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Update: My Online Display Advertising Book

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Well, those of you who've known me for a while know that I've been working on a "how-to, everything you need to know about" online display advertising book for publishers.

In case this is news for you, I have found that many startups I work with want to make advertising as a key part of their revenue plan. However, most of the people I meet are people who have never worked with advertising at all, but only have encountered it as a snippet of HTML that you put on your site from an ad network. But shortly, to their chagrin, they wonder why only a few dollars pop into their account every month!

I found myself giving the same speech to them and after about the second time I realized that this was dumb; I should just put the speech into a book and then they could just read that and ask me for the finer points.

However, writing a straight how-to book seemed very uninteresting. So I thought I would make my book half about my experiences at Yahoo with online display advertising, and then the other half would be a straight how-to in case the reader just wanted to get to the point and skip the stories. But I did want to include them because I use them as support for what I advise.

It's been over two years of writing with many thanks to Stephanie Zhong (Green blogger, Fabulously Green, @ThinkSideways) who sat with me every week and listened to me ramble about my Yahoo days and the advertising industry and put it all down in Scrivener, probably the best damn writing software out there.

I've been not writing somewhat due to a new arrival in my family, but now having engaged a night nanny, my brain is somewhat back to functioning and I'm back to writing. Currently, I am a little before half way done in the first version of the book, taking all the notes I've compiled and writing/editing them to narrative. With any luck I'll be done with a first draft sometime this year, but hopefully not too much longer.

It's been a great experience so far - writing long form doesn't come naturally to me. It took me years to get used to writing in blog post length but getting heads down to write an entire book has been challenging!

In any case, I'll let you know when my book makes it out. I hope to learn a lot by self-publishing (seems like I'm heading down this road, versus going with a formal publisher) and self-promotion of it when it comes out. I hope to take advantage of e-formats judiciously, although I am still a big fan of paper - what can I say, I'm old skool...!

To those who have contributed and helped, thanks a million! To those of you who will read it, I hope you'll all get something out of it, as much as I'm getting out of writing it!

Fun With Transformers Online Advertising

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I just found the Transformers Movie website and it's pretty darn cool. Great animation, excellent execution. They even let you build your own ad banner and customize it. How cool is that!:

It's happening all over again. Check this out:

OPA Members Strive For Higher Impact In Online Ads

Members of the OPA are launching new ad units, much larger than current IAB sizes. Here they are (quoted from previous Mediapost article):

1. The Fixed Panel (recommended dimension is 336 wide x 860 tall), intended to appear naturally embedded into the page layout, and scrolls to the top and bottom of the page as a user goes up or down the page.

2. The XXL Box (468 x 648), providing page-turn functionality and video capability and expandable to 936 x 648.

3. The Pushdown (970 x 418), which opens to display the advertisement and then rolls up to the top of the page (collapsing to 970 x 66).

Back in 2001 when the dot-com bust was upon us, I was at Yahoo! and we worked with the IAB to roll out and standardize new larger ad sizes, which you see at the IAB ad size standards page. In fact, the industry had grabbed hold of a lot of the new ad units already and Yahoo! was painfully behind in adopting the new standards until the industry had just tanked, and the major source of ad dollars during the dot-com boom had disappeared - other over funded dot-coms who all but died in/around 2001. Yahoo!, along with all the other publishers were forced to adopt new larger ad sizes and introduce new ad experiences to woo advertisers onto their sites.

It worked great. New larger ad sizes were standardized, new ad experiences were conceived and offered like expandable ads and floating ads - we gave advertisers more opportunity to do what they do best: create WOW.

As time goes on, these ad units became commoditized both in the eyes of advertisers and users. They weren't special anymore, so prices that advertisers will pay dropped and users got used to them and starting ignoring them.

But it seems like it took yet another economic downturn to create innovation in ad units. Isn't this dumb? It would seem to me that publishers should take an active role in managing the roll out of new ad units and ad experiences on a regular basis to keep interest in them high from an advertiser and user perspective, and thus prices and value are also kept high. Unfortunately, this didn't happen. At least now the industry is forced to introduce new things into the marketplace.

The other funny thing that is happening again is the rise of the direct marketer in graphical ads. When all the dot-coms died back in 2001, ad units from known brands disappeared and all that were left were ads from direct marketers. These ads were the best of the best in deception - there were tons of ads that looked like dialog boxes and read "Your hard drive is deleting! click here to stop". They were also just inapprorpriate - I remember an ad that had a picture of an old lady lying on the ground that read, "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!" Awful stuff. At Yahoo! we created strict content guidelines that just got rid of all these ads AND we worked super hard at bringing traditional brands onto Yahoo! so that we eliminated our revenue dependence on these direct marketers.

But they're back:

Ad Recession Brings on the Belly Fat

While these ads aren't deceptive, they are pretty offensive in their design. But yet, they are effective at driving traffic to lose weight websites as they offend the rest of the population. And they aren't all that wonderful at creating a great brand experience within anyone's website. This is why all the male enhancement ads are placed all the way in the back of popular men's magazines; if you saw them in within their main content pages, you might think that this men's magazine has an undesirable perception amongst its readers.

