Author: Thomas Rowledge
Tom Barnett, CEO of Switch Concepts (found here: http://www.switchconcepts.com/) delivered a fascinating talk on the future of real time messaging and digital business, alongside Ramine Tinati PhD student in web science at the university. Initially, we had a brief explanation of how switch concepts works as a real time ‘bidding’ advertising company. When a user accesses a webpage with an advert to be loaded, the web server communicates with the Switch Concepts server and supplies a targeted advert based on the highly specific user ID. Information gathered on the user allows adverts to be highly specified, allowing for a very niche target market to be subjected to a certain advert. Multiple adverts can then ‘bid’ in real time for the advert place on the website – typically the individual showing of an advert will be in the realm of 0.3 pence. Despite the fact that Switch Concepts only handle a seemingly small 6% of Europe’s adverts, this amounts to 500 million individual ads processed each day.
A well known phrase amongst publishers is ‘50% of my advertising wo0rks, and 50% doesn’t’. To quote Tom however, this figure was much closer to 99.999% not working online as many people either use an ad blocker or just ignore the ads as they weren’t specific. Indeed, there was a huge amount of wasted advertising online which is why targeted advertising was so revolutionary. Looking to the future of advertising, messaging is likely to only become more dominant as an online service – indeed messaging itself is a form of online infrastructure. The real challenge is on how to maintain privacy whilst still supplying adverts to a messaging service.
One concept which rapidly became the talking point of the event was that was can now consider everything online as a ‘stream of data’ as opposed to a static resource. This generated some controversy amongst the audience, leading to one of the most exciting debates to occur in such an event – can we consider online services to be a stream? Clearly, Facebook and Twitter must be a stream as they are dynamically updated, but Google utilises algorithms to constantly sort the best and most relevant links – so to some extent we can consider even the hyperlinks to websites to be ‘streams’. Leading on from this discussion was how Google could be implementing False Feedback within its sorting algorithm. If many users google ‘Best Pizza in Southampton’ and all click on Peters Perfect Pizza’s, Google is more likely to list it as the top link. If the user however has no knowledge of how good the pizza place actually is, then an argument offered was that Google is indeed listing services by popularity and not through how good the pizza place is; a lack of user information falsely raising the sites index.
Several through provoking questions were also asked of the audience – ‘Has the web left the web, and to what extent can we have ‘closed’ platforms’ generated much discussion, as messaging services whilst being on the web are inherently not ‘open data’ as the web was originally construed. Some thought this could lead to the eventual decline of the web as we know it – Les Carr even recommended the need for workshops on ‘The Death of the Web: Long Live the Web’. The general consensus however was that especially given the rise of the internet of things, messages as ‘exchanges of information’ would increasingly become the majority of internet traffic, whether it be human to human, human to machine or machine to machine. We finished with the question ‘How will our browser look in 5 years time – and how will messaging sit within it?’.