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.


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


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


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,, 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, 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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Comments (Archived):

  1. Stephen Pierzchala

    Fred – BuzzLogic released a conversation and community based advertising model yesterday. Contact Rob Crumpler. More info:

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks. We are going to check it out

  2. rickburnes

    I don’t think anybody should let marketers into feeds, I think marketers should simply create their own feeds.Feeds work because I choose the ones I read, and they’re relevant to me. As soon as some platform starts sticking irrelevant junk in my feed, I’m packing up and leaving.This isn’t to say Obama or that dry cleaner can’t find their way into my feeds — they’ll just have to do it in a more creative way. They have to create content that’s useful and interesting to me.”Letting marketers in” is an interuptive outbound tactic just like tv advertising. Marketers need to focus more on inbound tactics that help them get found.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree about irrelevant junk but not about my feeds. If a local plumber can insert a short one line note into my radar, that’s valuable to me and is not noiseFrom there I could add his feed if he has one, but more likely the plumber just wants a click to callFred

      1. rickburnes

        But will that ad be useful to you when you’re not looking for a plumber?I only want to see his ad when I’m looking for a plumber — and even then, I’d rather see a post on his blog about an interestong job he’s done or something he’s done to help folks in the geographic community he shares with me.

  3. Doug Cress

    Vista or Visa — Freudian slap?

    1. fredwilson

      Yes and yes 😉

  4. Brendan Putek

    Fred – Lotame Solutions, headed by Andy Monfried, does behavioral targeting across social media. Check it out – Lotame Solutions

    1. fredwilson

      Andy is a good friend and he’s got a great jump on this stuff. But I see lotame as primarily in the BT part of this worldI am interested in something more akin to right media, an open exchange where everyone can play ball

  5. Scott Rafer

    Hi Fred,I can’t sell you stock, but Lookery’s got a location + search referrer targeting API you can use @ $0.25 per thousand profile accesses or $0.01 per profile per month on an all-you-can-eat basis. We’ve been matching search referrer URLs to cookies across our ad network since October last year. Now that we’re at 1 billion Facebook/Myspace/other impressions a week on the ad network, the number of referrers is adding up nicely. We can often tell you the age and/or gender of the searcher, though NEVER, EVER do we have Personally Identifying Information like name, email address, etc.

    1. fredwilson

      scott,can you get ads into feeds?

      1. Scott Rafer

        We have no feed inventory ourselves. That will be Gnip as EricM notes, as well as Friendfeed, Facebook themselves as they offer third-party feeds, and possibly HP at What Lookery has is the privacy-friendly ability to target the inventory once it exists.We don’t think that anyone but the owners of the authentication mechanisms will be able to operate social advertising in the “leveraging of social graphs” sense — and then only by combining inventory very flexibly across all parts of their own real estate. “Integrated brand campaigns” as successfully and scalably sold by Imeem and Dogster are the best example.Social ads in feeds will not stand alone. Standalone ads in feeds will need to be targeted in other ways.

        1. fredwilson

          This is really a useful conversation for me and I am glad we can have it outin the open for everyone to see and join in ScottSo you don’t see facebook, twitter, friendfeed,, etc opening uptheir feed services to third parties like lookery who can fill themoccasionally with relevent marketing messages?

          1. Scott Rafer

            The Facebook Feed is FB’s search results page. FB’ll open it up as much as Google has their SERPs, ie not transparently. There will be third-party content (solely via Facebook Connect), third-party ads as there are already, but no third-party targeting. FB will move into the third-party feed operations and ad network biz, and everyone else will maneuver to use the best pieces and parts (including Lookery I hope) to keep up as best they can.From a Social Feed perspective (which may not the the correct perspective for these companies), Twitter, FF,, et al, are not the Gorilla — FB is.

          2. fredwilson

            Agreed. But the little guys (or littler) may be where the innovation happens. That’s how it was in display ad networks. Yahoo did it themselves. The other guys banded together (or were banded together by third party networks) and things like, right media, tacoda, and quigo happened

          3. Scott Rafer

            All true, but that’s why Google is able to build monopoly market share where Y! wasn’t. Search and search advertising are not only both inherently algorithmic, but they are also powered by algorithms so parallel in nature as to be effectively identical. I believe Feed and Feed Advertising placement algorithms to be more analogous to search than display when seen from this perspective.Relatedly, (1) Lookery is seeing more and more display ads selected by Keyword Retargeting, (2) Analytics that use keyword behavior to measure the effectiveness of brand/display advertising are emergent (“Porkbellies, Wenda, porkbellies.”).The increasing marginal returns of search advertising are now doing more than taking market share from display advertising — they are en route to becoming display advertising’s operating principle.

