Signal May 6: Could You Leave The Internet?

Tech writer Paul Miller is back online. (Photo Courtesy of The Verge.)

In this week’s Signal: Tech writer Paul Miller is back online after leaving the Internet for an entire year; Yahoo fights for advertising dollars; Microsoft’s new Windows Phone campaign; a look at the “Anti-Cyberhate Working Group”; Digital Newfronts and the evolving nature of media companies; Flipboard to help publishers monetize; welcome to The Retargeting Era; Reddit’s Erik Martin talks advertising; and more.

To the links …

I’m Still Here: Back Online After a Year Without the Internet (The Verge) One year ago, tech writer Paul Miller left the internet. “I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was ‘corrupting my soul,’” he writes. But he discovered he was wrong. “I’d read enough blog posts and magazine articles and books about how the Internet makes us lonely, or stupid, or lonely and stupid, that I’d begun to believe them. I wanted to figure out what the Internet was ‘doing to me,’ so I could fight back. But the Internet isn’t an individual pursuit, it’s something we do with each other. The internet is where people are.”

Yahoo Announces New Ad Formats: Mobile-Friendly Native Ads And A Big ‘Billboard’ On Its Front Page (TechCrunch) Mike Kerns, Yahoo’s Vice President of Product and Media,  wants you to know that the company is committed “to investing in new advertising experiences.” As part of the Digital Content NewFronts, Yahoo is hoping to bring in more advertiser dollars with two new units that were announced early last week. The first units are Yahoo Stream Ads — sponsored posts that show up in a stream of content (across desktops/laptops, smartphones, and tablets), including the news stories in the new Yahoo mobile app. The second unit is a bit more traditional — a  “billboard” that sits on top of the Yahoo front page for an entire day.

Microsoft Creates an Apple vs. Samsung Wedding Fight for Its New Windows Phone Ad (Verge) In a new minute-long spot that’s due to air soon in the U.S., a wedding reception is interrupted by Apple and Samsung fans. The ad is positioned in a way to show off the third-place position of Windows Phone, and offer it as an alternative. Microsoft is clearly hoping that this campaign will help boost lagging US sales for the all-important smartphone market.

The Delete Squad: Google, Twitter, Facebook and the New Global Battle Over the Future of Free Speech (New Republic) One year ago, Stanford Law School hosted a meeting that may help decide the future of free speech online. Attended by roughly two-dozen people, including a group of tech executives in charge of their companies’ content policies, the discussions concluded with the attendees passing a resolution for the formation of an “Anti-Cyberhate Working Group.” Writer Jeffrey Rosen has dubbed this group “The Deciders.” Because of his work on the First Amendment, Rosen was asked to join the conversations, along with other academics, civil libertarians, and policymakers from the U.S. and abroad. Although he can’t identify all the participants by name, he can (and does in this piece) describe the general thrust of the discussions.

Digital ‘NewFronts’ to Face Higher Expectations (AP) The talk of this year’s Digital NewFronts is of both the great progress of digital entertainment and unrealized promises. Since last year, the industry has come a long way. “Netflix’s first major original series, ‘House of Cards,’ proved that streaming video can compete with the most prestigious cable programs,” writes Jake Coyle. “Google’s YouTube rolled out its 100-plus funded channels in a bid to bring higher quality videos (and thus advertisers) to its platform. One of the biggest TV stars, Jerry Seinfeld, launched a handsome Web series, ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.’ But some of the digital series touted last year have disappointed. … Naturally, growing pains are inevitable, especially when so much is changing so fast. The wide array of NewFront presenters this year exhibits the evolving nature of media companies.”

Mike McCue Wants Flipboard To Be The Home Of Brand Advertising For Mobile Publishers (TechCrunch) Flipboard is a popular app that enables its users to create their own magazines. But more than just a place for publishers to distribute and curate content, Flipboard CEO Mike McCue wants the app to enable publishers to better monetize their content by creating a place where brand advertisers can buy beautiful, full-page ads.

How Much Retargeting is Too Much? (Digiday) Jack Marshall discusses “The Retargeting Era,” the current time in which “many users find themselves chased around the Internet by just a handful of brands at a time.” Retargeting makes perfect sense, he asserts. “The biggest weakness of display versus search is display doesn’t have very good intent signals. Someone who has shopped at an e-commerce site like Zappos — that’s a much better signal than the fact she is reading an article about fashion. The problem is that before long the Web could find itself dominated by retargeted ads and little else.” In this piece, he talks about his experiences, and also reveals what some civilians think about retargeted advertising.

