Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Dec 01

Solutions to Fake News 1: Deny Lie Merchants Access to Premium Ad Revenue

Posted: under adsense clickfraud, advertising, Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Politics & New Media.
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Is a market-based solution the best way to solve the fake news problem?

There’s been a sudden realization outside the cozy confines of digital business model nerds, that the open nature of the web has allowed an entire class of scammers to establish themselves, grow, and flourish.

journalist taking notes rather than creating fake news stories

Actual journalists take notes and try to verify information before publishing. Fake News sites just make stuff up.

The end result of this has been that a substantial percentage of the U.S. public can no longer distinguish fact from fantasy. And they then vote accordingly. This is generally seen as a Bad Thing. Not just because one particular political party lost the recent election – if anything, the GOP is as up in arms over this as the Democrats, because they see their voting base as unruly and detached from reality, due to their reliance on fake news stories. The end game of an entire voting population lost to fantasy is that the country, already borderline ungovernable, becomes so splintered that it starts making really idiotic decisions (“Let’s invade Guatemala! They’re sending us Snake People disguised as immigrants!”).

A lot of journalism pundits have started to pile on, as the stories about scammers (and let’s just coin this phrase right here and now: LIE MERCHANTS) surface, and their behavior becomes more and more brazen. The last few weeks have seen:

  1. Lie Merchants using “typo-squatting” to impersonate the USA Today or ABC news, in order to promulgate fantasies, such as protesters getting paid $3,500 apiece by George Soros to protest Trump’s election.
  2. Two nitwit brothers in Long Beach who gleefully seize on actual news events, and create elaborate, hateful conspiracy theories around them, which they then promote on Facebook, all to drive traffic to their LibertyWritersNews site, making up to $12,000 a week on ads.
  3. Unemployed Macedonian musicians exploiting the anti-Clinton hatred whipped up by Fox News and talk radio, fabricating “exposes” about child sex rings and devil worship so they can pay for amps and guitars.

A history of fake news reporting here on Sips

I’ve written about these kinds of scams here on Sips.

I even wrote an entire book about the tabloid industry back in the 90s, because I saw the entire news industry going off the rails, and pursuing lurid stories in their desperate efforts to satisfy the corporate profit imperatives.

Lately, I’ve been writing about the vast Clickfraud industry that steals an estimated 33% of online ad revenues from honest content producers.

All these trend lines have converged this year, and resulted in a toxic mess. We now have the worst of both worlds: the Lie Merchants are making coin hand over fist, because they spend nothing on reporting, research, fact-checking, interviews, verification, travel to personally witness events, or any of the other costs of an actual, functioning news organization.

Meanwhile, actual journalists are being fired in droves, because the public has become so addicted to these fantasies, that they now reject any hint that the disgusting lies they are fed via rabid AM-radio hosts, email chains, Facebook, Breitbart comment threads, etc. etc. — are not based in objective reality. From the BuzzFeed investigation:

Pages like Freedom Daily play to the biases of their audiences — and to those of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm — by sharing videos, photos, and links that demonize opposing points of view. They write explosive headlines and passages that urge people to click and share in order to show their support, or to express outrage. And in this tense and polarizing presidential election season, they continue to grow and gain influence.

There are a lot of solutions being bandied about, but today I will focus on one that to me, shows a lot of promise: cutting these Lie Merchants off from the advertising revenue that sustains their operations. This will necessitate some kind of human intervention; we are going to need to come up with a human-intermediated way of validating people who produce actual, factual, news.

The opening shot in this burgeoning war was fired by online ad-tech outfit DoubleVerify, with their DV Digital Impression Quality product, which purports to be able to block advertiser’s money flowing to fake news sites by blocking their ads from being displayed on Lie Merchant sites via the (broken, but that’s a different subject) ad exchanges.

Can a market-based solution to Lie Merchants work? Well, one of the biggest obstacles is going to be the public’s appetite for such ugly, idiotic brain fodder. But if we choke off the reason these fake news sites exist in the first place – that they are wildly profitable – then we are going to take an important step towards cleaning up the online news space.

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Apr 08

What is “native advertising” anyway?

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration.
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The IAB has published their view. I have my own opinion.

