Ever since Facebook’s cambridge analytica scandal was brought to the public eyes, the debate around ads targeting/user tracking didn’t stop, whether between the public or even the tech experts. As i went through my twitter feed, i stumbled upon a thread of tweets between Shira Ovide (Bloomberg opinion columnist) & Ryan hoover (Product hunt’s CEO) featuring the Ad targeting debate in connection to the latest monetization endeavors by snapchat, to later-on be followed by a series of replies from Boris van Zanten (TNW’s CEO) on the same subject.
What’s different about this twitter thread is that; unlike all other discussions featuring the same debate, this one amazingly featured a possible & applicable alternative to ads targeting!
It all started from this tweet by @ShiraOvide
To which @rrhoover replied…
Then again @ShiraOvide re-enforced her point
Take a moment to understand the magnitude of ads targeting issue, and how deep & complicated it is.
Platforms dependent on ads targeting (such as Facebook) mainly Monetize through posts’ users create, to sell ad spaces between one post and the other. After developing & applying user tracking, these platforms became knowledgable of every online move the user is taking, which includes users’ activities related to shopping, from which they are able to interpret users’ preferences/intentions with regards to a product or a service or a supplier in general. Thus charging those suppliers/advertisers for displaying their ads & targeting it to users who have shown interest in the supplier or its products/services.
Now, user tracking & targeted ads developed into a “life or death” matter for platforms dependent on it, to the extent that even after all the backlash, More platforms are adopting it – such as snapchat – while the currently famous ones made it very clear that; they can not & will not stop user tracking!. They even went a step further & announced that, the users who can not handle being tracked; have no option but to stop using the service. Something if eventually done by users , still won’t stop these platforms’ ability to track users, since their tracking tools are embedded in almost every website on the internet, allowing them to easily track users, even if they decide to delete their accounts!
As a result of their deep belief that targeted ads & user tracking tech, are the best of worst options available for users who are destined to receive ads in order to keep enjoying a “for-free” service; these platforms invested heavily in targeted ads & user tracking tech. However, the majority of users are still having difficulty accepting this destiny of always being tracked, specially if the reason is ads; That thing users always don’t get along with & always interrupts their experience, whether within watching a video or hovering the screen while deeply engaged in reading an article or popping out within the news feed from nowhere. While once every 1000 ads, something would really catch the users’ attention, and all the other 999 ads end up as a waste of advertisers money, in addition to annoying more users.
Hence, the need for a solution to user tracking/targeted ads, which is what @Boris was trying to do to in this tweet thread…
Boris’s “perfect world of smart ads” model – this is how i am calling it – represent a step on the right direction; a search quest for a solution or an alternative to targeted ads/user tracking, that would satisfy all stake holders (users, shoppers & advertisers). After all, isn’t that what entrepreneurship is all about; finding solutions to compelling problems & currently, there is nothing more compelling than finding an alternative to ads targeting that would preserve users’ privacy.
So I took it upon myself to provide a more detailed view of how @Boris‘s ideas could really fit into a real life platform. But note that i will not be covering this solution from other ads tracking model’s point of view (such as google) , rather i will be covering it from a social network point of view. and here is how it could be implemented…
A SOCIAL NETWORK where advertisers/suppliers integrate their product catalogues into the platform, in the form of small product tags that contain information about the product or service. When users are creating their posts, they can choose to tag it with any of the product tags they find relevant to the posts’ content, so that when their friends & other users share* or shop through these tagged posts, both – the user who created the post & the one who purchased through it – get rewarded (rewards redeemable into cash).
By providing a social network with a built-in rewards program that aligns interests of advertisers, users creating content & users who shop, through rewardable product tags. The experience becomes mutually beneficial for all users & advertisers participating in the platform.
If we apply the above social network model to all points of @Boris‘s “perfect world of smart ads” , Here is how it should work:
(1) We should be able to come up with a system where users’ intention is clear without losing their privacy.
The platform would use 2 points as “the system” to identify users intentions/preferences with regards to products; (Point.A) Users’ on-platform interactions with posts (ex.likes, follows, views, shares, clicks ,posts…etc) & (Point.B) The fact that each post is tagged with a product relevant to the post’s content. Given these 2 points…The platform would use those intentions & preferences to display a news feed full of relevant “posts tagged with products” , similar to the ones they interacted with.
