Feature Friday: Disqus Thumbnail Ads

Arnold suggested we discuss these ads last week so we are going to do that. But first some background.

Disqus, which is a USV portfolio company, offers a free ad-supported service for both commenters and publishers. Their first ad product is promoted discovery which has been a link oriented product for the past year. Publishers opt into promoted discovery and share revenues with Disqus if they opt-in.

Recently, Disqus added the option for publishers who are running promoted discovery to switch from links to thumbnails. I decided to make that switch and turned on thumbnails a week or two ago. The revenue AVC is making has gone up as a result. I use that revenue to buy promoted discovery from Disqus, thereby bringing more readers and community members to AVC.

The promoted discovery ads run at the top of the Disqus comment thread if you are not logged in as a Disqus commenter. The promoted discovery ads run at the bottom of the Disqus comment thread if you are logged in as a Disqus commenter. The ads are very noticeable on a thread that is new or has very few comments on it. The ads are not as noticeable on threads like we have at AVC once there is a lot of discussion activity.

The thumbnail ads look like this:

Thumbnail ads

Promoted discovery is not the only ad product that Disqus is likely to rolll out. It was rolled out first because these kinds of ads are common on blogs and online publications and advertisers are used to them and they are relatively easy to sell. Over time, I expect Disqus to come up with more native advertising models.

But for now, these are the only ads running on AVC. I am curious what folks think of them. If the community really dislikes them, I can easily turn off thumbnails and go back to links. The only cost to me is less promoted discovery for AVC running on the Disqus network.

So, what do we all think of the thumbnail ads?


Comments (Archived):

  1. David Silver

    I actually don’t see them…

    1. jason wright

      David, you’re not missing out.

    2. pointsnfigures

      I don’t see ads with my Chrome Browser either. Or on Safari. But, when I used IE I got this

      1. falicon

        +1 πŸ™‚

      2. fredwilson

        nice. where is that?

  2. jason wright

    feeling fat and farty on this particular feature friday?the ads – relevancy is the issue for me. if they’re not relevant then they’re just clutter. so the selection mechanism needs to be sophisticated, the semantic analysis needs to be spot on (if that’s how it works?).

  3. JamesHRH

    AVC is now such a noisy layout that I have trained myself to read the post & head for the comments.I am atypical I assume.I have not purposely hit an online ad in at least a decade.

    1. fredwilson

      time for a redesign. i agree with you and have been thinking for a while about changing things up.

      1. LE

        That’s a tough one. I don’t agree that you need a redesign. [1] People get used to a certain look and feel and when you change that you can have problems. I am still not upgrading to ios7 because the look is foreign to me.That said I am an existing visitor. If you do a redesign you really need to run it by, as a test, people who are not blog visitors to see their reaction. “which one do you like better”? The new “customers”.The general rule for this stuff that I follow is to stick with what works unless you need to change because the formula doesn’t work anymore.The local ABC affiliate in Philly (that has been number 1 since I was a kid) hasn’t changed their lead in in all those years or their format. They even resisted upgrading their graphics. The others (NBC, CBS) are always changing. They have to they are number #2 and #3. #1 sticks with what works. The local media actually has made fun of them. But everyone recognizes that it’s dangerous to mess with a winning formula. (For this type of thing at least.) And if you do make changes you need to make them gradually. “time for a redesign” doesn’t sound gradual to me. [2][1] That said if things are dropping off there are two things you can do. One is to push disqus to fix some of the problems that people complain about. The other is to engage more with the people who comment. I fully recognize that it may not be possible to engage more (or not worth it) but thought I would offer that thought just the same.[2] With autos subtle redesign is a safer strategy and can increase sales. Major redesign can be a success or a complete failure.

        1. fredwilson

          Maybe a tweak instead of a redesign

    2. Cam MacRae

      Neither. Although mercifully my web is advertising free.Know what I do click on? The occasional highly relevant, and well targeted email. Perhaps 1/200.

  4. Mike

    I think that they cheapen your content. I see the same junk in the footer of the local newspaper site.

    1. jason wright

      i agree. it’s a dilution of brand reputation. ‘avc’ stands for something good on the web. ads are the specter of Google’s evil presence.advertisers infect networks. we need an antidote.

  5. Richard

    Discuss falls into the meme of an innovative product without an innovatice ad placement model.

  6. LIAD

    unfortunate that the screengrab showcasing the service has ‘freaky skin grandma’ on it. The epitome of decade-old-graphic remnant advertising.Google/Twitter/Facebook etc built large businesses leveraging text-ads only. Image ads came a lot later once they had refined the other aspects.Not sure why Disqus hasn’t acquired Zemanta. Multiple companies recommending links on same page seems overkill(also don’t see the ads on the page).