One of the biggest problems with “native advertising” is that it is such a new, made-up term of digital art, that it’s taken on an Alice in Wonderland-esque quality, in which the phrase means whatever the speaker thinks it means in that moment, while the listener pretty much has their own interpretation.

 “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

Read More

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May 08

Turning “Likes” into Schwag: American Airlines and Klout

Posted: under advertising.
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One in an occasional, erratic and occasionally erratic series

Time is money. Image is everything. Manners maketh man. Your reputation precedes you.

And now, having a high (enough) Klout score wins you entry into the American Airlines first-class lounge, where you can look down your nose at the hoi polloi, and raid the “Continental breakfast with liquor” setup before your flight.

American Airlnes Klout score

I know this is going to result in me getting spammed mercilessly by American Airlines for the next millennium. The question, as always, is – is it worth it?

The mutability of your online reputation, as measured by any of the upstarts trying to put a wrench onto this social media/word of mouth monster, into actual real-world rewards is a very tricky thing. Having a lot of YouTube followers (or blog readers) gets you onto the red carpet for movie premieres.  Mommy bloggers get to test-drive new models of minivans.

But in the past, these kinds of corporate reacharounds usually had the intervention of a PR agency. This iteration goes through Klout, and asks you to connect AA directly with your Klout account (and thru Klout, to all the social media sites you included in Klout to try to boost your score).

Insidious? Evil? Useful? I guess it depends on how sanguine you are to turn over all your personal data & connections to friends in return for something that can run a couple hundred bucks, and make waiting for your flight a lot more pleasant. Certainly a consideration, if the sequester cuts ever kick back in, and we face 8-hour delays again.

Still: “When you don’t know what the product being sold is … the product is you.”

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Mar 11

Facebook Ads & the Curated Social Web: A Way to Tame the Firehose

Posted: under advertising.
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Basically, this boils down to “are we willing to pay – either with our privacy (the coin of the online realm) or in actual ca$h dinero – for the relentless stream of information to be filtered down to stuff that we actually want to see, or that we need to see?” 

Interesting that Megan McArdle comes to this via an experiment to boost her Facebook engagement levels. 

Here’s the nut grafs: 

But after a decade out in the open, we are moving back behind walls. More and more we’re using gatekeepers like Google and Facebook to contain the chaos. Doing so serves their purposes—but it also serves ours. In a 2012 Pew Survey, 21 percent of Americans reported getting news from Twitter or Facebook in the last day, and the number is only increasing; the Atlantic Media Group recently reported that almost half its traffic comes from social media.

Complain as we might about privacy violations and the invisible hand and all that, the reason this is happening is because, in some sense, we want it to. We’re the ones herding onto Facebook and Twitter to get our news rather than using older, more open technologies like RSS readers. We’re the ones who have chosen to let their algorithms aggregate for us what, in the dizzying world of Internet content, we would otherwise have to uncover for ourselves. We’re the ones who complain bitterly whenever anyone on the Internet tries to charge for anything. But how did we think all those servers and Web developers would be paid?

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Dec 26

The Ongoing Digital Migration: Spin Magazine

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration.
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Spin magazine is killing its print edition-tell me how paywalls would help this situation?

I keep hearing over and over again that the demise of Murdoch’s The Daily means that digital magazines don’t work, the real solution to the revenue problems is to “fix the original sin” and put all content behind a paywall.

The thinking seems to be that since the New York Times has said that circulation revenues are equal to ad revenues, that must mean that paywalls are the long-awaited saviour for the news business.
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Comes now the case of Spin magazine, the venerable Rolling Stone also-ran. Can’t spin these numbers as anything other than a full blown collapse of the underlying ad market:

Over the course of the last decade, ad pages gradually declined from 661 in 2003 to 378 in 2011, a 43% drop, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. More recently, ad pages plunged another 40% from 287 in the first nine months of 2011 to 171 in the first nine months of 2012.

On the circulation front, in the six months ending December 2011 (the most recent period for which data is available) Spin had a total circulation of nearly 460,000 down 15% from 540,901 in the same period of 2005, according to the Alliance of Audited Media, formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

(H/t Mediapost)

OK, so take a second and mull over those numbers. When your ad revenues diminish by 75% while your circulation is only down 15%, what does that really mean? Does it mean that the audience has abandoned your product?