  6. Jeff Jarvis

    Fred,I agree. I first started begging for ad revenue on feeds back in 2004.Back then, we discussed the need for cookies in RSS and feeds to enable what you’re talking about.This is also about the end of the pageview and the need to measure new things.I haven’t played with Chrome yet (being a Mac user) but I sense we’ll start to break down the notion of both the browser and the page. We will have feeds and searches. The feeds will often be ones we create when we follow someone or some topic. Those are spectacular opportunities for targeted and valued advertising.

    1. Stephen Pierzchala

      Jeff: Your idea that we should measure new things is right on. I advocate that we measure the degree to which a post, tweet, micro, etc. draw together a community to have a conversation – see… .Go for the attention, that idea that was bounced around a few years ago.A measurement summit sound like a solid idea, because to be able to base an advertising model on a measurement of conversation and community, we (the content creators and the advertisers) better have a pretty iron-clad way to measure the value of these items before we start charging for them

  7. MayankDhingra

    Feeds and social media conversations are probably the best possible places to have contextual ads but not much has been done in both fields. Just dropped a mail to buzzlogic to know more about their conversation ad network.Looking forward to see how things evolve going forward and how I can contribute.Thanks for sharing.

  8. Joe Conyers III

    ” There’s money in them thar hills. “I love this

  9. Eric Marcoullier

    Fred, not to sound entirely self serving, but the companies that manage the feeds are in the best position to insert targeted advertising. Feedburner is Exhibit A. Not something Gnip is currently working on (cart before horse and all that) but I like where your head is at.

    1. Tom

      Are you kidding? This entire post is self-serving. It is also very obvious, yet very difficult to implement.The PubSub model works because the user intends to subscribe. Stuffing “hyper targeted” (geo, context, behavioral, etc) marketing into feeds I have intentionally subscribed to does nothing to capture my intent. I assure you that I was not intending to get ads from a plumber in my area simply because I have an feed.This risks a back-lash ala FB’s Beacon. Is there an opt-out? Can I filter the ad items?

      1. fredwilson

        Of course its self serving. I think out loud on this blog about how our companies can and should generate revenues and make money

  10. alan p

    Isn’t this just a way of infesting feeds with spam and causing them to go the way of email?

    1. Nick Molnar

      I think web services are increasingly going to have to insert all kinds of content into my feeds to keep me interested. Some of it will be paid, some of it will just be because they think it is relevant to me. As the feed becomes the center of the service, there is going to be tremendous incentive to keep it relevant, interesting, and constantly refreshed. In that model, I think advertising will be much more welcome than email, where the user is the curator.

      1. fredwilson


      2. Ethan Bauley

        Creative and apropos paid placements are certainly going to be an important way for marketers to engage productively in social mediums…the onus will be on the buyer to know the customer and craft a message or interaction that will “enhance serendipity” (to borrow a phrase from John Hagel ;-)Advertising people like to think that their job is hard and that they’re talented for making it “work”, but they ain’t seen nuthin’ yet…

    2. fredwilson

      Not if its done right.

      1. stephanelee

        In my view, do it right means let me choose the ad streams based on my interests. Service can suggest tags/topics based on collaborative filtering and past activities, but I have to choose in the end.BTW : Just thinking of an ad-based version of Alltop, where I can choose to insert best adstreams in my lifestream.

  11. Joe Lazarus

    Facebook’s feed targeting is behavioral, but the ads you see are based on your friends behavior, not yours. That’s backwards in my opinion. Facebook should flip their model. They should target ads related to the Visa Business Network to your friend who added that app, not to you.