  7. awaldstein

    I’m all about the money.But no amount of technique is going to matter unless the ads inform, inspire, amuse or delight. And honestly that is not all that hard.

  8. Aviah Laor

    Oy vey

  9. Elia Freedman

    Since we are talking about Disqus today, I’d like to also bring up the fact that their core service seems to be getting worse not better. I comment a lot from an iPad (iOS 7) and find that it crashes the browser if there are a lot of comments and I try to respond. The other day I had typed up a longer comment and it crashed right before I hit send. When the comments are long half the time it won’t even pull up the comments. It’ll just crash.Even on the desktop (Safari, the latest version) I will go to click into the box to start typing and the minute I type the screen jumps, my cursor leaves the box, and I am suddenly somewhere else in the comments stream and have to find my way back.I currently host at WordPress and have thought about paying for my blog site just to run Disqus but then I remind myself what a mess Disqus is and decide I don’t want to pay $70+ to specifically support them. If they could just show me a consistently working product for a while, I might feel differently.I understand they need to make a living and figure out how to make money at this. But I also wish someone there would test the thing on mobile devices and make sure it is stable and able to do its primary function: be a commenting system.

    1. LE

      Ditto to the Safari comment it also happens with Firefox (latest) as well on Mac OSX 10.8.latestThe push to add more features before things are fixed is inevitable. It remind me of a guy who worked for me many years ago who always wanted to add new equipment even though we hadn’t fully worked out the flaws in the existing system or methods.From a programming standpoint there are similarities. It’s much more fun to add a new feature than it is to work and fix something that already is happening. You see and enjoy the new feature you have created but nobody really notices when the bug goes away (in the same way).

      1. Elia Freedman

        Agreed and understand the motivations. It seems like the company needs dedicated testers, though. Everything stabilized for a while and was working much better and now… a huge step back.

    2. Sam Parker

      The release of iOS7 Safari created a spike in crash reports. It seems related to changes in memory management.In recent weeks, we’ve been actively working to optimize the Disqus memory footprint, particularly in mobile browsers. Some changes have been released but there’s clearly more work to do.

      1. Vinay Pai

        I sincerely hope this is not a memory management issue. Disqus is a commenting platform, not some sort of intense 3D game or something. In my opinion, if Disqus is taking up so much memory on the client side as to run afoul of the memory management system and crash the browser, that’s indicative of even deeper architectural issues, and the iOS7 crash is probably a harbinger of worse things to come.

        1. Sam Parker

          In the cases I’m aware of, there are huge numbers of comments on the page. Such edge cases are reproducible but limited.We could use more details. If you know of specific pages where you’ve encountered the issue, please email me details: sam at disqus

      2. Elia Freedman

        Thanks, Sam. I appreciate you taking the time to reply. I hope you can resolve the issues. I also hope your team will look at the Safari issue I described as well. That has been around a long time, although doesn’t seem to be doing it right now so maybe resolved already.

    3. JamesHRH

      Elia, I am also having issues with Disqus loading on my Airbook using OS X 10.7.5.I will not even start about the iPad – given up.

    4. Susan Rubinsky

      It would be interesting to know analytics/stats on devices used to access AVC. Personally, I use PC-based and Droid and never have any issues at all. I love the functionality of Disqus overall compared with the competition.

      1. Elia Freedman

        Fred’s posted that from time to time. I like Disqus, too, which is why I complain. Apparently we only complain about things we really love or really hate, and we only complain to the company if we really love something. I hope the Disqus team understands that in my post.

  10. Teresa Cheeks

    Like I always say, Disqus sucks. Any new features added to Disqus will make it even worse. Not a day has passed without disqus crashing on my tablet and that is taking me off from reading avc.com. I am using my PC for avc.com

  11. Vinay Pai

    I don’t hate it, but to me it just more junk to scroll past the end of the blog post to get to the comments. I think we’re all accustomed to having a bunch of stuff piled at the bottom of blog posts on a typical blog.I think the quality of the ads need to be drastically improved if the ads are to be anything other than spam. The ads I see right right now are “Britney Spears Exposed!”, “5 Foods You Should Never Eat Again”, and “The Unbelievable Thing Firefox Is Doing Now”.Maybe they could at least get more targeted clickbait like “Get a Reply From Fred Wilson With This One Weird Trick”, “5 Slides You Should Never Include In Your Pitch Again”, “You Won’t BELIEVE What’s In This Termsheet”!

    1. kenberger

      I *DO* hate it, at least for how great this blog is. Excellent comment!

