Commentary

History Shows That Walls Have A Way Of Coming Down

“Tear down that wall!” was the message former President Ronald Reagan sent to Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the also former Soviet Union on June 12, 1987. Reagan called on Gorbachev to knock down the barrier dividing West and East Berlin since 1961. It was a historic moment—and also one of Reagan’s most memorable lines.

Perhaps it’s also a fitting phrase today, when there are parts of the Web that aren’t exactly open, and more toll booths are coming. In a hat tip to the phrase, Randy Wootton, CEO of Rocket Fuel, says walls on the open Web need to come down in a LinkedIn post entitled “Tear Down That Wall! – Why Digital Marketers Will Always Demand an Open Web.”

Wootton takes on the oft-used concept of “walled gardens” like Google and Facebook in the post. To be sure, tons of money can be made by building walls on the Web. But, Wooten writes, no matter what happens in the short term, in the long run “simpleandopen always wins.” He cites the usefulness of open APIs that enable third parties to create improvements and collaborate in ways that they would not otherwise be able to.

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Wootton brings up walled gardens at a time when many in the industry are chattering about them. Last week, Google made a move to open up its walled garden by making its First Look product available to all DoubleClick for Publishers clients globally. It also began testing exchange bidding in Dynamic Allocation, which means its exchange is now open to the real-time bids of outside exchange partners.

But Wootton is looking at a complex landscape, with issues around who has control over customer data, advertisers not having visibility into how their ad dollars are spent and into preferred partner relationships, such as Google customers having to use certain partners to gain access to Google audiences, even if other platforms may perform better. Wootton is correct in saying walled gardens help their owners circumvent competition.

There’s been a lot of discussion about transparency in the agency world, and the concept also applies to ad-tech providers. Wootton argues “there’s nothing less transparent than the brick walls of a Walled Garden. The question those walled gardens will need to ask themselves is how long they plan on holding out against what’s best for the industry, and their customers.” 

He says data lies at the heart of the issue—that making advertising decisions is harder when people are flying blind, because data “runs into various walls” and “no marketer ever chooses to stay captive for very long. It just doesn’t make sense for them. Walled Gardens won’t last, because marketers have no incentive to be held captive.”

Wootton’s points are valid, and he’s certainly not the only one making them. But he also has a vested interest in advancing Rocket Fuel's use of machine learning and artificial intelligence for real-time decisions.  

Still, his larger argument about the inevitability of walls falling away and the free Web is a good one. Ad-tech players need to do what’s right for their customers—marketers, media companies, publishers, agencies and other third parties—regardless of whether they’ve erected walls or are not as transparent about costs, data and relationships as they could be.

2 comments about "History Shows That Walls Have A Way Of Coming Down".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, April 19, 2016 at 9:48 a.m.

    While the demise of walled gardens may be good for advertisers trying to compare their response rates and other metrics across websites, it's hard to see why major publishers would open up their member files to anyone who might care to use them and the attendant "data". After all there is a basic proprietory interest to account for. As for the idea that this might benefit consumers, that's open to debate.

  2. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost, April 19, 2016 at 10:40 a.m.

    You may be right. Publishers, esp. premium ones, have a unique and privileged relationship with their readers. We, as consumers of their content, trust them or want to. I didn't directly take up the issue about whether it's good for consumers; I'm simply saying that competition is good and that there's no level playing field for it with so-called walled gardens.

    All stakeholders have an interest in consumer data and let's face it, ad tech companies, advertisers, publishers and others have more of it than you think.

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