Friday, 3 August 2012

Advertising click fraud - PPC. Facebook controversy explodes.

PPC, per-per-click Advertising, or Click-thrus have always been a bone of contention but an interesting story (Scandal) is emerging from a digital company called 'Limited Run' in New York. It's about click fraud. And it's getting a lot of attention. Mashable are leading with the story today.

Limited Run, a platform for selling music and other stuff, noticed that only 20% of the Facebook clicks it was paying for, actually brought people to its site. But Facebook were charging for 100%. Whoa.

Being fairly smart online people, they ran several analytical tools and yep, could only confirm 15-20% of the clicks. So they looked at it more deeply themselves and found that the questionable 80% came from web browsers with their 'java script turned off/disabled'. A page logger, tracked every time a page was loaded so they knew what they were doing.

In the real world, only about 1-2% of browsers have their JavaScript disabled. So this made no sense. Or did it?

They were able to conclude that the clicks came from 'Bots', automated programmes designed especially to fraudently click on ads. Bots is short for Robots.

Because the more the ads are clicked, the more the advertiser is charged, the more revenue for the publisher. It's the essence of this type of online advertising and an accusation that no media provider would ever want to entertain. It cuts to the core of trust.

Not that they're accusing Facebook of automating clicks to drive up revenues - not at all, who would consider such a thing?? - but when they asked Facebook they were met with a wall of silence, they say. 

Except Facebook issued a statement to say that nearly all of their billable clicks had JavaScript enabled browsers. Which helps not.

So who was doing it then? And why? Because anybody except Facebook, couldn't make money from such activity. The controversy has gone viral.

With Facebook shares closing yesterday down 45% on their IPO price, it also revealed that nearly 9% of its accounts are "fake". Which in real terms is circa 83 million accounts! Bots, Fake

The BBC, whom I think we all consider to be well regarded, also in a bit of an experiment, set up a Facebook page called 'VirtualBagel' to see what would happen. It was a nothing page, selling nothing, just made up to see what would happen.

They quickly got 1600 likes in 24 hours and then in a week, 3000. The interesting thing is that they seem to have come from "suspicious" profiles, largely 13-17 year old Egyptians. Because the more likes you get, the more encouraged you are, the more you invest, the more it works...provided the likes are real.

Who would do such a thing? Certainly not Facebook I'm sure. Automating clicks to generate revenue (which they badly need by the way having just shown a loss), generating likes to encourage brands, fake accounts...not a good week.

In 2005, Yahoo settled a 4.5 million usd suit where it was claimed that they "didn't do enough" to prevent click fraud. Google settled for 90 million usd in 2006 on a similar basis.

If it was true, it would mean that Website owners would simply earn money by automating clicks. Or third party companies would be paid to generate clicks on behalf of publishers like the infamous Bradley 'Google Clique' case in 2004.

Perish the thought.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Twitter suspends and unsuspends Independent journalist Guy Adams. Denver gunman "fans" (Holmies) are allowed to run amok on Social Media. Censorship dawns?

The decision by Twitter to suspend and then "unsuspend" journalist Guy Adams account, may have far reaching consequences.

Adams, who works with The London Independent (an excellent quality title) had tweeted his disgust over NBC's well publicised delayed Olympic coverage. I mention that here

In tweeting however, he suggested that other Twitterers, would email a NBC executive whose email he disclosed. Twitter stopped the account and then after deliberation, re-instated it on the basis that they had wrongly thought that the disclosure of an email address was a violation. 

However, two problems. One, is that it has been suggested as a consequence of doing this, that Twitter might pro-actively censor comments they just don't like. Perhaps comments about their advertisers? The Government? Mitt Romney? Who knows.

The second is that in fact NBC and Twitter had already agreed a business partnership to provide Olympic games coverage - so, the argument goes, the critic Guy Adams, was deleted for business reasons. There's some truth in that and it makes Twitter look real bad. Imagine a call from NBC to their man in their "partners", Twitter, saying, "we don't like this guy, take him down" and they do....Wow.

So the interest of a business partner may have taken precedence over Twitter trust. Dangerous stuff and Twitter is getting the backlash, rightly so.

However, on the other hand, censorship or control of Social Media is becoming a major issue. Most of us believe it's not controlled but......on the other hand...