  12. Richard

    Advertising must be more addictive than heroin. How else can you explain the effectiveness of these ads? Want more antecdodal evidence? How do you explain that retial sales are uncorrelated (weakly correlated) with the employment rate and wages.

    1. LE

      One company that is placing ads below is this company:http://www.firstbeatmedia.c…Without knowing directly I will speculate on what they are doing here.They are arbitraging traffic. They are buying ads on disqus in order to drive traffic and get some linkage and legitimacy so they can then claim to have “real” websites so they can sell ad inventory and make money from.It’s a business model. It really has nothing to do with the quality of link farm content. Or whether they have a site with legitimate sticky visitors.

      1. Richard

        Metabolic effects must be the same…www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_a…

        1. LE

          That link doesn’t work.

        1. LE

          Oh thanks for that. I just forked and wasted time on a search to find others like this (so far only 1 good one but I’m not going to link to it).For this the media is to blame. Squarely. Ntim of course.They are the ones that put up stories and hype all of this. And get everyone thinking that this is an event like the Superbowl, Academy Awards, the “big” storm etc.They give “Black Friday” legitimacy and importance. Media tells you what to care or not care about. (They made the Internet as well all those early “dead bodies on ebay” stories as I like to say.)Just yesterday at Thanksgiving my step nieces said “so are you going to any black friday stuff tonight? They are newly hatched into the world (say between 9 and 12) and so seeing all this on TV. It’s implanting this type of thinking into their brains as important.I won’t even take my car in a mall parking lot between now and 2014. It’s not that parking is tight it’s that everyone is in the frenzy to grab a space and cut people off and being so overly aggressive. You can sense the ridiculous urgency in their driving.I feel bad for all those poor-er people who spend so much money on things they can’t afford for this holiday. [1] I feel bad every time I see people being interviewed who have lost everything in some tradgedy and then all you hear is whining about how they will or won’t get Christmas presents. It’s really sad when you are raised to believe something like that is so important. It’s an invented need not a real need. Great you are living in shitsville but you will get some stupid toys.[1] Otoh it’s great because all that money spent is better for me to be able to buy what I want cheaper.

          1. Richard

            It’s much more than a media coverage issue. It takes about $100,000 of GDP to generate every new job in the US. 70% of GDP is consumption.

  13. jason wright

    is the avc search box not working, or is it just me?

    1. falicon

      Sorry about that – I will debug and make sure it’s working for all.

  14. Matt Zagaja

    I am running an iPad Air w/iOS 7 and am not experiencing the crashes others seem concerned about. However it could be that they occur during heavy commenting activity. I am experiencing an issue where the Safari browser will scroll in a small increment every time a character is typed into the comment box.I agree with everyone else that the displayed ads are of low quality. I would prefer to see ads from a network like The Deck (http://decknetwork.net). This post also caused me to navigate to Disqus to see what options they offered for advertisers. I was disappointed to see Disqus lacked a self-service option for making an ad buy. As someone who purchases advertising for political committees that will only commit small budgets ($100-$500/month, though some are larger) I prefer self-service because I can “test the waters” and easily ramp up or down the buy as extra money comes in. It is also sometimes embarrassing to have such a small ad budget when I go to a sales person but even those amounts have proven to move the needle a bit with Facebook, Google, and YouTube ads.

  15. Salt Shaker

    Relevancy is a relative term. I was hoping for a facelift for Christmas so the advice offered by the “local mom” did have resonance w/ me :)All candor aside, targeted ads would be more beneficial to both the AVC community and its advertisers, but likely there’s not enough quality advertisers to make that approach either exclusive or sustainable. In theory, the CTR will be low and the type of products currently advertising will see low value in this audience. But theory and practicality are not always aligned.Bottom line: Yes, it’s annoying, but as a reader/marketer I recognize it’s part of the cost of doing business. However, that doesn’t mean a stronger approach in targeting isn’t a worthy pursuit (for all parties).

  16. Frank Fumarola

    1) Britney Spears Exposed! (Picture of Britney smiling)… links: http://www.totalbeauty.com/…2) The Unbelievable Thing Firefox Is Doing Now (Picture of a cartoon fox)… links: https://www.openforum.com/a…3) Middle Class To Be Crushed By Obamacare Taxes (Picture of Obama frowning)… links: http://moneymorning.com/ob-…The quality isn’t any different than Outbrain, Taboola, or the other players in the market, it seems. But the question seems to really be for you, Fred. Is the status quo for one of your portfolio companies good enough, or do you want them to make the advertising contain some level of user value versus just publisher and advertiser value?

