Targeting Mobile Ads

November 21, 2007

By Andrew Schrock

Mobile-phone manufacturer Nokia expanded its reach with the recent acquisition of Enpocket, now called Nokia Ad Business, a mobile-advertising company that matches consumers to advertisements by considering their tastes and needs. Mike Baker, vice president of Nokia Ad Business, describes this as an “advanced targeting infrastructure.” Baker says that the matching system gives advertisers new kinds of opportunities that could be particularly beneficial for selling tickets to local events, for example, or for offering time-sensitive discounts. If the system is deployed properly, consumers would be automatically delivered ads about products that they want at the ideal time and place.

Context is already a cornerstone of online advertising, as it leads to more-effective campaigns and higher payouts for advertising providers. Google’s Gmail, for example, automatically extracts information from your e-mail, which is used to target campaigns. Facebook uses information saved in personal profiles to present more-relevant advertisements. Similarly, Nokia already has access to critical contextual information about consumers, such as demographics, which Enpocket can capitalize on. Information from Nokia’s OVI Web portal could eventually be incorporated as part of the data set to accurately match up people with relevant ads. For example, user histories from OVI social-networking and media-sharing site Mosh could be employed to track which pictures and movies users are sharing, signaling an interest in certain products.

Nokia believes that, by leveraging such information, it can offer higher response rates than current online marketing campaigns can, because the company delivers a message that consumers want to hear, where and when they want to encounter it. Contextualized advertising would also be more integrated into the services, so it might seem less irritating than a distracting pop-up window online, for instance. Initial response rates to contextual mobile advertisements are high, partly because of the novelty of the medium. According to Enpocket, the company’s recent mobile campaign for Land Rovers was wildly successful: 70 percent of people who were exposed to the campaign chose to download videos that promoted the automobiles. Baker says that consumers may be paying more attention to the ads purely because they are so novel, and he admits that this number will likely go down as the mobile-advertising space becomes increasingly saturated, as has occurred in more mobile-friendly markets like Asia.

Some consumers might perceive directed, contextualized advertising as an invasion of privacy. Some demographics might find the fact that their personal information is being shared annoying. Gary Pearl, CEO of Community Hotspot, says, “There’s a certain segment of the population which will accept it, and another segment that won’t.” He sees online and mobile business as being in a constant flux between subscription services and advertising-driven revenue.

At the moment, hardware is the biggest obstacle to delivering contextualized mobile advertising broadly. According to Nokia, there are nearly one billion Nokia mobile devices worldwide, or nearly twice the number of PCs. However, relatively few of these mobile devices are capable enough to handle the kind of contextual campaigns that Enpocket would like to deliver. Currently, campaigns rely on technologies such as SMS and WAP to deliver messages to devices that couldn’t otherwise provide a compelling multimedia experience. As more and more multimedia-friendly phones are sold, this will become less of an issue.

Nokia’s sheer market share ensures that its decisions will be closely watched and mirrored by the industry. Philip Stanger, CTO and founder of BluBlast, a company that specializes in ads for mobile networks based at specific locations, such as trade-show and showroom floors, views this favorably. If Nokia Ad Business takes off, it could create a more consistent business model and standard software-development tools for ads, potentially benefiting mobile-advertising companies of all sizes. “One of the big problems in the mobile space has been lack of standards and coordination between any of the systems,” Stanger says, citing lack of developer support. “It’s a nightmare developing [multimedia ads] for 50 different phones.”

Source:Technology Review


Mapping News

November 19, 2007

By Erica Naone

A new startup called YourStreet is bringing hyper-local information to its users by collecting news stories and placing them on its map-based interface, down to the nearest street corner. While there have been many companies that combine information and maps, YourStreet is novel in its focus on classifying news by location.

When a user opens the site, it detects her location and shows a map of that area, stuck with pins that represent the locations of news stories, user-generated content called conversations, and people who have added themselves to the map. The user can zoom in or out of the map or look at another location by entering a place name or zip code into a search bar. CEO and founder James Nicholson says that what sets YourStreet apart is its extensive news service: the site collects 30,000 to 40,000 articles a day from more than 10,000 RSS feeds, mostly from community newspapers and blogs. “We’re not relying on the users to provide us with articles,” Nicholson says. The stories featured on the site aren’t of a specific type, and users will find the locations of murders marked alongside the locations of upcoming music shows. Stories featured on the site are teasers, and, if a user clicks to read further, she will be directed back to the source of the information.

Nicholson says that he hopes the broad base of news will provide a foundation upon which the site’s community can be built. The site includes social-networking features, such as the ability to log in, meet neighbors, start conversations, and leave comments to annotate stories. “The basic goal behind YourStreet is to connect you to the information that’s most important to you,” Nicholson says.