The shooting in Colorado during The Dark Knight, seemingly by James Holmes, has led to the opposite - calls that favourable pro-Holmes comments should be taken down. "Supporters" (I kid you not) of James Holmes, calling themselves 'Holmies' started a Facebook page and quickly got 800 likes. It was taken down although Facebook say they're not sure "by whom" (because if it was Facebook, they'd hate to admit it since they'd be seen to do what Twitter did).

Holmies have taken over Tumblr instead. Users such as "freeholmes" and "jamesholmeslovr" are active. They encourage writing to Holmes, dye their hair the same red as he did and produce fan-zines.

YouTube now feature a video clip of The Holmies Anthem.

Outraged? Now there's the issue. 

We all consider that to be a horrific use of Social Media and just bewildering. There's a lot of strange people out there determined to cause upset on a grand scale though. You only have to look at standard YouTube comments which are mostly pretty horrible anyway.

So do you allow Guy Adams to Tweet and consequently have to leave The Holmies alone? Or what?

And if you're a publisher or broadcaster or brand online, do you leave comments unmoderated exposing yourself to defamation or criticism (remember the McDonalds disaster) or censor them causing upset?

The Web has been a free, unregulated space that allows people express themselves in whatever way they wish, within the law. And if you want a view... so it should remain.

And yes, that does mean leaving The Holmies alone to do what they want but the overiding benefit of freedom, will mean, hard as it is to accept, it will be worth it for all.

What we don't need is Twitter censoring journalists anymore.
They're going to be sorry they ever did.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Digital Libraries getting investment. It's an opportunity of a lifetime. The book version of itunes.

The advent of ebooks and online distribution has opened up a whole new world for libraries and indeed, for business.

The Digital Public Library of America has just announced an investment of 1 million usd to help make library materials available online. Now while this is intended as a public archive project, it symbolises what's going on with ebooks and libraries online.

Having books online, not only frees up the physical needs (and costs) of building libraries, but brings books to a whole new readership. It makes them easily accessible which has knock on effects of positive literacy (if that's how you spell it) never mind, bringing libraries into the digital age.

Simply, you could "borrow" or rent an ebook for say, 7 days and after that it's deleted from your reader. Not unlike if you buy an ebook by mistake, they can automatically delete it. Over Wifi or 3G, the library has control over your reader and it can automatically withdraw books. Something similar could be done commercially, no problem.

Now that's a magnificent opportunity commercially if it's not provided by the State or "goodwill" companies such as the Digital library of America. Imagine, for example, a "rent a book" website - not unlike the way you rent movies on itunes.

If you're a member of a library currently, you'll know the hassle of returning books and indeed, the issue with library admin in making sure that you do. With a digital library, all of those issues disappear. You're just renting the book until it's due back and when it is, it disappears. Plus renting a book will be significantly less expensive than buying it.

Plus you develop large groups of readers who'd like possibly to buy newspapers, magazines, accept ads from coffee shops and so on.

Copyright is of course an issue but already libraries work within that problem. Plus if a rent-a-book website is successful, it will drive publishers into it. In the same way that music publishers withheld support from itunes...until they couldn't because it became too strong to avoid.

Libraries loan you books, you read them, you return them. Nothing changes except it's all done online.

You can imagine too the improvements in Search, where finding your book is quick and efficient, without the need to call into your library and wander through shelf after shelf. Ordering books in advance is made easy too and membership is simple ecommerce enabled. A fee, paid online by debit/credit card.

It's likely that this will become a major hit, in my view and encourage people, to read, notably the young. Apart from that, it also means published works will be archived and available online forever - no more "out of print" for example.

"I love libraries" is on Facebook but with a relatively poor 43,000 likes. Pity.

Digital libraries make sense with the development of ebooks.
The only downside is that '50 shades' will be an even bigger hit.
Ah well, it will be worth it.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Twitter have banned LinkedIn. Now they ban Instagram. Instagram is owned by Facebook. Twitter is walking on dangerous ground.

Well Twitter are at it again.

Having pulled its API from LinkedIn last month (,) thereby denying LinkedIn users the ability to post via Twitter, it has done it again. This time on Instagram.

It breaks the link between Twitter and Instagram.

What's interesting here is that at the time of the Twitter/LinkedIn announcement, a view circulated that Facebook was next to get the Twitter shove and Instagram is of course, owned by Facebook.