    1. Ellie Kesselman

      1. Same content and website for me; my interest in Britney Spears is tiny.2. “8 Common Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make Again”; different (slightly annoying) content, same website as Frank’s #2, openforum.com3. “Why You Should Stop Using Shampoo”; different content and website, is firstoknow.comI agree with what Frank said regarding Taboola et. al.

    2. fredwilson

      Excellent question

      1. Frank Fumarola

        I look forward to seeing how the answer plays out πŸ™‚

      2. Frank Fumarola

        Oh, and one thing I meant to mention was that the disclosure that this is a Disqus ad unit is definitely not a best practice.I recommend you and any of your ad tech portfolio companies keep an eye on this http://adage.com/article/di

    3. Kirsten Lambertsen

      My immediate reaction to the thumbnail ads was similar: “these look just like Outbrain’s ads.” Now, Outbrain hasn’t done too shabbily with their ads πŸ™‚ But maybe there would be some value for all stakeholders in differentiating the Disqus styling, at least.Beyond that, I would expect the smart people at Disqus to eventually find their way to something more interesting for everyone involved. The trick is that, in the beginning, it’s probably advantageous (easier to sell) to have it remind advertisers of something they already know, understand and like.

  17. William Mougayar

    If they could nail the relevancy match for these links to the user’s implicit or explicit interests, I think that might increase the click rates even more.Even if it’s not perfect… if it can be better than the current, that would be great!

    1. fredwilson

      Relevancy requires massive liquidity of ads

      1. William Mougayar

        Is it conceivable for Disqus to use Zemanta’s relevancy engine? Zemanta is pretty good at that, in part I suspect because they have a long history with semantic technologies.

      2. falicon

        …or tougher decisions…like not showing an ad every time and in every place just because you can.

      3. ShanaC

        I’m not sold on that

      4. Frank Fumarola

        And a large team selling to brands (or the agencies that rep them). But as it stands now, the easiest advertisers to get on board are the performance marketers that can back out all spend (CPM, CPC, CPA) to a defined ROI. That’s why weight loss, debt, credit, loans, survey offers, etc are all so popular and will continue to be popular. The only way to get that massive liquidity *in multiple verticals* backed by high budgets so that they can scale with you is a brand strategy. IMO…

  18. JLM

    .I must not be seeing them for some reason.I come here for only one reason — the community and Fred; Fred and the community. [Ooops, that could be construed as more than one but WTF?]I must say the Disqus mobile experience is not working very well for me. It is like a barbed wire enema.While Disqus is the BEST comment management system out there, there is a bit of room for improvement. Nonetheless, I am loyal and satisfied user. Don’t read too much into that as I also pride myself on being a simpleton.JLM.

    1. Elia Freedman

      ‘Barbed wire enema” – while my Disqus rant was much more detailed, there is no denying your turn of phrase far outshines anything I included.

    2. sigmaalgebra

      I’ll see your barbed wire enema and raise you oneunanesthetized root canal procedure!

  19. Matt A. Myers

    Layer 1: Annoying Ads.Layer 2: Offer $2 per month subscription fee to remove ads.

    1. falicon

      I have always been surprised that more services don’t offer that subscription option…especially none at scale (where I bet it actually *would* work)…I wonder why?

      1. PhilipSugar

        Penny Gap.

        1. falicon

          Thanks! Forgot about that one!

      2. Matt A. Myers

        Because they don’t understand the psychology behind it.

  20. JamesHRH

    There is good news…it appears that Disqus thinks we are all doing well with the opposite sex. None of those ads showing up!

  21. Guest

    To be honest, as you requested, because of the ads, I have lowered my opinion of of both avc and disqus. No offense, but they definitely don’t fit here. Anywhere I see disqus in the future, I’ll be turned off after reading this article. Free is not free and can come with a high cost to integrity.

  22. Friv juego

    Thank you, I think that they cheapen your content. I see the same junk in the footer of the local newspaper site.

  23. Susan Rubinsky

    I don’t like that the ad header is “AROUND THE WEB” which is misleading; it is entirely unclear that these are ads. In my case I’m getting what look to be links to articles — in my case, Obamacare on Money Morning, Nike Redesign of NFL uniforms on Fast Company, and Mozilla Firefox on OPEN Forum.I think that if the ads were more relevant, I wouldn’t mind them as much. Some earlier commentators noted that Facebook and Google ads can be quite relevant at times and I concur, but on those platforms, ad relevancy is in the hand of the company placing the ad, not Facebook nor Google. Some who place ads are brilliant at relevancy and others are not. It would be interesting if there was a relevancy requirement on all ad platforms. Though I suspect that notion would be scary to due to fear of loss of revenue. Since Disqus is in the testing phase, it seems like an ideal time to test a theory such as this.