The site’s main technological advance lies in its ability to mine geographical information from news stories. Using natural-language-processing algorithms developed in-house, as well as supplementary algorithms provided by the company MetaCarta, the site searches the text of regular news stories for clues about associated locations. The system searches particularly for entities within cities such as hospitals, schools, and sports stadiums, Nicholson says, relying on databases of entities created by the U.S. Geological Survey. YourStreet is currently working on some improvements to the system’s ability to recognize nicknames; for example, it should be able to interpret “GG Bridge,” as many bloggers refer to it, as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Other companies have designed similar but contrasting services. Outside.in, for example, features similar hyper-local news features, but it relies much more on human participation than YourStreet does. Participating bloggers or users add tags to stories to place them in the correct locations, and Outside.in employs a small team of part-time employees to match articles to places by hand. Launched about a year ago, the Outside.in interface is much more focused on information than on maps. According to John Geraci, one of the company’s founders, these features are all purposeful. “Making the map the first thing a user sees is a mistake a lot of mapping sites make,” he says, adding that he thinks the user is only interested in a map once information has drawn her in. Geraci says that Outside.in is built to rely heavily on human intervention, rather than on natural-language search algorithms, because, in his opinion, the algorithms don’t work well enough at this phase, and, with this type of service, stories are only useful if mapped accurately. “When you’re talking about location, there’s a low tolerance for noise,” Geraci says. “We believe you need people, that you always need that discernment.”

The entries for the Boston neighborhood known as Union Square provide some insight into the challenges faced by both YourStreet and Outside.in. YourStreet’s algorithms did filter out all the stories about the famous Union Squares in New York and San Francisco. But there was a story about the Union Square in Somerville, a city located very close to Boston. Outside.in, on the other hand, included only posts that were relevant to Union Square in Boston, but it didn’t provide as broad a range of fresh material as YourStreet did.

Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, says that companies are still figuring out how to provide hyper-local news properly. “YourStreet’s approach of combining aggregation with content creation seems promising,” he says. However, he notes that YourStreet faces heavy competition from other geographically focused sites, which run the gamut from Google Earth, to the do-it-yourself atlas site Platial, to the local-news service Topix.

Nicholson says that YourStreet will add a few features in the near future. In about a month, the site will launch an algorithm that compiles statistics on which stories are more interesting to users and brings those stories to the top. The site will also launch a widget that bloggers can use to paste information from YourStreet onto their sites. More far-off plans include the launch of a tool kit that developers can use to integrate with YourStreet, and a system that would allow users to classify stories by subject matter. The company plans to make money through targeted advertising.

Source:Technology Review


The Semantic Web Goes Mainstream

November 19, 2007

By Kate Greene

During the course of a day, the average person who works at a desk deals with torrents of information coming from many sources: e-mails, Web searches, calendars, notes, spreadsheets, documents, and presentations. Sorting through the information is tough, and for the most part, it’s done in an ad hoc manner. But in the next couple of months, there may be a better way. Radar Networks, based in San Francisco, is releasing a free Web-based tool, called Twine, that it hopes will change the way people organize their information.

Twine is a website where people can dump information that’s important to them, from strings of e-mails to YouTube videos. Or, if a user prefers, Twine can automatically collect all the Web pages she visited, e-mails she sent and received, and so on. Once Twine has some information, it starts to analyze it and automatically sort it into categories that include the people involved, concepts discussed, and places, organizations, and companies. This way, when a user is searching for something, she can have quick access to related information about it. Twine also uses elements of social networking so that a user has access to information collected by others in her network. All this creates a sort of “collective intelligence,” says Nova Spivack, CEO and founder of Radar Networks.

Spivack says that Twine leverages decades’ worth of work done in esoteric research fields such as machine learning and natural-language processing. “Twine helps you become smarter, more productive, and collaborate, share, and organize in a smarter way,” he says.

The idea underlying Twine’s function and technologies is known as the Semantic Web, a concept, long discussed in research circles, that can be described as a sort of smart network of information in which data is tagged, sorted, and searchable. Spivack says that his company’s tool is “one of the first mainstream applications of the Semantic Web.”

To be sure, Twine is not the first Semantic Web product or tool. For years, companies have used database software that automatically puts information in certain categories and searches for it accordingly, with varying degrees of accuracy. Even today’s simple blogging tools have elements of the Semantic Web: people add tags to their posts, thereby creating useful metadata that can be searched. In addition, del.icio.us, the online bookmarking site where people add tags to links of saved Web pages, is an example of giving structure to previously unstructured data.

Thus, a hard-and-fast definition of the Semantic Web can be elusive, says Clay Shirky, professor in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. “There’s a range you’re playing in,” he says. At its most basic, says Shirky, the Semantic Web is a campaign to tag information with extra metadata that makes it easier to search. At the upper limit, he says, it is about “waiting for machines to become devastatingly intelligent.”

According to Spivack, Twine can be called a Semantic Web application because the software was written with Semantic Web standards, established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), in mind. This means that its design follows certain conventions, and because of this, Twine is compatible with other Semantic Web applications, and its information can be shared across applications.

In addition to employing the Semantic Web standards, Twine is also using extremely advanced machine learning and natural-language processing algorithms that give it capabilities beyond anything that relies on manual tagging. The tool uses a combination of natural-language algorithms to automatically extract key concepts from collections of text, essentially automatically tagging them. According to Spivack, these algorithms adroitly handle ambiguous sets of words, determining, for example, whether J.P. Morgan is a person or a company, depending on the context. And Twine can find the subject of a text even if a keyword is never mentioned, he says, by using statistical machine learning to compare the text with data sources such as Wikipedia. “We can determine when a document is about a subject even if the subject isn’t mentioned in the document,” Spivack says. “So we can add new paths and new ways to get to the document” during a search.

