Advertising, General

Welcome to the LumaScape and talk of a ‘dark underbelly’ and ‘ghost publishers’; welcome to another complex business model in dire need of fresh simplicity. And being human…


This made for an interesting read. ‘The Rise of Ghosts Sites, where Traffic is Huge but Humans are Few…’

It tells of the growing concern within the online advertising industry at the ‘dark underbelly’ that lies beneath the surface of online AdLand.

‘If you spend enough time in the murky world of ad exchanges, ad tech middlemen and real-time bidding software, you might come away wondering why any major brand even bothers with online advertising…’ the author opens.

‘Ghost publishers’ are the latest spanners in the works; pulling advertisers away from genuine, audience-owning publishers to those for whom cheating the system has become another branch of the algorithmic dark arts.

Banking already has its own ‘dark pools’ of all-but impeneterable trading behaviour; the argument here would suggest that online advertising has something similar – to the cost of genuine publishers seeking genuine advertisers for their audience.

It should, after all, be so simple. I, the advertiser, want to place my ad right there

“The growth of online dollars has been slow all things considered, completely because from the beginning, there has been this dark underbelly,” said Yieldbot CEO Jonathan Mendez…

Taking the person out of the loop and letting an algorithm do its own things has long been a favourite subject in these parts – be it taking the human out of the cockpit or the trading pit, there are consequences to letting a computer run riot.

Things get skewed; abused. People get misled. Where there should be transparency and simplicity, we get complexity and duplicity.

How that happens in the online advertising space is not too hard to imagine if you study the chart at the top of this piece.

It is from Luma Partners in the US; the ‘LumaScape’. Much viewed and much discussed, it makes for a fascinating study in the ‘journey’ any ad potentially has to make when travelling from left to right across that Snakes & Ladders board of DSPs, trading desks, ad networks, AMPs, etc etc…

When all many an advertiser wants to do is to place their ad just there…

Instead, the world and his algorithmic wife take a slice of the action; with the kind of milli-second speed that now is the hallmark of the great trading desks of Wall Street and The City. The geeks, the wonks, the wants and the quonts have taken the human out of the loop. The decision to place an ad there or to invest in a stock here are now the sole preserve of those with the biggest servers; the smartest tech – the all-seeing, algorithmic eye that knows that I booked a room off LateRooms last week and will, therefore, clearly want to do it again. And again.

One of the pieces that underpins so much of our thinking within the Addiply platform is Clay Shirky’s tome on the Collapse of Complex Business models. Of which the ‘LumaScape’ is a classic example.

If you have never read it, do so again. It is a classic.

There are passages therein which when applied to the rise of ‘ghost publishers’ within the complexity evidenced above make perfect sense. For if Shirky was talking originally how the complexity inherent to the publication and distribution of a newspaper is driving many to distraction and beyond, so the thinking – based on Joseph Tainter’s thoughts on the collapse of complex societies – are wholly applicable to the online advertising space.

‘Complex societies collapse because, when some stress comes, those societies have become too inflexible to respond. In retrospect, this can seem mystifying. Why didn’t these societies just re-tool in less complex ways? The answer Tainter gives is the simplest one: When societies fail to respond to reduced circumstances through orderly downsizing, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t.

In such systems, there is no way to make things a little bit simpler – the whole edifice becomes a huge, interlocking system not readily amenable to change…’

That’s all Addiply sets out to do; to re-tool the online ad sales space ‘in less complex ways…’

Either I can buy that online ad space just there myself; or else I can out-source that function to a third party in a clear and transparent manner.

Not doubt such simplification will ‘discomfort elites’ - if, for example, the Welsh Assembly can place an ad themselves into any postcode district they fancy across Wales. In Welsh. Without the need of a DSP, an ASP or whatever else lies in between a ‘Troubled Families’ campaign being placed, say, in the Ely area of Cardiff (CF5).

It is the final line of Shirky’s essay that I have carried around with me for a long, long while.

‘When the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future…’

In the meantime, however, the current system of complexity is starting to show signs of strain; the rewards are being leeched out of the system as ‘…the whole edifice becomes a huge, interlocking system not readily amenable to change.

Fascinating.

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