September 25, 2008

Yahoo! APT (formerly AMP!) emerges blinking into the sunlight

apt_logo_150x76 Well, they said it would launch in Q3, and it has – yesterday Yahoo! unveiled its new ad management platform, called APT, at a razzamatazz-filled event in New York introduced by John Hamm, star of Mad Men (currently the topic of much debate in our house as to its merits).

APT started life as “Project APEX”, which Jerry Yang started to talk about around a year ago as a successor/complement to Panama (Yahoo’s search ad platform, properly known as Yahoo Search Marketing). Yahoo then pre-announced something called AMP! (Ad Management Platform) in March, saying that it would revolutionize the way that ad media was bought and sold, drastically simplifying the selling process for publishers in particular. And yesterday AMP!’s name had changed again, to APT. APT does not appear to stand for anything, but at least they have dropped the exclamation point.

So what is APT? Well, according to Yahoo, it’s “designed to simplify the process of buying and selling ads online while connecting all the market players -- publishers, advertisers, agencies, networks, partners and developers -- from a unified platform to do business more efficiently and effectively”.

However, in its first incarnation, APT is principally a tool for publishers, aiming to make it easier for them to respond to advertiser/agency RFPs, and allowing them to build ad hoc private networks in order to be able to re-sell other publishers’ inventory. This latter capability is strongly linked to the initial user base for AMP, which is Yahoo’s Newspaper Consortium [PDF] members. The Newspaper Consortium is a sort of hybrid advertising and content network. Two members of this network – the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News – are founding customers of APT.

 

APT for publishers

According to the blurb on the APT site, APT will bring the following benefits for publishers:

  • Simplified workflow (creative management, campaign management)
  • Analytics & yield optimization (inventory management & prediction)
  • Increased inventory liquidity through cross-selling abilities and integration with Right Media Exchange
  • Extensibility via web services & an API
  • Access to Yahoo!’s expertise (creative development, targeting, etc)

The only screenshot available is of the APT dashboard, which looks fairly nice, but doesn’t reveal that much about the functionality of the system (click the image to view it full-size):

apt_dashboard

There are also some more tidbits in the video which Yahoo release in April during the original AMP announcement.

Of the announced functionality, the ‘cross-selling’ capabilities in APT are some of the most interesting, representing a twist on the network model. Rather than running a traditional network where the publisher members give a certain portion of their inventory to a centrally managed hub, with APT, publishers can buy and sell inventory directly to and from one another. This will likely mean that publishers can get a better price for that inventory than if they sold it at remnant prices. If APT does a good job of this, it will make publishers’ lives much easier, and deliver a much-needed fillip to their revenues.

SImilarly, APT – by integrating with Yahoo’s Right Media Exchange (RMX) – could attract networks to work with Yahoo/RMX by offering a new pool of inventory that those networks could resell.

 

What about advertisers and agencies?

imageWhere APT’s value is less clear to me is as a tool for advertisers and agencies. APT will provide a one-stop-shop for buying inventory on Yahoo’s properties and those of its publisher partners (i.e. the Newspaper Consortium folks) – and, given Yahoo’s strength in behavioral targeting, should be able to offer innovative inventory packages and highly targeted buying. But do advertisers and agencies need another interface for buying ads? These organizations would prefer to buy their media through the third-party ad server solutions (DoubleClick and Atlas, mostly) that they already use. Already they face fragmentation in their buying systems for search, contextual, display and rich media advertising – another tool may add to the pain, not ease it.

This may seem like a biased comment (since Atlas is now part of Microsoft), but in fact Microsoft faces the same kinds of challenge as we evolve our advertising platform. Our adCenter product offers a web UI for buying advertising (mostly search and contextual, with display coming), but larger advertisers prefer to interact with it indirectly through its APIs. And this – rather than a ‘one-stop-shop’ buying UI – is how I think APT will end up interacting with advertisers and agencies. Sensibly, Yahoo seems to have appreciated this, since a big part of its APT story is its extensibility through third-party integration.

in conclusion, if APT can create a more transparent network buying experience, and at the same time enable publishers to gain more control over how their inventory is sold, then it will definitely be a Good Thing for the industry – and for Yahoo, as it looks to position itself against Google and Microsoft. It’s going to be interesting to see how APT develops.

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September 11, 2008

Yahoo updates IndexTools terms & conditions

safe Yahoo is not letting the grass grow under its feet with its integration of IndexTools. Today IndexTools partners received an e-mail from Yahoo informing them of a change to the terms & conditions of the service, which need to be agreed to by October 15 in order to retain access to IndexTools.

The e-mail calls out a change to the Ts & Cs which require IndexTools partner customers (i.e. the site owners themselves) to place the following (or equivalent) language on their websites (my highlighting):

“Third-Party Web Beacons: We use third-party web beacons from Yahoo! to help analyze where visitors go and what they do while visiting our website. Yahoo! may also use anonymous information about your visits to this and other websites in order to improve its products and services and provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used by Yahoo!, click here.”

