The war on online advertising is intensifying, and the ads are losing

9:34AM | Wednesday, 23 September

A new front in the war against online advertising has opened up with the official release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 9. The most contentious feature was the ability for the mobile version of Safari to allow extensions to block ads.   Not only was there ad blocking software ready for installation on the day of the launch, but one application, Peace, became the top downloaded paid app on the iTunes App Store. The developer, Marco Arment, justified the need for ad blocking because online ads were engaging in excessive tracking and taking up space, data allowance and generally making the mobile browser experience worse for everyone.   But then, barely a day later, Arment pulled the app from the App Store, declaring that he didn’t “feel right” profiting from blocking other peoples’ ability to make money from ads. On Twitter, Arment went from being “immensely proud” of his app hitting the number one spot on iTunes to announcing that he was pulling it from the store.   I’ve pulled Peace from the App Store. Why: — Marco Arment (@marcoarment) September 18, 2015 Although Arment hasn’t elaborated on the precise technical reasons for pulling the app, it seems that the people behind Ghostery, the ad blocking technology that underpinned the app, decided that his implementation was not how they imagined their software being used.   Ghostery advocated for users of ad blockers to be “empowered” to decide for themselves what ads and trackers to block rather than the preemptive blocking that had been implemented in the initial version of Peace.   The public makes its views crystal clear   Since Peace has capitulated, another ad blocker, Crystal has taken the vanguard as the most downloaded paid app on iTunes.   Setting aside the arguments for or against online advertising, one thing is absolutely clear: the public do not want advertising to be part of their web browsing experience. So it really doesn’t matter whether web sites see this as the only way that they can find to provide free content.   The argument that this is all about bad vs good ads is also clearly not an issue any more. Ad blockers could render all ads obsolete, regardless of their perceived quality. Nobody is going to spend any time worrying about whether they should unblock particular ads.   Ghostery may have had laudable ambitions for an honest dialogue about ad tracking and ad quality, but it isn’t a conversation that the general public is interested in having. They simply want a total victory over online advertising.   The fallacy of the implied contract of ads for content   In the debate about the role of advertising, advocates have argued that it enables the supply of free content. If not for advertising, people would have to pay for the content through subscriptions.   So, in essence, there is an “implied contract” between consumers of a site and those providing the free content: web site visitors get access to the content in exchange for being subjected to ads and providing private information through tracking their use of the site.   The problem with this argument is that visitors are never given the explicit choice to make that informed decision. The “contract” also conveniently leaves out the fact that, in addition to the loss of privacy and the visual experience of ads, their data allocation is going to be used, web pages will load slower, and overall, their experience of the site will be diminished.   The argument for the need for advertising is a weak one. There are plenty of businesses that have shown that people are willing to pay for content if it is packaged such that they can easily see value for money.   Netflix and Hulu are examples of services that people are prepared to pay for in exchange for both the content and it being advertising free. In fact, many companies see the annoyance that customers feel with ads as a way of driving them to pay for versions of their apps that get rid of them.   The ad wars will continue   The war on advertising is far from over. Google, Apple and others are still going to provide ads in the protected environments of their apps, and in Google’s case, its videos.   Advertisers will continue to sell ads to clients who will, in turn, hope that they can get their ads in front of the remaining people who don’t use ad blocking software.   What the enormous popularity of ad blocking software has shown is that, if there is an “implied contract” for access to content in return for viewing ads, the public clearly is not willing to agree to it.   This leaves content providers with a clear message that they will need to find alternative ways of supporting the provision of that content like many other businesses do, without the use of advertising.   This article was first published on The Conversation.

