Observations and thoughts


7 February 2016

Header Bidding for consumers

A few days ago I summarised my thoughts on header bidding. In my brevity, I neglected to reflect on its consumer impact. Alas, this neglect reflects that of the commentary on header bidding, and arguably the systemic neglect of consumers by the advertising industry in general.

Header bidding has two obvious costs to consumers:

  • further loss of privacy and anonymity, and
  • further reduction of page performance.

Performance problems will surely be solved in time, by relocating complex client-side header bidding scripts to the server-side, but the loss of privacy and anonymity seems only likely to increase.

Considering the hypothetical mass adoption of header bidding and the eradication of the ad server prioritisation, every single impression will be broadcast to the RTB exchanges. Each impression is shown at auction laden with cookies and likely enriched with publisher first-party data. This allows buyers to make educated decisions by only purchasing impressions that have a suitable likelihood of being relevant to the consumer.

One of the advantages to consumers of guaranteed buying, is that a publisher only reveals the customer information to the advertiser once they’ve paid. This makes it harder for any one agency or buyer to build a complete profile of a given consumer. In contrast, RTB is an auction which means sellers will provide information in the hopes of attracting higher bids. Observers may quietly take notes and build a profile, without even having to place a bid.

For my own sake, I hope that header bidding is not adopted quickly or broadly, so that I can continue to enjoy what little privacy I have left. Long term, however, regulation is likely required to control the way in which advertisers and agencies may profile and store consumer data. One such regulation might be to prohibit companies storing behavioral data longer than 90 days.

4 February 2016

Thoughts on Header Bidding

Header Bidding has been receiving the sustained attention of the online advertising press for a number of months now. It is a clever hack which allows price prioritisation of RTB exchange bids and traditional line items within a publisher ad server, which would otherwise prioritise RTB last. Header bidding is then a helpful tool allowing publishers to increase yield of sub-guaranteed priority and incrementally increases impression volumes entering the exchanges.

The interest in header bidding, however, has primarily centred on upending prioritisation—the waterfall—entirely in favour of exclusive price prioritisation. This reflects the desire of the RTB establishment to improve access to premium inventory and obtain first look of all impressions, feeding their insatiable hunger for data.

If header bidding were to be adopted in this manner and scale, publishers would lose control of their data, of how inventory is sold and the ability to make real guarantees. Agencies would have all the data necessary to forecast impression volumes and perform their own segmentation of a publishers audience. Publishers should carefully consider the implications of ceding their remaining control to buyers.

But agencies also need to consider the implications of an entirely price priority controlled future. Although agencies will be able to build their data assets to buy impressions more precisely, agencies will lose important tools used to exert their buying power. Instead, agencies will compete fiercely over tiny pockets of highly valued impressions, but will be unable to provide meaningful guarantees of price or volume to their clients. How will agencies differentiate themselves in such an increasingly commoditised landscape?

Jed Nahum, writes for AdExchanger:

RTB has created a war over whether the buy side or the sell side defines what is being sold. The nutshell of my argument is that RTB has made it possible for buyers to select specific impressions for their buying. This is “decisioning.” In RTB, the buyer does it, and in traditional ad sales the seller does it. I think the real battle is about who gets to decide. Will buyers define the audience they want to reach and bid on it or will sellers define the context they wants to sell and package it up?

It makes lots of sense for increased buyer control over segmentation below guaranteed transactions. Publishers benefit from increased yield, and buyers from an increased pool of impressions. However, reducing all impressions to price priority requires buyers and sellers to surrender control, devalues publisher-agency relationships, and neutralises agency buying power.

Adoption of header bidding is inevitable. What remains to be seen is the speed of adoption and how much control publishers are prepared to give up. I suspect small publishers with limited direct sales have the most to gain from wholesale adoption of header bidding, while larger publishers might see incremental gains below a sub-guaranteed priority implementation, large publishers risk it all by pushing header bidding to higher a priority.

21 January 2016

Delete labeled emails after 30 days (Gmail tip)

Today I discovered I’d been accumulating huge amounts of unimportant emails. Emails that I needed to keep for 30 days, but after which are completely meaningless. Unfortunately, deleting millions (over 1,000 per day over 4 years) of email messages isn’t easily achieved.

Thankfully, Google Script allows you to interact with Google Apps (including Google Mail) using Javascript executed on Google servers to perform tasks, even timer based tasks like CRON. This makes running a task daily to trash old emails simple!

↪ Check out the script here on Github Gist.

20 January 2016

The Problem With User Stories and What's Better

Alan Klement:

When I used to write user stories with my team, my teammates would read them, think they understand them and then go on with their own interpretation of the story, which ended up being different than mine. I started noticing the problem was with the user stories, and not me, when different engineers would interpret the same story very differently.

So I did something different: I stopped writing them.

At first the engineers were confused, so they would come to me and mention the story was missing. Then something amazing would happen…we would talk about it! Sometimes, several of us would talk about it together. After a while everyone got into it, team collaboration took off and the product became better. We would talk about everything frequently.

Reading this article was like déjà vu! Over the last 12 months I’ve also dialed back on writing user stories, shifted to a discussion driven approach, and experienced a similar increase in collaboration and understanding of the underlying problems we are solving.

Answering the question why? is so much more valuable than any list of user stories. It empowers and enables the entire team to participate in the process of solving the problem, rather than keeping this important information siloed with individual members of the product and UX team.

17 January 2016

The resolution of the Bitcoin experiment

Mike Hearn (previously Bitcoin Core developer):

It [Bitcoin] has failed because the community has failed. What was meant to be a new, decentralised form of money that lacked “systemically important institutions” and “too big to fail” has become something even worse: a system completely controlled by just a handful of people. Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse. The mechanisms that should have prevented this outcome have broken down, and as a result there’s no longer much reason to think Bitcoin can actually be better than the existing financial system.

After mining a small quantity of Bitcoin early last year, I became more aware of an elite group who were responsibly for an increasing majority of mining and had accumulated a vast wealth in Bitcoin. My interest in Bitcoin and cryptocurrency is the possibility of improving the ability of disadvantaged people to access cheap, if not free, financial services such as banking and international transfers. The growing control of the currency by a small group of people runs counter to such an interest, so I cashed out my $100.

In other cases, entire datacenters were disconnected from the internet until the single XT node inside them was stopped. About a third of the nodes were attacked and removed from the internet in this way.

Worse, the mining pool that had been offering BIP101 was also attacked and forced to stop. The message was clear: anyone who supported bigger blocks, or even allowed other people to vote for them, would be assaulted.

The criminal activity and tightening grip by a small handful of people described by Hearn reveals how far Bitcoin has fallen from the goals and ideas the experiment promised. The promise of sharing power and money has been seized by this small few.

Hopefully other cryptocurrency experiments will be able to learn from the failures of Bitcoin.

13 January 2016

Designing Features Using Job Stories

Alan Klement, guest post for Intercom:

The casualties of this waterfall process are the subtleties which it is necessary to understand when creating great products: causality, anxieties, and motivations. As development teams recognize that they need to be close to customers, it’s also appropriate to consider better ways of leveraging customer empathy to create products.

This philosophy of focusing on causality, anxieties, and motivations is called Jobs To Be Done, and a granular way to bring this concept into a product is to use Job Stories to design features, UI, and UX.

Causality, anxieties, and motivations are critical for effective product design and development. We have also found that traditional personas, user stories and use cases typically fail to capture this important information.

At Adslot, I’ve worked to counter this by frequently including a “rationale” alongside the user story. Ultimately, however, the most effective way we’ve developed to communicate this is in early stage feature discovery meetings with developers, design and QA.