  24. Ellie Kesselman

    I have been a satisfied Disqus user since 2010, and run Disqus comments on one of my websites. Never had a single complaint. I am delighted with the feature customization, for overall visual appeal and in order to integrate nicely with my site design. I don’t display advertising, but I notice Disqus ads on other sites, as links. They are unobtrusive, mild. I would not describe the current Disqus ad display as “thumbnail” size. They look bigger! Maybe that’s due to the garish colors, in contrast to AVC’s pleasing look.Fred, do your readers click on those Disqus ads, enough so that you see increased (any) ad revenue? I am surprised, although if they were served based on viewer interest that would probably be a different story.

  25. PhilipSugar

    My advice is worth what it cost.Paul Graham said do things that don’t scale: http://paulgraham.com/ds.htmlIn this case I would say that means getting the right ads for this site. You could leverage and do other sites, I would say the easy ones would be Mark Suster’s and Brad Feld’s.There should be no reason that law firms, accounting firms, startup focused firms, etc, would not be willing to pay and improve the overall feel, not drag it down.As he points out this is unsexy not fun work for most techies. It means, gasp, actually selling and worse: even making calls. But I would think it has to work better than this.

    1. falicon

      Or run PSA ads until the relevant ones can start to filter into the system…a PSA ad around here would at least *feel* right.

      1. PhilipSugar

        Chicken and egg. As much as I don’t believe in AirBnB. They solved the get better listings/get more customers by priming the pump for better listings.

  26. Frank W. Miller

    This is my first comment on your blog. I got an email from Disqus the other day asking me about ads in the comments. I replied by telling them I thought they should make their money from blogs that use them as a service, not from those making comments. Disqus comments lists are one of the few places remaining where there aren’t any ads. I’d like it to stay that way. If ads start appearing, I’ll likely stop visiting those blogs. You might actually like that πŸ˜‰ but I hope you get the point.

    1. fredwilson

      they went down that path for a while. it sucks.

  27. obscurelyfamous

    Hey avc friends. Always fun to hear your thoughts on Disqus stuff.I’m hearing the word “relevancy” a lot and I totally get it. I’ve certainly learned how peculiar of a thing relevancy is when it comes to advertising performance. Our goals are to deliver for 3 people: 1) the advertisers want people to click their ads; 2) publishers want to make money and a happy audience; 3) users want to be happy with what they see.Relevancy sort of hides the nuances, but it’s the most visible thing for services like Disqus to improve. We have a lot to work with and I promise that this is improving. Leading up to better relevancy is the availability of good tools so that publishers can tailor and choose the experience a bit more. That’s what Fred is doing here (to be frank, avc’s crowd isn’t the perfect match for the ads, but it’s certainly a good place for general feedback). And because this site is usually configured to stress testing Disqus, you’ll see the wider gamut of content that may be more fitting elsewhere.Good thoughts — we’d rather be held over the fire pit here, as we roll out things, than anywhere else.

    1. falicon

      ##### THIS IS WHAT AN AD SHOULD LOOK LIKE #######I have no troubles or real complaints about the thumbnail or image ads…they are not highly relevant, but they are easy to skip and ignore (I’m so trained that I don’t even notice a single thing about them — they are a design element my eyes just hop right over).But what I think would/could be *way* more interesting for Disqus (and advertisers) is the fact that you can offer up long form advertising opportunities…ie comments (of any length really)…and users are somewhat trained to at least skim the comments.As long as you denote a comment as being a paid placement, I would have no troubles seeing them at the top of a thread (or mixed in after every 3-5 comments — a threshold defined by the blog owner).And of course, this long form version of native ads would provide you more content within itself so as to make relevancy matching easier/better (and level up by doing some click tracking and things to score performance and move/hide the ones that perform poorly)….ie. study the history and details of how Google struggled and eventually figured out ads (and copy the sh*t out of that approach for your own system).It will take some time, but it will work, and it will be great!##### THIS IS WHAT AN AD SHOULD LOOK LIKE #######

      1. fredwilson

        i would be interested in your ideas how that could scale kevin. i agree in principle, but cant’ see how promoted comments can scale because you need it to be relevant to the exact thread its in.

        1. falicon

          Why do you need those to be relevant but the current banners to not be? Still, relevant is of course better…and I think you can get that pretty good with some basic rules/logic (in addition to semantic analysis, you could do simple things like have a brand whitelist the blog owner approves and all those msg show, you could have a comment count threshold so that the msg diss appears as the conversation heats up [if not relevant], you could also just use the up and down voting details on a comment to determine what to do — so much more signal in the comment) Lots more ideas/details really…I’ll email you and Daniel with them when I get a chance.

