Ruben Kane, the entrepreneur behind the "Adult Dating" site/social network AdultSpace, believes that when it comes to deploying anonymous behavioral data to increase engagement and ad revenues for social media and mobile apps, adult entertainment may again have something to teach the online ad industry.
AdultSpace, Kane says, started out as a hobby, a side project, an alternative (read R- to X-rated versus PG) to conventional dating sites, dedicated to what he describes as "open-minded single adults seeking companionship for short term, long term or alternative lifestyle relationships.
"What was interesting," Kane recalls, "was that most dating sites were too mechanized, not really social or community places, not really fun hang-outs. 'Adult sites' were not really friendly places to be either. So the concept of community and quality of experience has been a key differentiator for us from the beginning."
A big part of that process of differentiation was attempting to create a site truly responsive to user preferences and interests, using both behavioral data and user-managed tools.
"We allow users control over what they want to be exposed to in terms of not only types of content preferences, but level of explicitness as far as sexual content," Kane explains. "Members have tools to define what they want and don't want to in terms of the member profiles they want to scan and, of course, the communities they wish to participate in, as well as the content recommendations they want to be informed about.
"If someone signs up. we don't require a credit card or address or real name," he adds." Everyone is anonymous or as anonymous as they want to be. In that sense we are zealous in completely excluding personally identifiable information."
Kane claims that at Adultspace he tried to extend this control to create as fully customizable experiences as possible, which includes customizing the types of advertising people are going to see.
In attempting to accomplish this. the site tracks each action on the site beginning whenever a particular event happens more than once, whether it be a particular type of video viewed or participation in particular groups.
Rather than place a cookie on the user's computer. the site tracks members' activity by keeping track of what they do. Another database table keeps tabs on what members watch, what types of groups they join and what conversations they get involved in, with ads served accordingly.
The idea guiding the technology, he adds, "has always been that the site is there to facilitate communication and connections between people based on their interests, which in our case are erotic interests. So to do what we set out to do the site needed to be responsive to what people wanted and to learn to help them better find what they were looking for."
In support of this approach, Kane cites statistics showing that in the past few months the network has expanded the membership by 75%, with the number of pages visited much more than doubling and average time on site spent per visitor exploding by over 300%.
Discussions and activities on the site range beyond sex, to fashion, music, lifestyles, gadgets, even cars.
Another, perhaps even more interesting development, has been that the advertising base Adultspace has begun to attract is crossing over outside the confines of adult entertainment.
"We figured of course the base of our advertisers would be related to adult entertainment," Kane says. "It's been intriguing, though to see other types of advertisers discover that the site's users are highly interested in a variety of areas. For instance we had a contest for the best tattoo on the site, which turned into a prime targeting vehicle for tattoo designers and products and brands associated with tattoo culture and fashion."
Marketplaces developed by members are also attracting a fairly eclectic mix of advertisers.
By tracking what products members check out, browse, talk about, recommend, and buy, the site is also developing and hoping to further leverage more shopping-intent data. So if a member is checking out iPods for sale, for instance, they can be served ads for emusic online for music downloads, or ads for iPod accessories.
Kane believes that by focusing behavioral data on building community and engagement, a content-optimized, user-centric precision-targeted adult social networking site could become a great edgy channel for advertising by products and brands seeking alternative ways of reaching their market, as publications like Playboy and Penthouse did a generation ago.
"The reason we're attractive to advertisers, I think. is that the atmosphere of the site encourages engagement, and using behavioral data to make the site the most fun and the least threatening to visitors is a big part of that."
Despite the success Adultspace has in targeting adult content online, Kane believes that mobile may be the ultimate channel for the type of marketing channel he envisions.
"While we haven't fully worked out all the details of our mobile strategy," he says, "what we do know is that mobile networks will be the key to taking targeting to a higher level. It's an organic outgrowth of how many members are already using the site as a way of forming groups that are based on shared interests and also on location. We see mobile as a natural extension of what we've already been doing online with meetup groups.
"Computers are going to become less and less central to the way people experience and use the internet," Kane predicts, "so we want to be among the first to get at a new way of vitally relating geo-targeting and behavioral targeting. "