Talking HTML5 Ads with Ciaran at Exchangewire

Currently the Chrome beta has a setting enabled by default to pause any non-essential (embeds smaller than 530 pixels wide) of Flash movies on a page. Their plan is to make this default in Chrome 45 in Sept when it auto-updates the default Chrome browser. This video discusses the problems this will cause for the Ad industry, and what Publishers, Advertisers and AdTech providers in the middle should do about it.

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Is Ad-blocking the next Adpocalypse?


What’s going on?
Viewability is the zeitgeist inside the industry, outside it’s all about Ad-blocking. On desktop there’s very little friction to installing an Adblocker. On mobile there is still friction to root or sideload, but with iOS9 adding new blocking support mobile will grow massively.
Google still make it hard to do with Chrome on android, but with Firefox it’s as easy as on the desktop.
Even my mum asked the other day “there’s too many ads on Facebook how do i use this blocker i heard about on the radio” – for her it wasn’t a discussion about data, or intrusiveness – just the shear frequency getting in the way of her Facebook fix. The radio show in question wasn’t some niche podcast, but BBC’s Radio ’s flagship news show (4m).

Users are annoyed by the high frequency, interruption getting to the content, and talk of their ‘data’ being hoovered up corrupting their web time against them. Their browser is after all technically called a User-agent, it’s their agent online, requesting content from the Publisher on their behalf and showing them the returned content on-screen.

“Basically anything that might affect me viewing the site or will play a sound that I don’t want to hear – like a ‘highly engaging’ Ad that covers the whole screen – it’s like the loud guy at the bar, he thinks he’s the coolest guy in the world and everyone wants to be his friend, really he’s just an obnoxious drunk.”

Generally users don’t mind visible, hate in intrusive and abhor invasive.
There’s a view amongst those over 30 that as you can skip a tv or radio Ad with a PVR or podcast, then online Ad blocking is morally the same. Those under 30 have a view that everything on the net should be free.
There are lively debates going on that are worth reading, and I’ve tried to answer each in the FAQ below.

What kind of Ads?
I’m not talking just bad creative, bad contextuality, or even bad puns – but ones that users feel break to undeclared social contract between the publisher and themselves.
online-advertising-networks-vibrant-media-review-lightbox-ads-sampleFull page interstitials are often cited as “crossing the line”.

Platforms sold to Advertisers as “High impact” formats, and you see why they’d buy them as they look good and promise high engagement with a user. The dirty secret with these formats is that they often count clicking the close button as ‘engagement’. I once spoke to someone who made these, they said they ran a click-heat map for a campaign and all the ‘clicks’ counting click through engagement were around the close button. They never ran a heatmap again…
In-banner video or Flash Ads that aren’t muted, it’s like going to someone’s myspace page with auto playing music. Super intrusive examples
Sheer weight of browser requests. Ghostery, ABP, uBlock all lay bare all how display ads work, calling so many demand sources, each dropping cookies for user data, header bidding will only exacerbate this. There may only be 3 slots on a page, but over 20 ad requests would be made.

When the value of the space to show an Ad is too low, ironically when there is not enough data to know anything about the user, or it is a non brand-safe site like a torrent or illegal streaming, then you get these really low rent Ads. Not many people want to meet busty russian chicks in their area.


At least punch the monkey was fun….

Is there a legal limit on bad Ads?
Publishers are allowed to show as many Ads as they like. Of course there are region specific laws around advertising content like firearms or alcohol, to children, and miss advertising products
There’s a legal frequency cap for Ads shown on Television –around 8-12mins per hour, but this does not apply online.

How big a problem is it?

Picking up speed across the board, in some demographics like male-gamers, it’s already over 50%. All the big media sources are picking it up, even the NYTimes.


Options for Publishers?

1. Go to war – defeat the Adblocker and show Ads anyway (SourcePoint, PageFair). Use code like FuckAdBlock. You’re entering an arms race with a large and enthusiastic open source community, along with ignoring the user’s explicit instruction to not show an Ad.



