Open-Sourcing Online Ad Targeting

There’s a glut of online ad networks out there, hundreds of them, each using their own particular flavor of targeting technologies—from Google’s contextual AdSense to many others that track people’s online behavior to divine their likely intent. Problem is, some ad networks have great technology but few Web sites or ad partners, while others may have great reach but poor targeting. Either way, the result is that many advertisers and publishers alike, unable to tell whether the results they’re getting are because of sheer bulk or because of ace targeting, seem skeptical about the utility of ad networks generally.

Enter AdBrite, which bills itself as “the Internet’s Ad Marketplace.” Today, it’s launching what it calls the Open Targeting Exchange, or OTX, that it hopes will create a sort of eBay for ad targeting technologies. When a visitor views a page on an AdBrite publisher’s site, OTX scans several targeting algorithms to determine the most relevant ads for that site or visitor.

Essentially, OTX busts targeting algorithms out of single ad networks, allowing them to shine (or fail if they’re not so great, for that matter). “They basically plug in (targeting) technology providers and let them fight it out in a Darwinian environment,” explains Ajay Sravanapudi, CEO of initial OTX partner Lucid Media, a contextual ad network and technology provider.

The goal, of course, is more targeted ads. That’s appealing to advertisers, who can reach just the people they want, as well as publishers, who can charge more for the ads. As for people on the Web, they get more relevant ads, which is probably a good thing, if it doesn’t freak them out too much.

Anyway, all that’s what AdBrite CEO Iggy Fanlo hopes. I’m doubtful this will attract the big guys who already have reach, such as Google or Yahoo’s BlueLithium or AOL’s And there may be a chicken-and-egg problem in building scale. (Though as AdBrite reminds me, it has a lot of scale already—85 million users and ads served on a billion page views daily—so maybe sheer scale is less of an issue than I thought.) But if it works, it seems likely to help cut through the mess of weeds that is the ad network business today.

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