction are the measurement metrics. We’ll see ourselves learning to better mine our financial data to understand what is, and what is not, working well. And from this insight publishers will start to channel investment into both content that is proven to be working from their, and their advertising partners, perspectives and into technology, an area where they have – recently – been out gunned by network and buy-side companies.

Virgo: Your Digital Ads Will Be Everywhere

Social media will continue its rise and, maybe, Twitter will have another advertising proposition by this time next year. Coupons will remain popular, no doubt leading to big name digital businesses going on a buying spree (without the 20% off offers) pretty soon and money will be spent on crowbaring coupon offerings into the mobile world. There’ll be new places to put all these ads too. I’m sure we’re about to have a raft of technology announcements with ever more tablets, smartphones and even apps on your laptops and desktops, but the one to watch will be YouView, the internet connected digital TV platform, which will enable “if somebody gets round to it” an interactive, engaging, social television experience with a data-driven display advertising marketplace on your telly-box.

Gee, even Jonathan Cainer couldn’t have foreseen that many buzzwords in a single sentence. Of course, as with all horoscopes, these are the easier predictions. It’s the unknown that I’m most excited about. As with last year, follow @curns on Twitter to see if this is all stuff-and nonsense or if it will happen. That, or just see if I can crowbar Claire Petulengro’s name into a tweet (she’s the astrologer in The Sunday People, you know).

Report Card

At the start of the year I wrote a couple of predictions for 2010 in digital advertising (it was either that or try and pen a New Year’s hit record and my wordsmith-ing just isn’t up to that). I could, of course, forget about them, pretend I’d never dealt those cards and move on with this year’s predictions but you know I’ve never been one to resist pointing out my personal failings. So, did anything actually come true or should you be relying on fortune telling talents of somebody on the end of Blackpool pier in a wooden caravan for your 2011 bets?

At the start of the year I wrote a couple of predictions for 2010 in digital advertising (it was either that or try and pen a New Year’s hit record and my wordsmith-ing just isn’t up to that). I could, of course, forget about them, pretend I’d never dealt those cards and move on with this year’s predictions but ‘you know’ I’ve never been one to resist pointing out my personal failings. So, did anything actually come true or should you be relying on fortune telling talents of somebody on the end of Blackpool pier in a wooden caravan for your 2011 bets?

I think you’ll be saved the seaside trip with the first one. I don’t think I was wrong about the cookie storm, although it was more catering sized than a storm in a teacup and, unexpectedly, it was the US and not Europe that appeared to be looking closely at issues related to online tracking. The Wall Street Journal really started dunking that cookie in July with a series of articles entitled ‘The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets‘ which ran with a sub-header that spoke of ‘spying on consumers’ which is great journalist-speak but does nothing to reflect the nuances of the debate. I’ll award myself a B+ for that one.

Staring into my crystal ball I said that money will come back into digital advertising (check) and the switch to digital will continue (check).  The Rubicon Project declared ‘Digital Ad Spend Grows 47% in First Half of Year‘ in August while only this month eMarketer declared, ‘The Web Passes Newspapers in Ad Spending For First Time‘. I will only award myself a B+ for those predictions too as, really, it was a little too obvious and even faulty crystals would have come close.

I wrote several times in the year about Paywalls and I am going to say the jury is still out on them. They did rise, but that had been announced, and I think it’s too early to talk about their impact on newspapers and on advertising. Although in August, WPP’s Martin Sorrell said, ‘online paywalls are an essential part of the armoury for newspaper and magazine publishers in the digital age’ (as reported by Brand Republic).

I am going to give myself an A for references to mobile coupons in my 2010 predictions. This is one place where the tea leaves more-or-less worked well.  Admittedly, the mobile part is vague but the rise of GrouponLiving Social et al. means that couponing made a big come-back in a deal-obsessed year. We all like another 30% off, don’t we?

I am fairly certain that ‘monetizing social media’ will become a buzz (if it’s not already) but I don’t think Twitter really did come good with an advertising model (promoted Tweets anyone?). However, Facebook seems to be doing fine, thank you. Back in March,  Inside Facebook predicted 2010 revenues at $1.1 billion, All Facebook suggested $1.2 billion in March and, just as Mark Zuckerberg was announced as Time’s Person of the Year, Facebook was reported as being on track to collect $2 billion in revenues in 2010, according to Bloomberg (and reported in MediaPost). Another B+ there because, I think it was another more-or-less obvious prediction.