2. Content Blocking – stop access to the content unless the user deactivates or whitelists them (Hulu & 4oD)block_warn


3.Build a paywall – A full paywall limits your pool to those with disposable income, and then it’s a zero sum game, there’s only so many subscriptions a person is willing to have. Micro-payments still have too much friction and don’t work. A part paywall can seem attractive, but the irony is that those will to ay are often the ones that Advertisers pay most to reach, and therefore can disproportionately cannibalize your remaining ad revenue.



4. The “Jimmy Wales” – detect the Adblocker and ask users to whitelist your site. (3-5% people will)




5. Ride out the storm – only work with non-invasive Ad demand partner. Strip out all the invasive units. Engage & educate your users on your revenue model, data you collect and the Ads you’ll allow. Do more transparent native. Get enough scale to enough dance with the devil and get on a Adblockers default whitelist.

There’s no silver bullet but data disclosure and higher Ad quality more strategically used are a start.

In the long run, there could be a hidden benefit to blocking ads for advertisers and publishers: Ad blockers could end up saving the ad industry from its worst excesses. If blocking becomes widespread, the ad industry will be pushed to produce ads that are simpler, less invasive, and are far more transparent about the way they’re handling our data — or risk getting blocked forever if they fail.


Won’t people just end up paying for what they like?i-m-sorry-i-thought-this-was-america-7
This is a very rich western world view, and talked about by those who have disposable income.Even for them it’s a zero sum game, people will have so many subscriptions. If you’re a knowledge publisher then spreading & discussing ideas is key, and in a world where 50% of humanity live on less than $2 a day you’re shutting out a lot. In china where Ads are even more prevalent Adblockers have negligible penetration.

In the same way Browsers eventually stopped pop-ups and popunders, they will eventually bake in blocking of full-page interstitials and invasive ad formats. Chrome pausing Flash ads on 1st sept is the first step.

Screenshot 2015-08-28 15.37.13

Imagine “Interstitial blocked” or “Annoying Ad unit banished to hell…”

There are interesting services like built on appnexus, this lets users essentially buy the Ad space on sites themselves, with the publisher earning revenue in their standard method. It works out to $10 eCPM which is a bit cheeky for the mass market, but interesting nevertheless.

Screenshot 2015-08-28 15.34.01

Won’t the big guys just solve it?
Google and Facebook obviously have too much at stake to let this continue right? Yes they are both heavily reliant on Ad revenue, but both are pressing mobile as their future, which is harder to block ads in-app and so kicks the can down the road. There’s no leadership from either, and the IAB has put out very weak language on the matter, discussing the in-fighting between mobile operators and publishers rather than the consumers who are actually doing the blocking.

Over time the implied contract between publishers and users will find a natural balance. In the same way that Crackle, Hulu & YouTube exist in a world with Netflix, Now tv & Amazon Video, Advertising will still exist and subsidise the content, but users will want a less intrusive experience in return.
The mix of ad supported to subscription paywalls will grow, but only in demos with enough disposable income, the irony is that as these demos are the most valuable for Advertisers to reach, the overall revenue from the remaining Ad space will drop.

What am I doing about it?
I believe online Advertising serves a valid purpose, but without doubt bad players shoehorning invasive ads in users faces, and tracking their every action has crossed the line. I will never work with or create companies that do this. There is right way, but it requires integrity and a will to create something of lasting value.

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Santa Barbara : an honest review

With Coull’s expansion into the US via the purchase of a great local agency, I’ve had the good fortune to hop over to Santa Barbara a fair few times. I never really find that TripAdvisor does that good a job of highlighting the best spots, so here’s my advice if you fancy visiting.


Some of the Best nights I’ve had out there have been at the James Joyce on state street, great selection of whisky, live music and general atmosphere. Elsie’s is well worth a visit, a locals favourite, great drinks selection, a veranda out back, and stays open late.