    1. stephanelee

      I don’t agree, Joe.I like the facebook approach, because the ad looks look like an endorsement. If one of my trusted contacts uses one product, then I may want to discover the product, and feel inclined to buy it.I know this quite well, since I started a French site called Les influenceurs a few years ago, that inspired Word of Blog here. Basically it’s a spreadfirefox thing where anyone can post badges, and people can copy/paste on their sites.Filtering is done by the network, and there is a “voyeur” kind of appeal to it, because you know what your contacts are actually promoting or using.It’s a powerful feature IMHO.

      1. Joe Lazarus

        The chance that you’re interested in the same product / service at the sametime as a friend is really slim. More likely, you’ll get spammed withirrelevant ads (business ads shown to friends in school, women’s clothingads shown to male friends, etc). It’s far more effective to target peoplebased on their own behavior than on the behavior of their friends.Furthermore, it’s misleading to present an ad as an “endorsement” when thefriend hasn’t expressly promoted the product / service to their friends,which discourages people from sharing their interest data all together.What’s happening now on Facebook is people are opting out of the beaconentirely because they don’t want to spam friends with these deceptive”endorsements”. If Facebook flipped the model, people would be more willingto share their activity streams and that data could be used to develop rich,behavioral profiles for advertisers to target ads against.

        1. fredwilson

          I agree with that. Watch me and then send me stuff I am interested in

        2. stephanelee

          Endorsements are not deceptive by nature, Facebook may not do it right yet, but they will.Web has gone social, advertisement schemes need to leverage that, not come back to that old “spyware/engine/technological” stuff.

  12. Scott Rosenberg

    I fear the downward spiral into annoyance and spam too. Sure, if it’s “done right” we’re safe, but if “doing it right” turns out not to bring in enough revenue, some players will be tempted to do it wrong.Since the whole point of a feed is that the user assembles its content by selecting friends/people to follow, maybe all feed-based marketing ought to be similarly opt-in.If it’s not opt in, maybe the service should build in a feedback loop — so that the user can flag ad messages as “give me more like this” or “make this go away and never show me anything like it again.”Otherwise the ads become noise, the feeds become polluted, and users will migrate to some new service that doesn’t feed them noise.

    1. fredwilson

      Does google feed you noise?That’s the standard I think we need to measure feed advertising by

      1. Scott Rosenberg

        Good standard, works for me. But some difference in the interaction mode. With Google you’re on a mission to find something. With feeds you’re “keeping up” with a certain volume of information. So the volume of marketing needs to be kept to a level that doesn’t swell the feed unmanageably.So far, for example, Feedburner/RSS ads haven’t done that, so that’s a hopeful sign…

      2. gregorylent

        google definitely feeds all of us noise …. it the form of the spam blogs its advertising method does nothing but encourage …

      3. Steven Kane

        actually yes, google definitely feeds us noise – in every one of their products that is supposedly based on contextual targetingor, put another way, the only time google does *not* feed us noise is in the ad insertions directly based on a search query (for obvious reasons, no?)but, i have no objection to noise – thru my many years selling advertising and targeting and profiling and media and such, i constantly reminded buyers that targeting often becomes the crutch of the lazy non-creative marketer — a useful tool of course but a severely limiting one, by definition ruling out educating prospects about new things and things they maybe didn’t know interested them. which, IMHO, is maybe the most powerful form of marketing (because it involves the thrill of novelty and true discovery)so while ads in feeds is a perfectly OK (and inevitable) idea such advertising needs to have permissions and opt-ins and -outs just like any other medium — and also just like any other medium, ads in feeds will be mostly noise and only occasionally signal and even more rarely, transactional

        1. fredwilson

          Yes, exactly

      4. Sash

        who clicks on google ads anyway? – certainly nobody i’ve ever met.

    2. lawrence coburn

      I know it’s bad timing to use the “market will cure all” argument, but in this case, I think that the market will solve this. Companies that are too aggressive / too clumsy inserting sponsored items into the river will lose users to those rivers that do a better job.

  13. gregorylent

    i don’t own a television because of ads … it is a pollution machine, a brainwashing machine…the internet is nice, but i will ditch that too if the kind of advertising pollution you are suggesting clogs the pipes, my mind, and my life …. it is not worth it to be a marketing target … life is too rich and way too valuable to waste it consuming ads for mostly useless and unwanted stuff …and, you know, capitalism is really starting to suck … New bailout plannedGovernment program could take hundreds of billions of dollars worth of bad debt off Wall Street’s books,… ….that includes advertising … find a different way

    1. fredwilson

      How do you find out about the things you need then?