The same will happen to websites if these ads are found on their pages. Do you want your brand tarnished by the ads that run on your pages?

In the short term, direct marketers have the cash. Perhaps we are forced to take these ads in the short term as we figure out new ways to generate revenue. I hope that in this case, history repeats itself in that the industry will innovate yet again and more desirable advertiser dollars will flow into the ecosystem. But instead of getting rid of direct marketers, can't we find a way to help them create more acceptable ads from a design perspective but are ALSO as effective?

Book Update

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It's been about a year since I really started working on this book. I engaged someone to help me write it and we've been meeting more or less regularly for about a year now. I think I've finally gotten to a point where we can form a coherent story line about the history of online advertising at Yahoo! and I'm going to batten down the hatches and go heads down in trying pull that together in March. The world around us has changed drastically and so I'm leaving the how-to section for last since I feel that it will be easier to write about factual, educational information but also because the world is changing quickly and what I want to say about adding online display advertising to a startups' strategy may change by the time I finish.

Thanks to all the ex-Yahoos who have sat with me for hours and given me their recollections of the happenings back there. It's always fun to reminisce and hopefully I'll put it all down in the book in a somewhat coherent way.

Stay tuned!

As I was interviewing my old Yahoo crew for material for my book, I was simultaneously asked to read and review a book by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd called The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.

It was an amazing coincidence because as I was interviewing, I realized that in many instances, there were several versions of what happened for a given moment in Yahoo history. These views were colored by peoples' opinions about the various players, the order in which they thought events happened, and also by their own role in the particular situation, and their significance and contribution. As I gathered the information, I saw small and large contradictions in the stories I got. What a predicament!

My aim is to present an objective view of events. I do not want this part of the book to be sensationalist, but rather an objective view of what transpired and what worked well and what didn't work so well. I also have no desire to present anyone in a negative light, because a lot of them are my friends and I respect them and the fact that they gave me information, and also that we were all learning about how to do business in an industry that was very young.

Somehow, I'll have to find a way to combine all this seemingly contradictory info and make it all work.

At the same time, I found insight in the book I was reviewing, The Time Paradox. This book is an amazing look at how humans people have perceived time throughout history and in different cultures. It talks through relevant research on peoples' perceptions on time and how it affects their lives. It also talked about something really relevant to my situation, which is the fact that as time goes on, our memories get super muddied and unclear. Sometimes we remember stuff that happened in ways that didn't happen. Sometimes we even remember stuff that really didn't happen!

In my intro, I will definitely put a disclaimer there saying I did my best to bring together and document the events that happened between 4 and 13 years ago. I know there will be errors and sometimes disagreements as to who did what and when and who should be given credit for what thing.

If I decide to self-publish, then I will definitely be able to tighten up the facts if someone were to present me with sufficient evidence that what I published was inaccurate. In any case, I think this is something that any historian has to contend with and it has been an interesting discovery on my part as I research and try to write the historical section of my book.

Scrivener

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In Macworld magazine, I read about a great software program for writers called Scrivener. My writer and I have been using Google Docs and MS Word to write and we were reaching a point where this book was getting harder to manage as one long stream of text. We were using Kinko's online service to print the whole thing out, but working this way, which is a more traditional way, would be time and money consuming. It was also difficult as we didn't have outlining capabilities in MS Word, or at least hadn't been able to figure out whatever was available in MS Word.

Enter Scrivener. Wow. What a difference. The software allows writers to separate the work into sections and gives you many different views on the work, whether in corkboard mode or in outline mode. You can then work on the doc section by section which is much more faster for me, and also take a look at the whole doc with the sections assembled to see if it all appears together correctly. The transitions then can be worked on separately, which is fine because my biggest barrier is to just focus on a particular section first and get the text out of my brain.

Then, you can always export the doc into one long Word or text file. The sections get all assembled and you can print it out or send it to a publisher.

The one thing that would have been nice would be to have some collaborative method of working together that doesn't mean coordinating file versions and passing them back and forth. Perhaps some merge method? Online site support where the files are synced? For now, we'll email the file back and forth when changes happen.

If you're writing an article, book, or whatever, I would highly recommend Scrivener!

My Book is Being Written!

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After all these months, I finally am moving on my book! I found someone to help me extract all these facts out of my head, which is a critical starting point. I'm not a natural writer; I can't sit down and just regurgitate tons of text on demand. It takes me effort. But having someone who is knowledgeable AND able to editorialize and write extract all this information from my mind is a godsend for the book's process.

She interviews me, digs into areas to find out more information, makes notes on things that require more research. Having a "brain extractor" work with me has also helped me think through how this book should be formatted and ultimately end up. My next step is to get a few paragraphs written and then finalize how I want to publish this book...

Site Takeover of USPS.GOV!