The local whites are very drinkable, although they are deservedly proud of their Syrah. The beer on the other hand can’t be faulted. The Firestone brewery makes easily the best ales I’ve had anywhere in the states, and if this is your thing then a visit to Union Ale is definitely worth your time. The service is excellent, and the beverages even more so.

California state law prohibits selling alcohol after 2am, and most bars shut around 12. Of the few clubs, the latest closing and worth your time is probably the Savoy. To get into most bars you will need to take your passport out with you no matter your age.

Places to avoid: Any touristy “British pubs” – just as bad as American themed bars are in Britain, except with more Stella Artois and worse than a wetherspoons.


Santa Barbara has some great restaurants, being a sucker for a great steak, then no visit is complete without a trip to Holdrens. The wine list is fantastic, aim for a well aged local Syrah and you won’t be disappointed.


I L.O.V.E the local beaches. During the day my Somerset grown fair skin can only take so much of the gorgeous weather, but going for a run along the beach at dawn or dusk is one of my all time favourite things. A short drive down the coast to Refugio Beach will find you a sublimely gorgeous authentic beach, great for camping and spotting the local wildlife like diving birds, dolphins, sealions – all the hits.


It’s worth staying in a hotel on the sea front even though they are only 3-4 star. The sun bursting through your blinds inviting you to sit out on the balcony overlooking the sea, morning coffee in hand is worth 5 stars on its own. The harbor view inn next to the pier is perfect for this.


The French press on state street is easily the best, it refreshingly concentrates on the coffee more than the pretension.


I was pleasantly surprised how good the local art galleries were. The local Art Museum is the star of the show, and has some excellent examples of modernism which kept me enthralled for a good hour alone.

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The Cat Api – where everyday is Caturday!

So about a week ago i was up far too early trying to shake off a particularly nasty red wine hangover, and feeling pretty sorry for myself. Nothing seemed to be helping so i plugged to term ‘Cats’ into some snazzy data feed creation code i’d been working on as a proof of concept for Coull. Thousands of funny gifs of Cats came back, putting a pretty big dent in the hangover.
A few Getter & Setter methods later, with a sprinkling of Scaling and Stat code thrown in, i had an API.

No need for API keys and exposing as much of the data as possible, it should be easy for anyone to plug Cat pictures into their website or Apps, and hopefully kick a few more hangovers into touch too. Give it a try here->

Here it is in action throwing out a random gif:

Go wild and enjoy yourself->

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Domain up for grabs –

does this dress suit me?

The idea behind this site was to solve a problem that people have in their everyday lives. Whether it’s getting a new haircut, do those sunglasses really work for you, or even can you really pull off a leather jacket?

Friends and family are likely to say something (nice), randoms on the internet forums are likely to say another (mean), neither of which are honest.

What if you could simply upload a photo, safe in the knowledge no-one else would ever see it, apart from people you have never met who are incentivised to give an honest opinion via gamification

An idea for a simple Facebook/Mobile app ensued, hence i bought the domain.

At the moment ‘m too busy on other projects and have no chance of devoting enough time to this project to do it justice.

So if you would like to take it on or have a better idea for the domain then just get in contact and it could be yours. Sitting on a domain is just bad karma.

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Add a QR Code to an Image

I love QR Codes, every time i see them it sparks ideas of innovative ways of utilizing them. The main draw back is of course – market take up. I would love to see an app come with every phone, or ideally built into the camera app not just on a phone handset, but in consumer point and shoots too.

Barriers in the way of this are the tools to create them, and add them to things like video and images. I was disheartended to learn that most people and agencies pay to have this done. So i’ve knocked up a quick and dirty way to create a QR code, and add it to an image.

Try the Quick and Dirty App (needs a modern browser)

I’ll iterate it at some point and plugin some tracking so you can see how many times people have viewed it.

The code is free so do with it what you will, it uses some js from the fantastic jquery drag/drop over at ThreeDubMedia

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