Yahoo goes on to say that it will be auditing client sites and will disable accounts where this verbiage has not been included on the site (I wonder how effective this will be in practice - it may just be sabre-rattling).  Partners and client sites have until October 15 to comply.

The comment from the IndexTools partner who forwarded on this information was that it would be a challenge for their clients to implement this - from a logistical perspective, if nothing else. But I can understand Yahoo's move here - part of the benefit of a company like Yahoo (or Microsoft, or Google) offering a web analytics service is the secondary use of the resulting data for ad targeting purposes (something that Yahoo is very good at).

For comparison, here is (a shortened version of) the paragraph that Google requests its customers insert onto their sites:

“[...]  Google Analytics uses “cookies”, which are text files placed on your computer, to help the website analyze how users use the site. [...] Google will use this information for the purpose of evaluating your use of the website, compiling reports on website activity for website operators and providing other services relating to website activity and Internet usage.  Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google's behalf. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google. [...]  By using this website, you consent to the processing of data about you by Google in the manner and for the purposes set out above.”

This wording does not seem to imply that Google will reuse the data for other purposes, including ad targeting (IANAL, however); though Google did introduce some reuse of data (and some options for controlling it) with their data sharing feature that they launched back in March.

The corresponding paragraph from adCenter Analytics is:

Microsoft may retain and use user data subject to the terms of the Microsoft privacy statement and publish in aggregate or average form such information in combination with information collected from others’ use of adCenter Analytics except that Microsoft will not disclose to any third parties any user data collected by adCenter Analytics from your websites in a manner that (i) contains or reveals any personally-identifiable information or (ii) is specifically attributable to you or your websites.

The Microsoft privacy statement does say that we may use the information we collect to deliver services, "including personalized content and advertising".

So Yahoo is not doing anything here that hasn't been done before; and, as I've said several times before, you can't expect a company to provide a free web analytics service of the quality of IndexTools and not attempt to monetize it in some way. What is a little different about Yahoo's approach, though, is that it's taking a sterner line on actual implementation of the data reuse language, and actually threatening to disable accounts where the wording hasn't been added. This implies that Yahoo anticipates that it may need to defend its usage of this data (at least from a PR perspective), and wants to ensure that it can point to this wording on any site that uses IndexTools, so that users can't complain that their behavior data is being reused without their consent.

[Update 9/11/08: Added a reference to Google data sharing]

[Update 9/12/08: Corrected IndexTools' name - duh]

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April 20, 2008

Yahoo AMP vs Google adManager

newspapers_400 The last few weeks have seen plenty of interesting announcements from our esteemed competitors, Yahoo! and Google. But two that you might not have paid so much attention to are are Yahoo's launch of AMP! (those guys have got to get over this whole silly exclamation point thing), and Google's new AdManager product. Both are aimed at making it easier for publishers to sell their ad inventory, though both are part of a bigger story.

Sometimes it seems like publisher ad serving is the red-headed stepchild of the industry - frowsty, boring technology used by publishers and ad sales houses to push inventory around from pillar to post in an attempt to get it off the publisher's hands before it goes stale. But publisher ad serving has one killer attribute - whoever provides the primary ad tag on a publisher's site can control (or at least influence) how that publisher's inventory is monetized. Control that tag, and you're the nightclub bouncer, magnanimously letting the pretty girls in whilst keeping the spotty boys out. If you're just another ad network serving ads into that ad unit, you're the spotty boy hanging about the back door. What's more, whoever owns the primary ad tag gets to see all the traffic data, a treasure trove of information for anyone trying to build a behaviorally targeted ad network.

So, since Google and Yahoo now both have significant ad network operations (AdSense and YPN), it makes sense for both of them to offer free ad serving technologies to publishers. How do they stack up? Should they even be compared?

Yahoo AMP

yahoo-logo-gold Yahoo has been working on a new ad platform/exchange for some time, under the title of Project Apex. Some noise was made about Apex shortly after Jerry Yang took over Yahoo last year. The offering is aimed at publishers, and purports to offer a radically simplified/more powerful way of managing and monetizing online ad inventory. Reaction to the announcement has been mixed; the Yahoo Publisher Network (YPN), which AMP is seen as an evolution of, has been dogged with editorial quality issues, affecting advertiser ROI and driving advertisers into the arms of Google. So a certain amount of skepticism attends this latest announcement.

There's relatively little publicly available information to help differentiate AMP from YPN (and Yahoo aren't likely to tell me much for the time being). The main theme seems to be that AMP is a much more 'open' platform than YPN, meaning that publishers can use it to direct inventory to any third-party ad network or advertiser, without having to have Yahoo 'represent' (i.e. take a cut of the value of) their media. The video preview of the technology also makes much of a publisher's ability to cross-sell other publishers' inventory as part of a negotiated sale, by tapping into Yahoo's Newspaper Alliance network.

Additionally, there's talk of an API, enabling ad networks to integrate with the platform. In this latter respect it's hard to see a clear difference between this offering and the Right Media Exchange (RMX) - in fact, a previous working title for AMP was the Advertiser/Publisher Exchange.