          1. fredwilson

            well if its in the comment stream, not after it or before it, i feel like the relevancy requirement goes up an order of magnitude

          2. falicon

            I don’t think you should compromise just because of placement (it’s all on *your* site)…you either require relevance or you don’t.Double standards lessen authenticity and credibility.

      2. Russell

        just catching up on AVC comments now πŸ˜‰ Hope things have been well with you and your family monsieur falicon! Any good references for places to “study the history and details of how Google struggled and eventually figured out ads?”

        1. falicon

          Great to hear from you (and I hope you and your family have been doing well too!).There are three specific books I would recommend:1. I’m Feeling Lucky ( http://www.amazon.com/Im-Fe…2. In the Plex ( http://www.amazon.com/Plex-… )3. The Search ( http://www.amazon.com/Searc… )If you read all three (I used audible to get through them all), I think you start to get a pretty complete picture of Google (and many of their products including Adsense and Adwords)…for the ad stuff specifically, I actually found the “I’m feeling lucky” one to have a lot of really great nuggets….but you really need to get through all three to have a good base of the story (from a variety of angles).Beyond that, there are a lot of white papers and general information around the web that can give you some good insight and understanding…you just have to…um…google them. πŸ˜‰

    2. Salt Shaker

      Daniel, tough audience here, although presumably the feedback is of value to you and your colleagues. I really like Disqus..bugs and all! I think your ad monetization strat is inextricably linked to your company’s ability to segment its 300+ community of publishers/bloggers into large, clearly defined and scalable areas of interest (e.g. sports, politics, tech, fashion, finance, etc.) Companies that can successfully sell advertising direct can garner a price premium cause they have clearly defined audiences and can demonstrate both content relevancy (there’s that word again) and engagement. Companies that can’t demonstrate the above, by default, are far more dependent on ad networks, resulting in considerably less margin potential.

  28. Semil Shah

    I would think, here, that how these render on mobile (which is a hard nut for Disqus to crack) will end up being more critical. Luckily for them, if they can somehow tie tweets into the comments, the ads themselves can almost look native, like a Storify. As a user on the Web of Disqus (and big fan), I’d prefer text only ads in comments rather than thumbnails. I love Disqus and want them to succeed, but think it can be done in a tasteful way.

  29. kevin mcc

    More interesting (to me) than whether or not avc readers like/hate/tolerate the ads is the way you have proactively approached this topic, Fred. Many businesses at times face the challenge of introducing a new feature that is not ideal from a user experience standpoint but that is important to the business plan. If managed poorly, customer responses can be damaging. By openly discussing the ads with your audience and asking for input, you have dramatically altered the way I perceive the ads in a way that significantly reduces my likelihood of being annoyed by them. I am guessing behaviorial economists would have some nice jargon to throwbaround on this. Nice work and a good example for me to keep in mind if/when I face a similar challenge.

  30. Dave W Baldwin

    If they are working, keep ’em. It isn’t that big a deal to scroll past.

    1. laurie kalmanson

      lol, scroll past. knife in the heart to the buyer of adspace and the seller.

  31. Geoff

    Now if Disqus would allow commenting from Feedly that would be really useful.

    1. fredwilson

      i think the opposite needs to happen. feedly needs to feed disqus. not the other way around.

  32. Cynthia Schames

    Did the thumbnail ads go bye bye already? Before I even had a chance to comment from web (because Disqus mobile is still kinda pissy)?

    1. fredwilson

      i took them down. they weren’t working for this community

  33. laurie kalmanson

    there used to be long arguments over including ads from the start, and people being accustomed to seeing them, vs. adding them later, and annoying longterm users / early adopters, but having it always be that way for users who came afterthat said, the ads that follow me are always after the fact; waiting for them to get smarterif i just bought shoes, i don’t need shoes; show me a scarf or a hat or a purse

  34. Techman

    I want Disqus to fix the text color of the comment box back to black. It makes comments harder to type. Why can’t they quit with their bs designs?Not only are they taking control away form publishers, they insist that their design is great.

  35. fredwilson

    i agree with that criticism. that’s always the challenge with advertising. the folks with the money to spend buying traffic are rarely the folks with the most interesting content

  36. JamesHRH

    FB ads & Google ads are dominated by low end link bait garbage because those style of ads work best in that ad category.First thing I was taught in local ad sales was to call on people who believed in advertising. Then call on people who believed in our product (radio).Can’t fault Daniel & his crew for selling to customers who know this stuff works for them.Back in the day, of course, I took the job calling on local advertisers who Dilberted our product (radio or, in one case, our company in particular).Special Forces local ad sales ninja guru rockstar stuff (don’t know if anyone else saw Ben Evans awesome Indeed chart on the Twitter yesterday).