As far as users are concerned; these product tags attached to posts, are no longer perceived by them as ads, rather a tool that’s completing & complementing the experience within the posts users’ are creating or viewing. Also product tags work as an easy tool for users who are viewing posts, to know where to find that experience featured in the post & directly purchase it from the supplier’s site by clicking the product tag. Even better – and as explained earlier – upon a successful purchase, product tags become rewarding tools for the user who created/tagged the post & the one who purchased through it (rewards redeemable into cash).
While as far as suppliers/advertisers are concerned; product tags serve them the same purpose as ads, yet without the negative aspect of ads interrupting users’ browsing experience, since product tags are actually part of the experience featured in the post & 100% relevant to it. Therefore, the platform can show these product tags as many times as users tag them to their posts, without it being annoying to users viewing them , as is the case with displaying Ads on other networks (such as Facebook). Even better, suppliers/advertisers only pay when a purchase is done!
Most importantly, this social network does not implement any kind of online user tracking to monetize through targeted ads. Rather, it leverages its news feed of “posts tagged with relevant products”, to monetize for itself & its users on a “commission/reward per sale” model. Thus, maintaing users’ online privacy & saving suppliers from the backlash, while preserving both users’ & suppliers’ interests.
(2) The manufacturer/seller of the product or service would have to know in advance whether you are inclined to buy at all, using that system.
Based on the above explained system, manufacturers’/suppliers’ concerns should be shifted from; trying to know users’ intentions & their “inclination to buy”, to influencing as many users to tag suppliers’ products into their posts of relevant content, to create that “inclination to buy”. This can easily happen by suppliers keeping their focus on what makes their product/business stand out; Offering quality products/services, Good customer service & allocating high commissions/rewards (for both users tagging products to their posts & users buying through posts).
When users get motivated & start tagging suppliers’/advertisers’ products to their posts, other users – who view these tagged posts – get influenced & accordingly some of them would turn into buyers. Once they click on the product tag, a url link directs them to the product page at suppliers’ website. Starting now, the suppliers/advertisers would get a clear idea on users’ inclination to buy which product exactly, and its up to them now to sway the user to becoming a buyer by offering a good deal or alternative/similar items to choose from.
(3) If you buy a fridge and then get ads trying to sell you more fridges then the conclusion is that we’re dealing with very dumb ads.
Due to the rewarding nature of this social network, the suppliers/advertisers will have to notify the platform if a user – who has clicked on a product tag & got directed to supplier’s website – has made a purchase, for the supplier to send that sale’s commission to the platform, who would accordingly distribute it to the relevant users.
With that in mind, the opposite case also applies; if a user gets directed to a suppliers’ website & the supplier doesn’t notify the platform of a purchase made by that user, the platform can interpret that this user didn’t make a purchase. Accordingly when user returns to the platform, it would cater to him/her “posts tagged with products” of similar type to the post/product that the user clicked on, and got him/her directed to the supplier’s website.
Making this social network act much smarter than any other platform, without any need to user tracking/targeted ads & maintaining 100% of user’s online privacy.
(4) The money normally spent by manufacturer/seller on distracting 1000 uninterested people would be spent on a discount that would persuade users to buy the product. No money lost and more money saved.
This platform’s model derives its strength from aligning suppliers’ & users’ interests more effectively and sustainably than the most targeted ad-supported models.
Unlike other platforms which get suppliers to pay sums of money for placing their ads and filling users’ news feed with tracking based ads, regardless of whether or not these ads convert into real sales or are at least interesting to users. This social network let suppliers integrate their products into it & allow their products to be tagged to posts as many times as users would like, while only paying a commission if a purchase is made, which gets distributed as reward points (redeemable into cash) to both the users who tagged products to their posts & the users who purchase through the post…No money lost, more money saved.
(5) Now the challenge becomes: how do you promote a product to a user who didn’t even know he/she wanted it yet?.
The answer is; through a news feed of “posts tagged with products” created by friends & other users. Where some of these posts would raise users’ interests to book/buy the tagged product or service, something the user didn’t even know he/she wanted, until he/she saw the tagged post.
Finally, If you would like to live this new tracking-less & rewarding experience, you can do so by logging on to HeyShare.com (public beta). where you won’t only get yourself & your friends rewarded, through creating/tagging your own posts & shopping through your friends’ posts. But actually you are contributing to a bigger cause, that; Our online privacy is not a product for sale to the highest bidder, but rather a personal property that shouldn’t be trespassed.