Or does it mean that advertisers have abandoned your product?

Of course, it means the latter. The young, hip audience that buys music (and all the related lifestyle accoutrements you see in music mags, such as t-shirts, DeVry University classes on how to be a music producer, black light posters & urine-cleansing supplements), is now getting their music online, not from the no-longer-existent music stores.

Why buy an ad in a print product that doesn’t offer a quick and easy way for the now-engaged audience to seamlessly buy what you’re selling? It’s more effective than print, and (due to continuing wrongheaded ad sales policies) cheaper too.

The challenge here, once you make the shift to all-digital, is going to be offering some kind of as product or experience that differentiates your music mag from all the music blogs out there that have much lower cost overheads.

I’ve always said that the places to watch for innovation are music and video games. Keep an eye on this space. If there are going to be innovations, they are likely to show up here first.

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Oct 17

Where is the media heading?

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Online Video.
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First in a series of videos taken during a panel discussion for PR Newswire at the LA Times building. 

 

On the panel with me, the delightfully funny and plainspoken Serena Ehrlich, who knows more about how to handle media in the digital age than the last three Presidential Press Secretaries put together. Although there is a marked resemblance there to C.J Craig of the late, lamented Bartlett administration. 

Anyway, this is a bit of an intro to what the conditions are like for the media, and what the big forces shaping the future are going to look like. 

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Sep 24

Print Schadenfreude: TV Up Next to the Chopping Block

Posted: under advertising, New Marketing, Online Video, television.
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A collective snicker/groan radiated out through the interwebs today with the publication of this AdAge piece on how video is like the news business was in 1998, as legions of print journalists who have seen the number and budgets of the news outlets for which they once worked steadily dwindle.

Welcome to Disintermediation 2.0, where the content is video. It’s
entertainment not news. And the stakes (at least the monetary ones) are
much higher.

While everyone in online video is challenged by the reality that digital
presents to any media — measurement, targeting, accountability —
traditional “editors” are also being squeezed by the very same process
that beset news in the late 90’s.

The article goes on to (correctly) identify the growth of highspeed broadband as the catalyst for the coming collapse of the traditional broadcast video model. I’d add to that the increasing popularity of DVRs, which are teaching the audience that we don’t necessarily all have to gather at 9 o’clock Eastern, 8 o’clock central, to begin our nightly turn-off-the-Alpha-waves sessions. Instead, the time-shifting that in the 80s had David Letterman jokingly producing a “morning Late Night show” because so many of his fans were using VCRs to watch him while scarfing their ham&eggs — that has become commonplace.

From econtent:

This has led to a new
rating system, called either “C3” or “live-plus-three”; instead of only
counting viewers who watch shows live, Nielsen counts anyone who records
and plays back the program up to 3 days later. This captures more of
the time-shifted viewing audience. By the end of 2010, McDonough says,
Nielsen’s ratings will combine both DVR’d and online streaming content.

Kate
Sirkin, executive vice president and global research director for
Starcom MediaVest Group, sees the DVR, particularly the TiVo, as
fundamentally changing the way Americans view television. “We have three
in our house,” Sirkin says. “My 5-year-old doesn’t understand live TV;
she’s always had a DVR.”

The other effect of DVRs, of course, is the commercial-skipping. Used to be that you had to hack your TiVo to be able to skip 30 seconds at a time. Now that comes programmed directly into the remote on the DirecTV HD controller (but I still prefer the TiVo, since it skipped you automatically 30 seconds forward in time, rather than making you watch blurred fast-forwarded action).

But the biggest eye-opener for me is that articles predicting that broadcast TV, the cash cow for so long for the advertising industry, is about to head into the abyss … well, that’s news. Because what took down newspapers was not that nobody was reading them anymore – in fact, the stats show that more people are reading newspaper content than ever before.

What has laid print newspapers low is that the revenue streams from traditional print advertising have dried up & blown away.