      1. gregorylent

        i have never learned of anything from advertising, ever ever ever … people are the vehicle for the transmission of utility …the natural flow from mind to mind is how a village knows everything, even about the next village down the road, and the one after that …advertising is just trying to manipulate the natural flow of awareness, and is always selfish. without exception. … it is theft of attention.

        1. Ethan Bauley

          I agree with you to the degree that the intent of paid placement is getting distribution on behalf of a business, not directly helping people. Otherwise, the entity wouldn’t have to pay for the placement, right?We’re far from a “perfect market” for needs and solutions…but I think this investment thesis is an incredibly smart step in the right direction!(…if you’re an idealistic enough to think that commercial information can provide useful serendipity ;-)(And btw this comes from a guy whose dad, a television producer/director, REFUSED to let me and my brother listen to commercials growing up; they were always on mute. I still mute all commercials to this day…it lets me catch up on my FEEDS 😉

  14. Geoff

    Whats cool about this post is that the person who has the money is asking for a supplier via a blog. Is this the start of Doc Searls VRM.I would much prefer to blog that I want a plumber and have them reply – than to have my feeds plastered with ads for services and objects I don’t want.A interesting take is to send yourself an email with what you are looking for then see the ‘relevant’ google ads appear in gmail. It works surprisingly well

  15. Robin Carey

    Brilliant idea, but begs a question. What part of the model will provide revenue to the original producer of the content, i.e. the producer of the feed itself?

  16. leigh

    I feel like everyone keeps applying old media rules to new media. It’s not that ads are irrelevant anymore, however, finding new ways to serve up ads isn’t (IMO) what marketers are looking for. That’s just media buys that are becoming less and less effective. Does it help if they are more relevant and targeted? Sure it does. But the brand landscape has shifted to such an extent that traditional modes of advertising in general are (and will become even more so) less effective. It’s new engagement models that will drive the marketing industry. (although your probably right that if you want to make a load of cash in the next 3 years when everyone is trying to figure it out and most CMOs are still most comfortable in the traditional models, it’s a good place to invest).

    1. gregorylent

      nicely stated …

  17. gregorylent

    Synaptic marketing: Digital brains driving positive interactions,…more like what mr. wilson is looking for

  18. DavidG

    You should use the twitteriffic app on iPhone for a bit and then ask yourself if this is still a good idea. Very invasive. A feed and a list of search engine results are not all that dissimilar in their content – can you imagine what a mess goog would be if adwords were inline? I know your response to this critique is “personalization” but honestly, you’re dreaming there – the (micro) news I subscribe to certainly tells you much less about me than my purchases do and yet, more than a decade later, amzn still can’t make recommendations accurate enough that I’d want them in a feed. As others have pointed out, the plumber ad is going to be spam 999/1000 and it’s in your face spam. Ads around feeds however will work (and google will probably own that market) but ads in feeds sounds unlikely to cross the chasm.

    1. Sash

      well put. i think apps like twitter are successful precisely because they don’t try and push anything at you that you don’t want.

  19. Dedektif

    thank you

  20. A2K

    @RickI think you’ve hit the nail right on the head. Personal Relevance is the key–be it in the form of a search, a dining review or new music recommendation. The simple fact is that we, as consumers, are most receptive to a product/services offering when it corresponds to an immediate need. The Yellow Pages, even despite of all it’s 21st century short comings, has proven this time and time again. And, in some respects, continues to do so on a geo based level. When it comes to the web, we all know how well Google has done with search. (even despite all of their relevancy issues 🙂 )From a Marketers perspective, there is no doubt in my mind that the same relevance factor holds true. (Not once during any part of my Creative Communications life have i come across a brand who did NOT have a specific target they were trying to reach.) It’s no coincidence that the Super Bowl consistently rakes in truck loads of ad revenue year after year. Nor is it a coincidence that the majority of those dollars come from the same players.In the plumbers scenario and a feed on, i disagree* with Fred’s logic. And in some respects, the same holds true for yours. Personally, i would find zero value seeing a plumbers listing appear sandwiched between my news “facebook feed” style (same way as i see no value with facebooks sponsors). And At the same time, i wouldn’t want to jump on over to Joe Plumbers , personally biased WordPress website either. From my perspective i personally would rather tap into my local social circles and either ask for a recommendation or search for past consumer experiences from those circles or from other users whom i share similar expectations, socioeconomic status or whatever i felt important. To me, this type of information is much more valuable than the others. And for Joe Plumber, this gives him an opportunity to create brand evangelists.No matter how you look at it, it’s a win-win scenario for all!Seeing feedback like yours Rick not only helps to validate my current project but also serve as further inspiration in filling this void. If you’re curious, you can find more info on it at or http://www.urbanupdates.tum…(* as an aside, the plumber example is a tough one. Certainly feed type promotions could very well work with other products/services. Same holds true for checking out their page and viewing past work).