And so to the one I really don’t know how to read. What can I say happened to mobile advertising this year? The definition of mobile changed at the start of the year when Apple officially announced the iPad. Is it a mobile device or not? What does it mean for advertising? We tried, and subsequently failed, to answer these questions in 2010.

Clearly, I was right about location based advertising becoming more prominent but only if, through use of smoke and some mirrors, I claim I was talking about the media buzz. I did see some good Foursquare location advertising on a trip to the US earlier in the year but I’m yet to see anything really take-off. Perhaps Facebook is the one to watch on this front (but, predictions are for another post). As for mobile, well Google closed their acquisition of AdMob, Apple acquired Quattro and subsequently launched iAd but have we really seen the innovation on that front yet?   One publication, telecomtv.com, announced ‘Mobile advertising at last coming of age. In the UK at least‘ at the start of December so let’s go with that as an A- shall we?

I ended last year’s predictions with some comments about data. The aforementioned Wall Street Journal series certainly brought that to the fore. Just a few days ago AFP reported Mozilla chief executive Gary Kovacs as saying,

“You can’t tell me the delivery of a piece of content is going to be that much better if you know everything about my life; it’s all about moderation.”

and with that we’ll probably end 2010 in no better place in our understanding of data use than we ended 2009. At least the debate has started on the use of declared, inferred and tracked data and behaviours and I think that debate is a good thing. I, for one, believe a properly informed debate will be a good thing for the digital ad business.

Now to make a pot of tea and see what the leaves might suggest for next year. I think, overall, I am awarding myself a B+ for my 2010 predictions. Probably, we should be thankful we came through the year unscathed which, when you think about it, isn’t a bad place to end up.

There’s an interesting year ahead for 2011 as we might finally start to see on-demand television hit the big (bigger) time in the UK, there’s a data conversation still to be had and I have to ask if the march of social can be halted (and would you want that?).  All-in, those could make for some interesting digital advertising times ahead and I’m hoping on the tram to Blackpool to see if Gypsy Jane-Anne is in and willing to look at my palm.

In the meantime, New Year will be celebrated Twitter style @curns.

A Mastery Of Technology

Technology is good for us. But sometimes it gets the better of us. Like today when it wasn’t that helpful. My train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that).

I am writing this episode of .org on one side of the screen while watching an episode of Queer As Folk (US version) on the other side of the screen. I’m playing it from my computer’s built-in DVD. I am doing this as I am sat in a hotel room in Oslo. See, the relentless march of technology allows me to mutli-task in ways I would never have imagined a few years ago.

You could almost say I am stunned. But I am not. I am just bored in a hotel room.

Having said that, it would be great if all that technology stomping around the world managed to get a coffee machine or kettle in this hotel room. As it is I had to take the lift and fetch a cup of over strong coffee from the reception area. Really, Scandinavia is supposed to be so much more advanced. All this wood, heated bathroom flooring and sweet herring is all well and good but I want a good old fashioned cup of Costa Coffee and there isn’t one to be had.

Sorry, back to that relentless technology marching. I am seeing sleek back and silver gadgets marching in perfect unison through Red Square; USB cables tightly rolled and ready to attack at the first sight of an invasion. General Mac and Air Marshall Windows quietly surveying their battalions with stern pride and swelling chests full of medals. But this is modern tech. It would fail. It would let you down. The connector would be the wrong size or the driver would be missing. The intruders would conquer and a few bits of bare wire and broken hard drives would litter the streets.

See, I am well aware that technology is not fool-proof. How many times have you sent that email to somebody who should not have been on the cc list? How many times have you wasted half the paper in the printer because you forgot to check how that document would print? How many times did your Sat Nav take you the wrong way down a one-way street? How many times have you called somebody on your mobile that you didn’t mean to call? How many times have to had to reboot your train?

Yes, honestly, my train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that). I was thinking ‘which terminal?’ and wondering if those people on the platform were going to be charged excess baggage for the small van-load of cases they were taking. Then the train driver announced a small problem they were working on. A few minutes passed. We were late. The driver came on the tannoy again: now the power would be turned off and back on again. We weren’t to panic as we were plunged into darkness and the doors locked themselves. So we sat there in darkness with all the power gone. And then somebody switched us on again and – as with all turn it off and on agains – we were good to go. So we did. Go, that is.

Seriously, they turned my train off and then on again to fix it.

And it was at that moment I knew that technology had gotten the better of us. Machines now rule and we are relegated to the bit parts (every pun intended).

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.

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.

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.