Most, if not all, of the major media buyers that I’ve run into over the last three years at various ad industry events, have all admitted that they know that advertising on TV really doesn’t work the way that it used to. The profusion of channels on cable and satellite, the DVRs, the growth of internet, all mean that they are getting less reach than they used to. Meanwhile, they’re getting charged through the nose for that same 30-second spot.

This relationship is inherently abusive, much like the relationship was between newspapers and their advertisers. When a viable alternative comes along, and you’ve managed to piss off your customers, guess what they do?

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Aug 30

California Tourism Ads Featuring the Governator

Posted: under advertising, Amusing Nonsense.
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For at least a couple more months, this is the face of California tourism.

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Aug 02

Bill Cosby is Not Dead Yet: A Viral Marketing Set-up?

Posted: under advertising, Amusing Nonsense.
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First day back from a much-needed “decompression” trip to the redwood forests of West Marin, and I’m greeted by the strangest trending topics when I fire up Tweetdeck for my re-immersion in the raging info-torrent:

twitscoop shows bill cosby denying his demise as top trending topic

So many people are ReTweeting Cosby's denial of his demise that the keywords are showing up all over trending topics.

Strange. The words “Cosby,” “demise,” “rumors,” “confirming,” and the Palin-esque portmanteau “rebuttaling” are trending. So when I click through to see what everyone’s talking about, this comes up:

twitter users retweeting cosby demise denial

Check out how many people are just hitting the "RT" button to repeat what Cosby said -- without any sort of editing of the message whatsoever. Thus including the bit.ly link.

Wow. OK, either there’s some sort of radio or TV contest going on here, or there’s a genuine story brewing. How can I tell that it’s not just one Twitspammer clogging up the Twitosphere? Well, check out the sources of the Tweets: Twidroid, web, UberTwitter (not shown: Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, and about a dozen other clients).

Spammers give themselves away by using only one (or at most two) channels to shovel their dreck. Usually they just compromise one platform and then quickly cram their message through the crack in the security wall before someone notices and plasters it over again.

Still, there’s a possibility that there was a massive exploit of user’s Twitter accounts, and that the weblink will lead to a page where the Trojans & Spyware lurk. So, setting the various anti-virus & script-blockers to “Red Alert” status, I clicked on through. Turns out that the Cos actually does have an app.

Bill Cosby's twittered rebuttal of his demise

A simple message - and one that has been picked up by a significant portion of his million-plus followers.

Now, I’m not sure if this was entirely scam-free. Cosby is a shrewd marketer & hustler; I wouldn’t put it past him to stage a non-event like this to take advantage of the overheated, overhyped nature of the Twitosphere to get his name out there (and how many times in the past six months have you actually even heard Bill Cosby’s name? Yeah, like that). One of the surest ways to cause a kerfuffle was proved a year ago when the news of Michael Jackson’s death caused the FailWhale to appear … so maybe Cosby & his web team figured out that sock-puppeting a rumor of Cosby’s sudden death would be enough to set off a ruckus.

Which Cosby could then take advantage of by issuing a denial … and tying that denial to a message plugging his new money-making app.

Convoluted? Damn Skippy. Like setting up a three-cushion shot on an uneven billiards table. Being carried in the back of a flatbed truck. Over a rutted backwoods Arkansas dirt road.

Then again, Bill Cosby was something of a hustling pool player, once upon a time…

Bill was not always "Mr. Establishment." He had a funky side - maybe it was Sidney Poitier that brought it out of him...

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May 19

Hulu and Delve Networks: We Still <3 Flash

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration, Online Video, television.
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…HTML5? Not so much…

In a move certain to cause much gleeful cackling and dry-washing of hands at Adobe HQ, Hulu and Delve announced that they are sticking with Flash, rather than making the Jobs-mandated move to HTML5.

The money graf from Delve:

Adobe Flash provides: ability to secure content, adaptive bitrate streaming, comprehensive
analytics and monetization of video through a wide array of advertising
options.
Customers that are using our mobile delivery solution are
willing to experiment with video on these new devices to figure out what
works and to keep their existing customers happy. But they all expect
that eventually the mobile/tablet features match that of the Flash
player on the PC.