Behind Reddit’s Ambivalent Embrace of Advertising (Digiday) Reddit does not take network ad buys, it employs only two ad sales reps, and it routinely turns down campaigns from advertisers it believes do not mesh with the site’s culture. These are luxuries most ad sellers do not have. Reddit general manager Erik Martin sees this as a simple risk-reward scenario. “Yes, we could turn on network advertising and make a ton of money right now,” he argues. “But we would be undermining this community and this amazing social platform we built up.”


40+ CEOs, CMOs, VCs and media leaders in two days of unscripted conversation. (Recently added: Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann.) Come to the CM Summit to join the conversation about “Bridging Data and Humanity.” New York City, May 21-22. The only conference this year curated by your faithful correspondent.

Also, if it suits your information consumption goals, sign up for Signal’s email newsletter or RSS feed on the Signal home page (upper right box).


Where Brands Will Spend in Social (Digiday) Last Tuesday, Digiday released its“Brand Investment Report 2013,” the first report in an ongoing series that will look at key drivers, obstacles and benchmarks that reflect how Fortune 1000 companies and their CMOs are navigating the increasingly complex digital marketing ecosystem. According to the report, which was conducted in Q1 of 2013 and is based on primary and secondary research, social is unsurprisingly the top area of focus for brands.

Online Ads Can Now Follow You Home (WSJ) A number of companies are trying to better pinpoint mobile users’ online activity with new software and techniques they say could help advertisers track users across devices. This emergence of cross-screen marketing, according to WSJ’s Spencer Ante, “is one of several new forms of technology aimed at solving a fundamental problem with mobile ads: It is harder to target people on smartphones than on PCs.”

15 Alarming Stats About Online Publishing (DIgiday) With so many publishers vying for users’ attention, building audiences and generating revenue from those audiences is harder than ever online. Feast your eyes on some of the issues they face.

3 Steps to Create Authentic Branded Content (iMedia Connection) You can’t create authentic branded content without first determining what ‘authentic’ means. But even then, you can’t control whether or not readers will view sponsored content as authentic, and whether or not they will share content with friends. What brands can control, though, according to writer Steve Kondonijakos, is “strengthening the fundamentals that put them in a better position to produce compelling sponsored content and increase their chances for an authentic outcome.” Here are his tips on how a brand can achieve that result.

Dark Google Vexes Publishers (Digiday) Many publishers have seen a drop in search traffic, while their share of referrals from social has risen. The drops in search is an analytics problem, caused by “dark search” or “Dark Google,” a technical issue caused by certain browsers blocking websites from tracking exactly how users arrived there. According to digital agency Rosetta, the two biggest sources of dark search right now are Apple devices running iOS 6, and some recent versions of Firefox. But publishers aren’t suffering alone. Dark Google is a huge problem for marketers, too.

Aereo Says Broadcasters Bluffing on Cable Threat (Bloomberg) Chet Kanojia, CEO of Aereo Inc., challenged CBS Corp. and News Corp. to follow through on threats to go off the air and switch to cable to prevent Aereo from retransmitting their shows without permission. The two networks would be sacrificing billions of dollars in ad revenue by making the switch, Kanojia said. “The reality is, they want to get paid twice, and Aereo is just an excuse to articulate that business strategy,” Kanojia said. “Good luck to them.” It will be interesting to see how all this plays out. Kanojia will be speaking at the CM Summit…

Peter Thiel: Twitter Will Outlast the New York Times (CNN Money) Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, argued with Marc Andreessen, creator of the Netscape browser, over the future of Twitter at the Milken Institute Global Conference last Monday. “New technologies are being used to send pictures of your cat halfway around the world,” Thiel said. “We’ve talked ourselves into thinking that throwing cats at birds is the best we can do. We can do more than that.” Andreessen disagreed, comparing Twitter to the printing press and claiming the technology is a fundamental breakthrough in how humans communicate. He also admitted that he feels a bit of schadenfreude seeing the recent struggles of the New York Times as the Internet cuts down on its print profits.

Six Current and Six Rapidly Expanding Trends Marketers Should Focus On (Rishad Tobaccowala) “The future of marketing will be bright,” writes Rishad Tobaccowala, board member of the Wharton Future Of Advertising Project and an advisor at Greycroft Ventures. “Now all of us marketers have to be bright enough in learning, re-inventing and collaborating to remain relevant and truly unleash this potential!” Here are six forces that he believes are driving the future.