Sunday, August 05, 2007

The difficulties of targeted advertising

The current furor in the social web world is over Facebook's advertising system. Apparently, several UK companies have withdrawn their advertising contracts from Facebook because their ads appears on the BNP's community page (requires Facebook login). For those who don't know anything about British politics, the BNP is a far-right political party with strong nationalist, racist, and anti-immigrant attitudes. They are quite marginalized in the UK and enjoy little popularity. Anyway, apparently Facebook's targeting advertising system only allows advertisers to target by geographic region, which means that any advertiser that targets "UK" is going to have some risk of their ads appearing on the BNP page. Of course, no sensible advertiser wishes to be seen as supporting the BNP, but that's how people are going to take a Vodaphone ad showing up on the BNP Facebook page, and so Vodaphone yanked their ads from Facebook until Facebook comes up with a solution.

This should be a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to propose advertising on Wikipedia. Advertising on Wikipedia faces not only this problem, but additional ones, that will make managing an advertising environment on Wikipedia even harder. Relatively few people are going to want to have their advertisement on the page for Hitler, and the ones that do are likely people that Wikipedia won't want advertising anyway. An advertisement for a neo-Nazi group on the Hitler article is not going to look good for Wikipedia. Meanwhile, The Xbox 360 article (the 18th most viewed in July) will be an obvious target both for Microsoft and for Microsoft's competitors, both of which will lead to perception-of-neutrality issues. And advertisers are likely to be unhappy to be seen in conjunction with especially puerile vandalism, which remains a problem despite the best efforts of Wikipedia's obsessive recent change patrollers.

Basically, Wikipedia will have to manage its targeting system both to protect advertisers from being exposed to juxtapositions that the advertisers don't want and to protect Wikipedia from juxtapositions that Wikipedia doesn't want. Managing this will be a lot of work, and in the latter case also cut into revenue, since the juxtapositions that will be eliminated are, in many cases, the ones that advertisers will want most. A sobering lesson to those who seek to monetize Wikipedia.