In Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, Clary Shirky writes:

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times.

On reading this, I started wondering: what might this look like in the advertising industry? And it occurred to me that it might look a lot like some of the largest advertisers in the world trying desperately (and failing) to apply traditional models to a new landscape. At risk of being moved to the Innovation Department (I work at an ad agency), some realism: broadcasting without listening doesn't work in systems designed for conversation. And fake listening doesn't scale. Back to Shirky, with some edits by me:

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers advertising demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers advertising to replace the one the internet just broke.


I've removed the PayPal donation link from fastr and replaced it with an AdBrite "zone," which is what they call their ads, I'm guessing because "Adbrite ad" sounds redundant. So if you want to give a donation for fastr, you have to buy an ad now.

If it works out, I'll probably remove the Google ads also. The thing I've liked about Google ads is their ability to add value to web content. I don't like ads that distract from content, but I do like ads that contribute something useful to the content.

The problem is that Google ads don't fulfill their promise consistantly. For the first day of fastr, Google was advertising spyware removal. Google uses its own search algorithms to figure out what a page is about and serve relevant ads, but that search algorithm can easily fall short. Google eventually figured out that fastr is a game, and now serves game ads mostly, but it could still be better.

AdBrite seems to be better. It doesn't wait for a computer to figure out what my site's about — it lets me describe my site. Would-be advertisers can search descriptions, find a relevant site on which to advertise within a budget, and buy ads. As a publisher, I can reject ads at my whimsy. And I will; I won't run ads on fastr that I don't expect will be of any interest to people playing the game. I don't know a lot about those people, but I know they are interested in games and flickr.

Someone already bought an ad through AdBrite, and it seems to confirm my high expectations for the service. It's a game related to flickr, TagMan. It's just like hangman, only it pulls words from tags on sites like flickr, and then points back to the sites' tag page after each round. So I think moving to AdBrite is a win-win-win. Players will get more interesting ads, advertisers will get an audience of people interested in what they're selling, and I think I'll make more money.