Build A Wall -- For The Third Garden

Two walled gardens own 82% of the online advertising business. There is Facebook: like Gramercy Park, locked up tight, but contextually one-dimensional. There’s Google: like the Bronx Zoo, with a small fence around the whole thing, and lots of little cages holding species as diverse as search, ad serving, and video publishing.

Then there is everything else — that is the Third Garden. We sometimes call it the ecosystem, or the open Web. But it’s a Third Garden. Like a national forest, it doesn’t have a wall.

There are little walled gardens within, but the ecosystem’s organic wildness and diversity yield surprises good and bad, from Wikipedia to bots (like ants).

The Third Garden is the vast majority of the Internet.  Virtually every person on the planet goes there every day. Talk about audiences; it’s got ‘em. The ability to watch people behave in this diverse environment creates insights marketers never dreamed of, and context opportunities that can fit any product perfectly.



The Third Garden has scale. Big demand-side platforms see 90% global reach every day! That would be awesome except for a) fraud, b) invalid traffic, c) bots, and d) fragmented measurement and accounting.  A wall, (and gate) can be constructed to fix most of this, if only occupants of the forest will get along for a minute. Chinese proverb: The shrike hunting the locust is unaware of the hawk hunting him.

Publishers will further suffer at the hands of the duopoly unless they ban together behind a wall. That’s governance. It’s a viable strategy for a thousand Davids facing two Goliaths.

Some blame programmatic technology for the problems of Internet advertising, but Facebook and Google use all the same basic technology.

The difference is, they have a wall. Here is how we might build one for the Third Garden.

Only audited publishers. Create a system where advertisers can bid context and audience, with viewability and “human” as a given. It’s a club. Publishers can join  — but only if they conform to auditable rules. Converge all Third Garden publishers into a single pipe that any buying platform can access. This could be an exchange —or, cheaper, a system of header bidding. And don’t leave out the long tail; that robs the Garden of its main strength.  

A simple, reliable, valid, universal currency, measured in census. Make human/viewable the currency. Why? Because that’s what the customer wants. The Media Rating Council (MRC) eschews “human” in favor of “invalid traffic” but that’s the difference between “treatment” and “wellness.” Advertisers want to expose actual people to their messages, so measure that.  

Foolproof measurement. Create a panel against which the MRC can approve measurement tags that measure bots and viewability.  Today, the MRC approves a tag if it measures viewability, but variances are huge. Simply, it’s not currency-ready because of inconsistent measurement.  There is no truth set for actual tag performance against real-world media.

This would cost money to build, and the industry should pay the MRC to do it.

Develop a simple shared counting system for behind-the-wall participants. Allow all currency-certified tags to count human-viewable impression by posting in real time to a server of record, encrypted, when they see that an ad has been viewed by a human. We use servers of record today, but they count ads rendered, not in view by real people.

Trace the supply chain. Make all intermediaries inform the tag of the source of the inventory at bid-win time. This way, the server of record can carry the complete path of the impression through the supply chain.

Enable selected, controlled access of currency data by advertisers. Facebook does this today, and the data even includes pricing! Allow any party to a transaction to have access to campaign data from the server of record.

All this stuff is doable — but not simple. It all requires collective action. This plan will enable quality advertising, capitalize on diversity of contexts, save publishers from being squashed by the duopoly, thwart fraudsters, make buying in scale simpler, and keep trash out of our lovely national forest.

The market share of the Third Garden is now 18% and shrinking, and advertisers have had it.  At the same time,  Marc Pritchard’s calls for transparency (now widely published) are reasonable bedrock: Sell me impressions viewed by people, and simplify buying.

We know what’s needed. Now all we have to do is match it with what’s possible.

6 comments about "Build A Wall -- For The Third Garden".
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  1. Augustine Fou from FouAnalytics, March 18, 2017 at 7:12 a.m.

    Ted, this is absolutely right on. There is enormous value in the sites that belong to this "third garden." But if we don't act quickly and aggressively to remove the weeds and coyotes that have invaded it already, we risk losing the free Internet as we know it. In fact, most of the content referenced by the other two walled gardens -- search results of content and shares of content -- is from this third garden. If this content goes away, the other two gardens are harmed too. 

    So just like a national forest is afforded some basic protections by law and by practice, this garden could be better protected. Individual efforts, like bounty hunters hunting the coyotes, only go so far and cannot save the entire ecosystem. 

    Let's hope this is a rational and motivating call-to-arms for greater action, soon. 

  2. Andrew Susman from New Value Associates, March 18, 2017 at 11:17 a.m.

    From nature...the host/parasite relationship needs to be balanced for the co-evolution of both parties.  The Duo look like free riders, gorging on the fruits of the Third Garden.   On the other, hand it is the responsbility of someone to organize that hugger mugger of proto-audiences roiling around in the unlit wildnerness of the Third Garden and reason them into a usable form for an advertiser - or a consumer - in short "getting it together."  It's an uneasy equilibrium, but it's mandatory for both to survive?  The Third Garden has leverage and must now act on it - for everybody's good - including the Duo.

    Without a rebalance, based on on an enlightened self-interest...

    "You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water." Isaiah 1:30

  3. Charles Cantu from RESET DIGITAL, March 18, 2017 at 11:34 a.m.

    100% accurate assesment Ted.  As I have warned many agencies and publishers in receent weeks.  Now is the appropriate time to get ahead of fraud knowing that bad people will always try to game the system it's key for us to stay ahead of them... And, of course we must ensure that the currency we're agreeing to transact on/with is measured by folks like Dr. Fou and Jonah Goodhart (MOAT) so that we can actually move forward less reliant on the two mega corps.  Publishers and Advertisers (and their agencies) are at an inflection point.  Great decisions to partner with companies that are not just transparent but filled with integrity are critical... IMHO

  4. Charles Cantu from RESET DIGITAL replied, March 18, 2017 at 11:39 a.m.


  5. Max Kalehoff from MAK, March 18, 2017 at 6:14 p.m.

    Ted, Agree with you 100%. Though a key piece you didn't cover is ad products that work. They must work for the consumer, in that they have a positive impact on the user experience, and create value. They also must work for the advertiser, in that they perform against business objectives and reveal insights about the campaigns, creatives, formats, audiences and more. The two big walled gardens have largely been succeeding because they've delivered great ad products, and they're innovating like hell. There are two giant walled gardens, but there also are some other emerging, scaling platforms as well, like Snapchat and Pinterest. These platforms are innovating at breakneck speed as well, and delivering great ads products that create user value and drive performance and insight for the advertise as well. That innovation and impact is inextricably linked to ignoring (or at least de-prioritizing) IAB standards and constantly pushing the bar within their own uniqiue, native experiences. And that is why these publisher platforms are becoming the preferred method of consuming publisher content -- their experience don't suck; load times work great on mobile or any device; they ads are targeted and they fit into the native experience. Is that notion at all possible in a third walled garden? I argue it is not. Regardless, the vast sea of struggling publishers -- relying on unreliable cookie systems -- have a ridiculous amount of easy wins to make better ad formats and better experiences for their users. If they mix that with your measurement and accounting recommendations in a third-walled-garden cooperative, they'd have a much brighter future. 

  6. Don Mathis from Echelon AI, March 26, 2017 at 6:42 p.m.

    Ted, bang-on and hallelujah! This kind of effort is both long overdue and critical for the non-aligned 3rd garden dwellers to thrive and potentially even survive. The fraud issue alone ought to be justification enough....

    My concern is that, while your call to action is compelling, this type of coordinated response seems to be a tough putt. A little like herding cats, no?  

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