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This is amazing to see:


Visit usps.gov - Enlarge image

When I started working on online ads, it was acknowledged that c|net.com was one of the most innovative in online advertising. Then came the portals, and pushed by all the advertising technology companies like Eyeblaster.com and Pointroll.com. We'd all be doing floating ads and site takeovers, popups and popunders, expanding ads, video ads and wondering what our users were thinking about all these things flying around on their pages.

However, it was only those companies that were innovative and daring enough, and desperate enough for revenue, that would try these ideas. Some worked, some didn't. But pretty much everything generated revenue. Some of the older institutions would never try these ideas. They worried about annoying users or creating experiences that would degrade trust of their users. For the most part, they were right. But sometimes we found they were wrong.

It's hard to predict what users think. The world keeps changing and users' preferences and tolerances change as the internet presents experiences that, in the beginning, are unique and potentially shocking, but then over time become commonplace.

What does this say about the internet when a venerable organization such as the United States Post Office joins the online advertising revolution-now-become-commonplace and places a site takeover on their top page?

I'm Gonna Write a (Beta) Book!

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Well, my friend Christina convinced me to write my first book, which will be about online advertising.

Why Online Advertising?

Haven't enough books been written about online advertising? Perhaps, but not in the area I'm writing about.

Over the last 8 months of working on David Shen Ventures, LLC, one of the topics I talk most about is the area of online advertising. It's an area in which many entrepreneurs have almost no exposure, and yet they talk a lot about putting ads on their sites.

I wish it were as simple as that. Technically, putting ad html tags on your site is pretty easy; orchestrating everything else is a challenge when you have no experience in doing so.

Revenue generation is top of mind for every startup. They want to figure out how to make the most money and advertising is a natural thing to try for every company working on an Internet product. So it has been amusing that almost every startup has contacted me for my user experience and product knowledge, but it quickly morphs to my guidance on online advertising and its implementation on the site and within the company.

For every startup, I found that I talk about exactly the same thing, the same issues, the same stories. And they eat it up because there is no one else to teach them the basics. There is a real need for resources to teach new Internet startups how to do online advertising right and there is not much out there at all.

It was then I realized I should just write all this stuff down and then just give it them in printed form. They can read and digest it, and then we could meet and go into the details, or talk about stuff that would inevitably be left out of the book, or the latest trends in online advertising which shifts all the time based on what is going on with websites and their users.

My other motivation for writing this was to document the history of online advertising at my old company, Yahoo!. As I talk about online advertising to my startups, I cannot help but insert the stories of our struggles with online advertising there. And when I think back to the evolution of online advertising, I cannot help but think how Yahoo! has shaped the industry as a whole due to its heavy involvement in it. It helped drive it through the Internet boom years, rode the downturn, but then helped pull the industry out of its doldrums and helped the advertising world regain confidence in what the Internet could do for them.

I did not want that story to be lost. I wanted to document it once and for all so that everyone can read it and learn from both Yahoo!'s successes and failures, and hopefully not repeat them again. And lastly, I wanted to recognize the women and men whose work made this a journey of discovery and rebirth for my old alma mater, Yahoo!.

But how to start writing this book?

Book 2.0 Beta

The Beta Book

If developers are nervous releasing code, then publishers and authors are terrified of releasing books. Once a book gets committed to paper, it's seen as a big hairy deal to change it. (It really isn't, but perception and memories of problems with old technologies still linger in the industry.) So, publishers go to a lot of trouble (and expense) to try to make books "right" before they're released.

When I wrote the book Agile Web Development With Rails, there was a lot of pent up demand among developers: give us the book now — we want to learn about Rails. But I'd fallen into the mindset of a publisher. "It isn't ready yet," I'd say. But pressure from the community and some egging on from David Heinemeier Hansson changed my mind. We released the book in pdf form about 2 months before it was complete. The results were spectacular. Not only did we sell a lot of books, but we got feedback — a lot of feedback. I set up an automated system to capture readers' comments, and in the end got almost 850 reports or typos, technical errors, and suggestions for new content. Almost all made their way into the final book.

It was a win-win: I got to deliver a much improved paper book, and the community got early access to something they wanted. And if you're in a competitive race, getting something out earlier helps folks commit to you and not your competition.

- Dave Thomas, The Pragmatic Programmers, from Getting Real by 37signals.com

Over these last few days, I've been reading 37signals.com's book, Getting Real and found this quote in there about publishing in the world of the Web. I realized that it would be a fantastic way to actually get my ideas down in written form and then solicit the world for comments. I could then edit and republish, get comments, and keep doing this until I am done.

So over the next few weeks and months (hopefully not years!), I'll be posting potential content for the book in my Online Advertising Book category. My hope is that, you, the readership will read these incomplete ramblings and help me by commenting on them and making suggestions, resulting in a stronger product than if I just turned into a hermit for a few months and typed until the book was done. This book will be a true product of the crowd and I hope you will enjoy reading and shaping it as much as I will enjoy writing it and involving you.

Stay tuned!

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