Hulu said:

When it comes to technology, our only guiding principle is to best serve
the needs of all of our key customers: our viewers, our content
partners who license programs to us, our advertisers, and each other. We
continue to monitor developments on HTML5, but as of now it doesn’t yet
meet all of our customers’ needs. Our player doesn’t just simply stream
video, it must also secure the content, handle reporting for our
advertisers, render the video using a high performance codec to ensure
premium visual quality, communicate back with the server to determine
how long to buffer and what bitrate to stream, and dozens of other
things that aren’t necessarily visible to the end user.
Not all video
sites have these needs, but for our business these are all important and
often contractual requirements.

Behind these two statements, back in the misty shadows, loom the outlines of the Hollywood studios and TV networks. I’m guessing the last couple of weeks have seen lots of closed-door meetings about what happens when we all start watching TV & movies on our iPad(-like) devices.

The problem with just abandoning responsibility letting the Apple empire do all the driving is that, as we have seen in the last couple of months, Apple’s hidden face is starting to emerge. And it ain’t pretty. Allowing Apple to control the flow of content through its ever-expaning iTunes store just means that you’ve given up the pricing and distribution power on your creative products.

Ask the music industry guys how that worked out for them.

If you can find any, that is.

So let’s take a look at the objection of the big video players to Apple’s vision of the future:

1. Content security. If you don’t think that the movie & TV guys have been sweating blood over the nightmare scenario of their business model going the way of CDs, think again. For the last five years, I’ve been going to tech conferences in and around LA, and at each and every one, the most popular booths are the ones touting various DRM/security features. Now, publishers such as O’Reilly may hold that “DRM is more costly than piracy”, but in the executive suites at the studios, that is a minority view.

You just can’t make a business out of producing $200 million movies like Iron Man 2, and then hope to recoup your costs by giving away the content, and hoping … ads will support it? Or that you will sell enough merch through wider audience? Nuh-uh.

Adobe and the Flash team have spent years banging on various content-security technologies, some of which tout NSA-level encryption schemes to try to mollify the big content creators. I’m guessing there’s not much love for Apple’s “blind faith” scenario with HTML5.

2. Adaptive bitrate streaming. Sounds like something a character played by Dan Aykroyd in his heyday would have spat out in staccato fashion. Basically, it means that when the web is congested (or your bus travels between a couple of skyscrapers as you watch video on your Droidphone), the video will momentarily de-res a bit until the signal is once again clear.  We’ve found that having a momentarily blurry(ier) video is far less disruptive to the viewer than having fits, starts, jumps and the little hourglass on the screen.

Not having this technology means that watching a video is going to become a throwback to the early days of the web … when you’d be downloading a GIF and watching the lines appear … and then hesitate … think about it … then another line appears … then it hangs for a minute … then ten lines appear all at once … then you start clicking in frustration, trying to get to another page that doesn’t so closely resemble a chamber of Hell.

If you really want to Geek Out, check out this excellent deconstruction of the (supposed) HTML5 video standard VP8 on the x264 blog. It explains far better than I can all the nitty-gritty issues behind the hype on “open source” video codecs. Again: not pretty.

3. Analytics. Apple is maintaining that firewall for content served through its store & technologies. You can get raw numbers, such as how many people downloaded the app/video. But nothing more than that. Which feeds into the next point, big time –

4. Advertising. The big selling point for online/mobile video over broadcast is that we’re better able to target the ads to the users, based on the data we collect from cookies, user agents, location, time, etc. If this is missing, so is the competitive advantage, and the dollars start flowing back to tried-and-true TV.

Also, HTML5 is not as robust an ad-serving technology. For Hulu, which is the bigtime play of the TV networks, if the ads can be skipped as easily as with a TiVo, or excised altogether, what then is the point of serving up all that content for free? If the advertisers aren’t getting any value for sponsoring the programs then they quite simply … won’t. And then where does that leave us with our fancy new tablets? Watching more dancing cat on piano keyboard videos?

Apple quite simply does not care about that. Their point is not to help content creators or advertisers. Their focus is on selling as many overpriced gadgets as possible, and then locking the users into having to pay thru the nose thru Apple’s store to actually get any content to watch/listen/read on that gadget.

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