Tuesday, July 17, 2007 

Here come the (targeted???) ads

There's a kind of brand-dilution that occurs when previously user-centric sites like StumbleUpon and YouTube get swallowed up by the likes of EBuy and Gobble. The valuations, and prices paid for these sites are so high, that the new bean counters inevitably force the introduction of advertising that essentially breaks the site's unwritten contract with users. - Its been creeping in over at YouTube since the purchase, but everyone expected that. However, EBuy is making a mess of it over at StumbleVideo, because the whole proposition is more delicate... Users expect relevance.

Gambling ads??? Gee I don't remember clicking 'gambling' when I set my Stumble preferences... and of course I did not; and those 4 and 4.5 star recommendations for "as she did not wear anything" and "beautiful women"... seem a bit weird. Is this the same StumbleUpon that received such rave reviews and quadrupled its user base in 2006? Well, yes and no... Same company, but after a US$75M purchase by Ebay, it has a new style and agenda. Their wikipedia entry which sounds a lot like it was written in-house, may need some updating:

"StumbleUpon uses knowledge of user preferences to deliver targeted advertising. A small proportion of the 'stumbles' users come across (typically less than 2%) are sponsored pages matching their topics of interest. For example, those signed up for photography will occasionally see an ad related to photography. Such content is vetted by humans for "quality and relevance" prior to its delivery."

Just like the sudden emphasis on aggressively building the user-base, the company is stretching the truth and the friendship with their users.

"The more friends you have using StumbleUpon, the more new websites you'll discover"... Well, actually, Ebuy... that's not quite true. Bringing friends to StumbleUpon has no direct correlation with one's chance of discovering new sites, but it will help Ebay sell more advertising on the site. However, Ebay has already started soiling their own nest by allowing cheap and crass ads to break with the sites established collaborative filtering promise that user's have become accustomed to, and which is alluded to on the wikipedia page "StumbleUpon uses knowledge of user preferences to deliver targeted advertising"

This is a sell-out, and a dangerous one. It risks alienating the existing user-base, and it dilutes the brand. The same phenomenon is of course occurring over at YouTube. In trying to achieve ROI, Ebuy and Gobble, leave themselves open for inevitable disruption.