Video-on-demand search engine has sights set on underserved market

7:05AM | Tuesday, 29 July

With the proliferation of online video streaming services (everywhere, but here in Australia that is) Australian startup Gyde is offering users a new way to find video on the internet.   Gyde’s smartphone app is much like Popcorn Time, the controversial app which sources torrented movies and TV shows and allows its users to stream them. Popcorn Time is designed to make using torrents as easy as possible, helping individuals to find video content from its providers.   Product lead Andrew Julian says ultimately Gyde is a search engine and aggregator for video-on-demand platforms like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, rather than torrents, and has been created with a similar ideal in mind.   “We’re excited for people to try the product, we think it will resonate with most of them, when we talk to people out and about, something people commonly identify with is it’s too difficult to find a movie online,” he says.   Gyde is based in Melbourne and Los Angeles, a decision the team made in order to give them easy access to the more developed video streaming market in the US and more opportunities to raise capital.   The company has received seed investment from an angel investor based in Los Angeles, although Julian could not say who or how much was invested.   While piracy tends to dominate discussions on making money in this space, Julian says “without excusing it” piracy in Australia is a product of an underserved market.   “From a consumer perspective, there’s not a lot of options,” he says.   At the moment Gyde supports iTunes, Netflix and Hulu Plus platforms and has built the system in a way that allows it to easily expand to support more.   The company plans to monetize Gyde through affiliate commissions, pointing people in the direction of subscription services, and through data insights about its users.   “We can provide a rich guide of user intentions, a core feature of the app is users can shortlist content they might be interested in watching, and things they want to watch now,” he says.   Those shortlists also give the app a social element. It enables users to connect with friends and do things like merge shortlists to make deciding what movie to watch an easy task.   Data taken by the app can also help video users find content that they might be interested in, but is difficult to find, buried deep within the catalogues of those subscription providers, which, Julian says, creates additional value in their catalogues.   The app will launch in both Australia and the US in September.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Australian HR start-up named as one of the coolest vendors of 2013

6:12PM | Tuesday, 25 June

A Melbourne-based start-up has been named one of the coolest vendors in human capital management by international technology research group Gartner.   CultureAmp’s key product is Murmur, an online platform for managing staff and tasks in fast-growing organisations.   The software-as-a-service is used to gather and provide ongoing feedback, track progress and use data to help companies understand their workforce.   Founder and chief executive Didier Elzinga told StartupSmart CultureAmp’s success is due to a shift in how people work.   “The key to unlocking productivity and getting value out of people is culture and creating an environment in which people can and want to operate,” he says.   “If you look at the work we’re asking people to do these days, it’s cognitively driven. So there is a really, really big difference when someone who is engaged and enthusiastic.”   With team members in Melbourne and San Francisco and a client list boasting big names such as Hulu and 99designs, Elzinga attributes their growth to having an idea right at the heart of several trends.   “We’re on the right wave. A lot of our customers are in Silicon Valley, and what they’ve all got across the board is they’re using data everywhere. And they’re building companies at a ridiculous pace, and the hardest thing to build in a business is people,” Elzinga says.   The idea for Murmur emerged during discussions about the lack of innovation in the human resources and people management sector.   “In the world of marketing in the last five to ten years, there has been a torrent of new innovations and people doing cool stuff with data. But if you look at HR, there’s been nothing new and different since 1993,” Elzinga says. “It was about taking marketing analytics to how we listen to our people.”   The CultureAmp team is focused on developing its core engineering staff in Melbourne, and then developing a presence in Silicon Valley over the coming years.   Elzinga says being an Australian start-up can be challenging, but it also helps create the attitudes needed to scale globally.   “It’s hard but also good that we don’t have a big enough market here, so we’re forced from day one to think global,” he says. “It’s there if you want it – go and get it.”

Forgot about Dre? Packer’s latest investment is Straight Outta Compton

3:31AM | Friday, 15 March

James Packer has reportedly joined a group of wealthy investors in making a $60 million injection into a streaming music business owned by rap icon Dr Dre, the entrepreneur behind the successful Beats Electronics brand.

How to access blocked online services using a VPN

10:44AM | Tuesday, 9 October

Have you ever wanted to use an online service, but find you’re blocked by the service’s host country?