  21. Bertil

    I’ve been asking myself the same question (actually, I’m writing a PhD dissertation on that) and I believe that you are wrong to talk about ‘ads’, i.e. to think through a stream analogy to consider that the only option is an interruption: having an outsider come an mention something outside of you activity (stream-browsing) is not interfering with the (TV, radio) program, something outside of your control; it stalls your active browsing. For the same reason, search-engine ads had to be outside the usual eye-tracking pattern.The analogy with search-engine does not stop here: relevancy (be it contexual, social, etc.) is still a problem for non-sponsored news, and it is too early to include ads without that magic formula. It would be wrong to think that finding additional news to insert could help: what would be great feed addition is actions.The best that I’ve heard so far (and perfectly feasible type of active interaction) is to recognise music-related status: many IM clients allow updates from iTunes, and some Facebook or Twitter users describe they mood trough musical references. Identifying those tunes, and offering a ‘Listen to this on iTunes’ link, one can easily track a recommendation-to-buying behaviour. Notice that we are not adding a feed item, but an action to an existing, legitimate item.The same could apply easily to books — and the split of the reference money between the initial reader, the tech-solution and the feed-manager is to be discussed, but Amazon already has a great ref program. ‘Book a table’ or ‘Tell the waiter I’m coming’ could improve messages about cafés or restaurants; ‘Find an expert on LinkedIn/YellowPages’ could complement message about a question, a job opportunity or a more general problem like our hosts ‘Swimming my way out of the flat; water pipe just broke in my room.’All those would demand an increased semantic understanding of the messages, something that can be done at any step of the micro-bloging process: it can be activated by the emitter, or the receivers’ client. Do note that the recommendation are not the same, or trivial to sort out: if you are listening to a tune, you probably don’t need to buy it again — unless it is on the radio; if you are not the one with the leaky pipe, you don’t care for a plumber — but you might want to offer you help by using your own social-network management tool to suggest or find the best professional available to a friend busy mopping.

  22. podme

    Typically, email spam is a perfect example of interruption marketing in that the user has no control of what they receive in their “marketing inbox”.Also, as seen with Beacon, the most successful types of marketing will likely be the types that a user has control over. And these days, content is king. It’s no longer enough to just throw ads out in front of the user – after years of being interrupted, we start tuning out. If marketers intend on serving ads for those same clients/companies, they better have some relevant content appended to them.I really don’t mind ads in my feeds, as long as I have control. I can hide the ads, I can change their positioning, and I can remove/add categories. If I am given some control, I may even interact with them.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree with you on being able to interact with and control the adsThat’s coming from a number of fronts and has to happen

  23. Steven Livingstone

    I completely agree. I saw your twitter of this post and when i read it i was finishing some work on something that tries to pull some of these together. The advertising is key – products, services – but with location you can also get clubs, organizations etc – i.e. things that are not “products” as such, but with context can be properly fitted it.However Fred – there is a LOT of work to be done in the API’s. I was pulling my hair out at some of them. Where i got to can be seen at

  24. stanley

    Fred-Why would someone like Facebook allow my compnay to make money off their feeds instead of them monetizing it themselves? Unless it’s a killer progam and they want to partner, they’ll just tell us to buzz off.

    1. Steven Livingstone

      But surely “feeds” indicates you are going to go to the Facebook site? It can ONLY help them.In a high level health project i worked on we were provided with several million records as a set of feeds – but the core data was on the main site. We got what we wanted – they got the hit. Everyone wins.