It's too early to say whether AMP is actually any good, though the demo looks pretty and appealing - the principle danger is that Yahoo is re-re-inventing the wheel here, potentially ignoring the YPN and RMX code bases and coding something new from scratch. And the effort does seem to be squarely in the negotiated space - i.e. the sort of inventory that is Yahoo's bread and butter; we can count on Yahoo knowing a thing or two about this kind of inventory, but I wonder how it's going to address the highest-growth part of online ad sales - the tail.

In September, Jerry Yang said that AMP would take three years, which seems to imply something of this nature, and which caused gasps from the likes of ValleyWag at the time. But now Yahoo says they'll have something out during the summer. Presumably they'll have a lot more to add even then.

Google AdManager

gam_logo_main A couple of weeks before the Yahoo announcement, Google announced the beta of Google AdManager. The timing of Google's announcement was significant (or at least an unfortunate coincidence) because it almost exactly coincided with the completion of Google's acquisition of DoubleClick. AdManager (which shares a name with a Microsoft product, Atlas AdManager, which I believe is the subject of some discussion of a legal nature between our two companies) is positioned as an easy-to-use, self-serve inventory management tool, allowing publishers to manage their reserved and discretionary inventory, and select ad networks for the latter (including, crucially, Google AdSense).

The motivation behind AdManager (and AMP) can be seen in a quote from MyYearbook.com on the AdManager website (my highlighting):

"The AdSense integration feature has been helpful with helping us optimize our remnant inventory. There have been numerous days where we made more money because Ad Manager was able to auto adjust and send AdSense more inventory."

It seems like the primary positioning of AdManager is as a trade-up from AdSense - for publishers who have been using AdSense and perhaps another ad server (or doing something clunky like serving ads manually), AdManager represents the next step up, as this comment from this forum thread shows:

"What we used to do before is, insert the adsense code or any other affiliate banner code in the adslot MANUALLY! If you want to insert adbrite code there instead of adsense code, we will edit the code and upload it right?? OR some people also use other PAID third party hosted ad servers/their own ad servers!."

The interesting thing about this announcement (and the reason the timing seems so unfortunate) is that DoubleClick already has a publisher ad server on its books - DART for Publishers (DFP). DFP ain't no slouch - it's the market leader, with about a 60% share (our own Atlas AdManager, by contrast, has about a 10% share amongst publishers). But Google AdManager and DFP fulfil very similar roles - helping publishers to define, predict and sell online inventory. So it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out now that the DoubleClick acquisition is closed.

What's also interesting about this product is what it says about Google's innate attitude to online advertising - that it is a process that should be simple and as automated as possible.

Compare and Contrast

So the bottom line is that these are two quite different products, aimed at solving a different set of problems. But these two products paint a fascinating picture of Yahoo and Google's attitudes to online ad sales.

Yahoo seems to be thinking of itself as a semi-neutral ad network/exchange, enabling its publisher partners to build and sell their own on- and off-network inventory packages and then clear/settle them through Yahoo's infrastructure. Even Yahoo's Newspaper Alliance is itself a member of a larger network, quadrantONE. AMP will scale well at the top-end of the market, but its features will mean little to smaller publishers who just want to monetize remnant inventory simply.

Google, on the other hand, seems to view itself as the uber-network. This is understandable, since it has such a huge network of publishers via AdSense. AdManager seems primarily to be aimed at increasing the amount of inventory that is made available to Google's network, as opposed to allowing publishers to build their own mini-networks - publishers are very much expected to be the end-nodes, in Google's worldview. Google AdManager will scale well into the tail, but lacks the sophisticated required by larger publishers.

To be fair, Google does have more convincingly third-party sell-side assets in DoubleClick (including the DoubleClick Exchange), whilst Yahoo has its own network in the form of YPN, so these positionings are not exclusive, but I think they are representative of the attitude that both companies bring to this business.

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April 16, 2008

Wow, that was quick: IndexTools is free already

free_sign_med Less than a week after announcing that Yahoo! is to buy his company, Dennis Mortensen has announced that Yahoo! will be making IndexTools free to all customers, so long as they sign a new Yahoo! agreement. Those guys aren't hanging around!

The chatter here at Microsoft is about about what's likely to be that agreement. As I've said before, you can only afford to provide web analytics for free if you have other ways of monetizing the service. Yahoo! will certainly be expecting IndexTools customers to spend more on advertising with Yahoo!, or (if publishers) make more of their inventory available for Yahoo! to sell through its network, but wouldn't need a new agreement in place to try to achieve those objectives (unless IndexTools' existing license agreements are very restrictive about permission to contact to market other services, which seems unlikely).

So the most likely changed content in the new agreement is a clause to allow Yahoo! to reuse the web analytics data, most likely to bolster the behavioral targeting data that Yahoo! already has a very good collection of. In his post, Dennis says:

"I think this is a fair tradeoff for an Enterprise class Web Analytics system?"

I agree that it is, but it remains to be seen whether IndexTools customers (some of whom may have specifically chosen IndexTools over GA because they wanted their data to remain 'independent') agree. What's most likely is that some customers will bail out, whilst IndexTools/Yahoo! will capture new customers at the free price point, who are less sensitive to the data issue.

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