Another technique that Twine uses is graph analysis. This idea, explains Spivack, is similar to the thinking behind the “social graph” that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, extols: connections between people exist in the real world, and online social-networking tools simply collect those connections and make them visible. In the same way, Spivack says, Twine helps make the connections between people and their information more accessible. When data is tagged, it essentially becomes a node in a network. The connections that each node has to other nodes (which could be other data, people, places, organizations, projects, events, et cetera) depend on their tags and the statistical relevance they have to the tags of other nodes. This is how Twine determines relevance when a person searches through his or her information. The farther away a node is, the less relevant it is to a user’s search.

It’s still too early to know if Twine will be successful with consumers, says Tony Shaw, president of Semantic Universe, an organization committed to raising awareness of semantic technologies in business and consumer settings. Success will not simply depend on making the technology work, but also on managing people’s expectations of the technology, he says. “It’s about fighting the hype problem.”

Twine will open up to invited users starting today. In the next couple of months, says Spivack, the tool will accept more users, and by the summer of 2008, it should be completely open. In addition, Twine will have an open platform that allows software developers to build tools on top of it, such as visualization software so that users can see their information in different ways. “But first, we’re starting with the basics,” Spivack says.

Source:Technology Review


How to Organize the Web

November 19, 2007

By Erica Naone

There are dozens of online tools for organizing information: wikis, social-bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us, and RSS feed readers, among other things. Researchers at Microsoft’s Live Labs, an incubator for new Internet-related technologies founded in 2006, hope that a tool called Listas will distinguish itself by being more general than all the others. Listas launched at the recent Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco and is available for preview online.

Listas is, put simply, about making lists. Users can make their own lists, by either typing in original content or taking clippings from Web pages, or they can read or edit public lists. The lists can include almost any type of content, including images and videos. They can be designated either public or private, and they can be tagged to make them easier to search.

Like other social-networking sites, Listas also allows users to acknowledge each other as “friends.” A user’s lists, lists made by his or her friends, and public lists that the user has linked to are all collected on a single page on the Listas site. Downloading and installing the optional Listas toolbar, which is built to work with Internet Explorer, makes it easy to grab items from other Web pages and add them to lists. Those items might include short bits of text, URLs, or blog posts or product listings with their original structure intact.

“Lists are a fundamental data type across the Web,” says Live Labs product manager Alex Daley. “Whether you look at task managers, blogs, RSS, shopping lists, or wish lists, they share a simple, linear list structure. A great deal of the information we produce and consume across the Web is in this structure.” Similarly, says Daley, the virtue of Listas is its generality: it allows users to organize data in whatever way they want and begin to tease out trends.

Gary Flake, founder and director of Live Labs, says that Listas was born from his sense that his information online was no longer under his control. “There was just an awareness I had that my data was spread out everywhere,” he says, noting that the more involved a person is with online communities, the more severe this problem can be. By using the Listas toolbar, a person can aggregate all of his or her contributions to online communities in a single dashboard, annotate them, and share them with others. Although a similar effect could be achieved without the toolbar, Flake says that he thinks the system will feel incomplete without the ease that the toolbar contributes to the process.

Other companies have tried to address the problem of organizing data with more specific tools. ZingLists, for example, shares some features with Listas, including the ability to make lists private or public. It is intended, however, as a productivity tool, according to its developer, Steve Madsen. The lists on ZingLists take the more traditional form of to-do lists, while Listas’s lists can behave like to-do lists, blogs, or RSS feeds, depending on how users construct them.

IBM’s Lotus Connections, a business product, includes a bookmarking system called Dogear that organizes information with the participation of a networked community. When a user bookmarks a site, up pop tags that other users have added to it, says product manager Suzanne Minassian. Dogear also shows how many others have bookmarked the same site and provides links that can lead users to those people. The result, Minassian says, is that users can find people with shared interests and connect to those people through the system.

Listas’s developers are still working on increasing community involvement with the site, Flake says. “With all community sites, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma,” he says, noting that a strong community attracts more community activity. Live Labs’ technology previews are meant to be even more raw than most products’ early releases, Daley says, and are very much works in progress. “We try to release early and release often,” he says. As a result, many changes to Listas are on the way.

Some of those changes will be aimed at increasing the usability of the interface. For instance, using the toolbar to clip information could be a more streamlined process. Other changes will advance the philosophy of the service, such as Flake’s plan to change the way comments are structured. With most of today’s blogs, Flake says, if you post a comment, that information no longer belongs to you: you often can’t edit it or delete it, and it’s hosted on someone else’s page. Flake says that he plans to give Listas a system that structures comments as simply another list–one belonging to the person posting the comments.

If Listas does well, Microsoft may integrate it with products or develop it as a product, but for now, the researchers say, there is no effort to make it profitable. “Listas is at the beginning of the experiment,” Daley says.

Source:Technology Review