Web 2.0 is all about user generated content and collaboration. From YouTube to Facebook, from blogs to Twitter, the big thing is social sites that let people do their own thing, with each other. And yet, all of them fail in exactly the same place: making money.
You would think that a site which has millions of people looking at it, all day long, would manage a way to get advertising dollars. And yet, according to this Time article, they suck at it. Let the armchair quarterbacking begin!
I think the failure is that while the content of these social sites is embracing the Web 2.0 phenomenon, their advertising models are still stuck firmly in Web 1.0. Want to know why advertisers aren’t paying to be on Facebook? According to the Time article, and I agree, its because there is no target. Its just a big bunch of “users” and not smaller slices of that group which fit their demographic. Why buy an ad on Facebook just to have 99% of the people who see it have no interest at all? The content of these Web 2.0 sites is all about sharing and community and being part of something, but the ads are still being shoved at you with little or no input or control on your part beyond installing an ad blocker on your browser.
That’s why advertising needs to embrace Web 2.0. And no, I don’t mean user created ads. I mean allow the users to specify their demographic. What if, on Facebook, there was a page you could go to that listed Advertising Categories, and you could drill down into them, and select just the ones you would see ads from? Of course, selecting zero categories would be the same as selecting all of them. But what if the only thing I cared about were video games? and PC games at that? I could go in, drill down in the “Games” category, drill into “Video Games” (as opposed to “Board Games”), and then deselect “Mac”, “PS3”, “Xbox360”, etc, leaving only “PC” selected. Save my options and from that point on I would only see ads in the “Games->Video Games->PC” category while on Facebook. (And I’d see new categories if they were subcategories of things I already had selected, and maybe get an email once a week/month letting me know about new categories.) I know I’d be happy. Even more so if I could drill in to “PC” and select some other things, like deselecting “Gold Farming.”
While from the user aspect you’d be able to control what ads you see, from the site’s side they’d be able to more accurately sell demographics. Right now, buying an ad on Facebook means you have access to 175,000,000 or so people, and I’m sure you get some control, but its likely to be as simple as their own advertising page illustrates: location and age groups. That’s all well and good, but even TV gives you better definition than that. The people who watch Heroes aren’t just an age group, they are fans of a genre. Imagine if you could say to a potential advertiser, “We have 13 million users who see ads for PC Games, and given the rates of page views and category loads we can guarantee that they see, on average, 1 PC Game ad per five minutes, and if you buy at this level, we’ll guarantee that they’ll all see your ad, at least once, within a 24 hour period…” So, not only are your users seeing ads they might actually care about, but your advertisers are getting hard numbers about how often their ads will be seen by people who actually care about their products.
I just played around in Facebook for a bit. I went to my home page, I went to some applications, the usual stuff, only for once I actually paid attention to the ads… and I was reminded why I started ignoring them in the first place. I got ads for Netflix (I’m already a subscriber, so not interested in ads for them), for a church, for workout secrets, a room for rent, goth clothing, free credit reports, tax services and an ad offering me a free MacBook if I just buy at least two offers from their page of offers. In over half an hour I didn’t see one single ad that I cared about, so I’ll go back to ignoring them. The other thing that was clear from looking at the ads: no big companies. The biggest thing there was Netflix, but they advertise everywhere (I must close a popup from them at least four or five time a day). And the only option I had was to vote an ad up or down. I voted Netflix down with the reason that I am a subscriber and don’t need to see their ad, and yet it was still the most frequent ad I saw even hours later, proving that I have no real control at all over the ads.
Internet advertising has always been a bit of a cesspool of scams and bait-n-switch offers, but it doesn’t have to be that way if effort is put into the tools for allowing users to identify and categorize themselves.
Anyway… that’s my thoughts, but what do I know… I’m just the consumer…
If you run a company, and decide to steal this idea, let me know, I might be interested in helping you implement it.