It’s Time To Open Up The Feeds To Marketers

I wrote a post a week or two ago where I talked about the increasing importance of feeds as an interface to social media and media and information in general. I don’t really mean "rss feeds" when I say feeds, although reading this blog’s feed in google reader certainly is right in the sweet spot of what I am talking about. I mean the "river of content in reverse chronological order" when I say feeds in this post and elsewhere.

I ended that post with the following:

So feeds are a powerful way for users to navigate the web and get to
the information they need. I expect them to get more powerful over time
as more users adopt them…

But think about the Facebook generation. My kids are growing up with
the news feed as their start page. Not Yahoo’s portal approach and NOT
google’s search box approach. In time, its entirely possible that feeds
will be more powerful than search.

So to all the people that say social nets can’t be monetized, just
look hard at the feed and think of the possibilities. There’s money in
them thar hills.

So it’s time to start allowing marketers into these feeds on a highly targeted/highly relevant basis. FeedBurner did that with this blog’s feed and many other feeds with ok results a few years back. But honestly, the ads were not targeted enough or relevant enough to work really well. Facebook has probably done the most of anyone to allow marketers entry into the feed. Here’s a screenshot of facebook news feed this morning. You can see the sponsored feed entry for the vista business network in there at the bottom.

Facebook

But I’ve got a ton of other feeds I read. I could see a local dry cleaner wanting to be in this radar neighborhood feed from outside.in

Radar

And I could see the McCain or Obama campaign wanting to solicit contributions in this twitter search feed

Twitter_search_3

But I don’t think the vista business network, the local plumber, or the McCain campaign wants to buy feed-based advertising from hundreds of web services. They want to be able to buy these campaigns the way they buy search, either via a large search agency, a web service like Clickable, or directly in a self serve interface like adwords.

So what we need to happen is the web services that render these feeds for us; google reader, netvibes, friendfeed, twitter, outside.in, facebook, etc, etc need to provide api accesss to these feeds to services that will serve marketers who want to get their messages targeted into them.

The targeting is the key and I am not entirely clear how this should work. In the case of search driven feeds, it should clearly be keyword based. In the case of geo feeds like outside.in, it should be zip code or neighborhood based. In the case of things like facebook or google reader, I think the targeting is more likely to be behavioral.

I hope (and pray) that this time around we don’t end up with one dominant provider of ad inventory (like adwords has become in keyword based cpc text ads). I hope that the services that provide the feeds to the audience will be able to work with a host of services that provide the feed targeting and execution to the marketers. In effect, an open exchange based on apis and data sharing.

My firm Union Square Ventures thinks that this is one of the big emerging opportunities in online advertising and we are looking for a company to back in this area. If you are working on it, please email me and we’ll have a conversation (click on the contact link on the upper right).

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