  37. Salt Shaker

    As good as Fred’s AVC blog is, it frankly doesn’t attract and deliver the critical mass/reach that blue-chip advertisers covet. Simply put, it’s a pimple on an elephant’s butt (although admittedly an attractive butt). This biz is still driven by reach, although every ad company in America purports to have proprietary algorithms. The Disqus network is too fragmented to sell ads on an a la carte basis, so they have to bundle in mass, which means our being exposed to a lot of crap. Not very desirable as a reader, but easy enough to gloss over.

  38. Sam Parker

    The sites that we actively invited to the early phase of the image-based ad program were reviewed as being relatively closer matches to the ads available. In this phase, we were evaluating our ability to identify this match and invite the right sites. AVC turned the feature on without being in the invite wave.There’s a lot that goes into perceived ad quality. I expect sites that are about narrow topics (like AVC) will see a noticeable change in ad mix once we release an upcoming feature that would exclude coarse groupings of ads that aren’t appropriate. Here that would filter out the ads related to health, politics, celebrities, and such. The specific effects are more complicated, and will needed to be evaluated on a specific site and user basis as the marketplace evolves.

  39. ShanaC

    Nope. Bids are determined in part by clickibility. Outbrain also has this problem

  40. panterosa,

    money β‰  taste/intelligence

  41. Elia Freedman

    I disagree. That’s the problem with trying to shoe-horn broad based ads into topic specific sites. If you went out and sold ads, my guess is you would get very relevant advertisers in a heart beat.

  42. kenberger

    Fred, if that’s the actual answer, then i’ve got to call out something: we had this conversation here on this blog as far back as 2006. You had made the comment about “what if ad tech got really good at predicting what you actually might like and showed you that?” Here we are 7 years hence, and I guess we’re still not there or it turned out not to be solvable for the reason you cite.In any case, there is no question here: THESE ADS “stories” ARE UTTER DRECK. They contaminate your amazing site. I shudder to even repeat the 3 captions that are displaying to me now. 1 is downright offensive. I’m stuck with turning Adblock Plus back on for now.

  43. LE

    the folks with the moneyTraffic arbitrage (my other comment).Perhaps what disqus needs to do is get the arbitragers to be the disqus business development or ad sales team. Since they seem to know how to get higher quality ads on their phony sites and know how to hustle the dollar from advertisers. Imagine if they had a real product to sell.

  44. Matt A. Myers

    The money’s going towards producing content, not towards advertising. πŸ™‚

  45. Elia Freedman

    Discus has nailed broad. They failed on relevance.

  46. Elia Freedman

    I should have added the little wink sarcasm face. πŸ˜‰

  47. fredwilson

    Thanks for your brutal honesty. I want it

  48. sdefor01

    Agreed. I also run Adblock for the same reason. I feel bad knowing that I’m also blocking ads for the 5% of sites that have relevant ads that don’t suck. Problem is I don’t know which 5% those are, since Adblock is on all the time.

  49. Matt Zagaja

    I find that ads on Google and Facebook are relevant and often from companies I am interested in. Right now on Facebook I see ads for Rosetta Stone and Fitbit. While I do not own these products I would consider buying them and they are reputable. Although I currently find DuoLingo to be sufficient for my language needs.GMail ads tend to be a bit spammy to me, but I have gotten relevant ads when doing Google searches that I have clicked.

  50. ShanaC

    Point being it won’t get better yet

  51. LE

    It was kind of obvious that the type of advertising cheapens the blog because of what it is.Back in the hey day of newspapers you would never see any ads that cheapened the publication. Didn’t matter if someone could pay for a full page ad it had to meet certain standards. Now of course because the shit has hit the fan they will (and have to) take anybodies money.The advertising on this blog I fully support. The type of ads are cheap and don’t do much. [2]I understand that you are doing this primarily for disqus and it has nothing to do with the money you are getting (or not getting).But there is no question that there is value to the right companies to place ads on AVC.com.Keeping with my policy of generally not opening my mouth unless I am willing to back up (and make it effortless for someone to sign on the dotted line) what I say I will be glad to be your “ad rep” on AVC.com. You place a small box saying “advertise here” and put an email address and/or phone number I give you. And I will vet the ads for you. All for a % of the ad revenue [1] that I am able to negotiate on your behalf for the blog.[1] I don’t plan to do any outbound selling but might if I happen to think of anyone that might advertise that I run into.[2] The right type of advertising will enhance the blog. Do you think the NY Times would be as good if it had no advertising at all?