What Twitter are doing is to try and generate more cash, more revenue, by driving its users away from third party platforms and back onto the Twitter site itself. In doing that, it will generate more eyeballs and therefore, more advertising.

But the consequences could be high given that it seems to me anyway, as a trade between advertising dollars versus good user experience. Twitter users want to express themselves on third party sites, there's no doubt and now they can't.

Instagram is of course the darling of mobile. With 80 million users and over 4 billion photos shared, it's extraordinary growth in under 2 years for what is, a mobile only play. The 1 billion dollar acquisition by Facebook earlier this year will of course further Facebook integration and growth for Instagram which will leave Twitter out in the cold.

At the time, when Facebook paid, what was generally considered a high valuation, there was a feeling it was because there were two bidders. Subsequently I heard the other was Twitter and if this is a reaction to losing the bid, it's poor business. Forbes today have hinted at something similar.

What these Twitter moves are also doing is to aggravate the community - they'll have lost friends at Instagram and LinkedIn - not a good thing when it comes to Social Media, in return for a quick buck.

The internet started as, and always will be, an open network where things are shared and exchanged. Closed networks just don't work.

If Twitter maintains this stance and it says it is going to, it will open the opportunity for a copycat that will allow third party access. And those third parties (like LinkedIn, like Instagram) will not only adopt the copycat but make damn sure their users in turn, know all about it. Twitter will then be faced with the power of competitors.

Twitter is walking on dangerous ground.

Monday, 30 July 2012

NBC, The Olympics and the way brands can easily lose control on Social Media.

One of the real issues around Social, is the loss of control you have for your brand. When you get it wrong, you have critics everywhere and even anonymously, who will spread that criticism far and wide and quickly. It can destroy you overnight.

You have to be real careful.

I was also looking at YouTube and note the amount of brands that keep their comments open. In other words by letting anyone comment on their channel. Abercrombie + Fitch do that.....and more of that later. Equally Irish national brands are leaving themselves open to libel.

But firstly NBC, one of America's largest broadcaster who made the news recently when they divorced from Microsofts online joint venture MSNBC;postID=3087600761229729716

What's happened to NBC to begin a tirade against them was the Olympics Opening ceremony. They seemingly promised to stream it live and didn't. Secondly they did stream USA swimmer Ryan Lochte but on a delay...however people thought they were seeing it live (it's more expensive to show programming live). So you're watching the man swim live (you think) and then you start getting the result texted to you?

That race also featured US legend Michael Phelps (coming in fourth) but witholding it from live broadcasting because they felt they could make more ad money by showing it later, is unforgiveable.

They didn't show Kobe and the USA dream team basketball opener beating France (but way too close of a game I thought?) - instead opting to show Women's cycling.

One reason, apart from just poor planning, is that by carrying key sporting moments at prime times rather than "live", they generate more media advertising. Old media rules not suited to a new world.

The coverage on their website + Apps has no commentary either which for most of us, without a clue who's good in the 100 metres or the Dressage, is fairly useless. If ever commentary was needed, it's at The Olympics.

The hashtag that has been set up is (hash)nbcfail.

NBC Producers are going onto the hashtag to answer the critics but frankly fruitlessly. Piers Morgan, UK "Larry King" chat show host, was one of the Twitter critics, complaining about not being able to see the opening ceremony.

Promises unkept is the problem and that does not go down well on Social Media.

Without a doubt, only three days in and NBC has already lost its Olympic audience. As well as breeding a new groundswell of critics. YouTube is also fundamentally that platform too - if you allow comments.

This is the infamous 10 million Abercrombie + Fitch "Call me maybe" video (yeah, I know and no I'm not). If you look into the recent comments, they're pretty worrying - definitely sexist, probably racist and certainly homophobic. Abercrombie + Fitch is taking a chance here on their channel on YouTube allowing unmoderated comments.

Critics will use Social media freely and my great friends at Irish broadcasting, should watch their YouTube channel. All you need is one little bit of libel and it could prove expensive.

Social Media means you can lose control of your brand and endanger it long term.

NBC are learning that in what should have been their flagship week.

(Update Today- Techcrunch, the influential blog, have started a campaign to ask people not to watch The Olympics on NBC. . It gets out of hand so easily...)

(And a better hetreosexual version of call me maybe that started the whole thing. Well, you know, just for balance.

Or The Miami Dolphin's going on and on and on....)