  52. LE

    Startups generally fail on the details. Because they have no experience with the details. They are more “a rising tide floats all boats”.VC’s who have never run businesses from the ground up don’t understand the importance of the nitty gritty details of the product or service that is being sold.I mean it’s kinda obvious on it’s face that those types of ads are shitty.Like if you had a fancy restaurant you wouldn’t put ads on your menu the way delis do (or is done on the placemats). And you wouldn’t hang Tv’s in the dining room like at a sports bar.My guess is that Fred knows all this though..He has simply opened this discussion as a way of telling disqus to get their act together. [1] [2][1] To which Fred might say “you give me to much credit..”[2] If you want your significant other to do or not do something don’t tell them directly or give then an order. Tell them a story about a friend’s wife instead (what you like or dislike) and they will not be defensive and have a much better chance of taking the hints cloaked in a story.

  53. Richard

    Yep. If ever there was a baited question, this was it. The problem is that the answers “these ads suck” does’ t mean the ads are not ineffective.

  54. fredwilson

    You give me too much credit πŸ™‚

  55. Matt A. Myers

    Is that worth his time? Can a premium be charged for the exposure? Lots of questions before knowing feasibility.

  56. PhilipSugar

    That is exactly where Disqus could make money. And from the last post, if they had open books, then one might consider. The producer is also the buyer.

  57. Elia Freedman

    Probably not for his purposes, although I guess that depends what he wants to do with it. Guys like John Gruber at Daring Fireball get $4-8k per week for sponsorships, though, which can help an awful lot of chess clubs.By the way, if I was a young guy looking to learn how to sell, what an amazing opportunity selling ads for AVC would be!

  58. Matt A. Myers

    There are lots of possibilities. It’s a matter of making an intuitive choice, which only becomes intuitive once you’ve thought through every possibility and taking into account every variable. And that choice or viable options might not be as big of a money maker as you’d hope – and not as easy money as just taking “spammers” with lower quality products and content (meaning higher profits, more money to spend on advertising).

  59. Ellie Kesselman

    Elia, I agree, re your 2nd paragraph. This is an advertiser’s dream audience, given their likely criteria!

  60. Salt Shaker

    Daring Fireball has 200K paid subscribers @ $19 a year and generates 4-5M monthly page views. Apples to Oranges. To the best of my recollection, Fred’s metrics aren’t nearly that high, plus advertisers place a premium on paid vs. free content cause the user/reader is vested financially (as well as emotionally) in the content. Hence, in theory, they are more engaged. Yes, AVC reaches a coveted audience, but the reach isn’t large enough to generate any “real” ad money. You’d be working the night shift at Target to supplement your day gig, even if you were successful in garnering a premium CPM.

  61. JamesHRH

    Not sure I am following. They can’t force relevant advertiser to show up and buy links. How they find customers does not affect which customers are buying…..

  62. JamesHRH

    mine are solar panels, credit card debt waiver scam, medical, sports game, michael kors outlet (what?) & a social game.I don’t play games online (maybe 10 times ever), we like Michael Kors but the ad looks totally scammy, medical ad is at least Ontario relevant & solar panels are around a bit in our area.If I never looked at them I would miss nothing, so I don’t.And I sold media and love great ads – there is a Chevy truck one on ESPN radio that promotes the quiet cab through a Dad / Daughter story line that is terrific.

  63. Salt Shaker

    Filtering is certainly a necessary/worthy pursuit, but it’s always a balancing act….Too much filtering can deliver too granular an audience that advertisers just dismiss, while too little filtering can deliver the coveted mass, but with less targeted/relevant ads. My hunch Disqus will fall more in the latter than former camp. All that aside, I do think Disqus is a good product, and will be even better when some of the tech bugs are ironed out. Keep up the good work!

  64. awaldstein

    I thought so myself!Seemed like the most pertinent, most honest, most helpful thing I could add!Now, I”ll go back an dig deep to create profundity in a phrase πŸ˜‰

  65. fredwilson

    I dont really want ads on AVC but I have experimented with them a lot here. I have learned a lot from that and continue to do so

  66. Elia Freedman

    Oh, sure. Through the last avc post back at me. πŸ™‚

  67. Michael Elling

    “The Disqus network is too fragmented to sell ads on an a la carte basis, so they have to bundle in mass”. They are not solving the one to many, many to one problem.

  68. CJ

    Daring Fireball…Apples to Oranges…LOL Well played. :-)Amazing what people will pay to reinforce their own beliefs though, couldn’t see a reason to pay someone to read their thoughts when I already know what they’ll say.

  69. Techman

    I don’t think ads belong on AVC. I think this community is pretty huge already and doesn’t really need to any bigger.