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Really personalized advertising

Greg Elin had the best idea at the LazyWeb as Competitive Sport BOF last night. He wants a way to dump calendar items, tasks, and the like out of his calendaring system (iCal, Outlook, etc.) and have those items display as ads on the web sites that he visits. So, when he goes to Slashdot, a banner ad tells him to stop for orange juice on the way home. When he goes to, there’s an ad telling him that his mother’s birthday is coming up.

In a later conversation, Matt Haughey outlined a proof-of-concept approach to the problem. He’d use Mozilla to override the stylesheet, strip out the current ads, and plug in his own ads, which would be created by pulling them out of iCal and using a Perl or PHP graphics program in conjunction with a local web server to serve them on the fly.

Greg said he would be willing to pay a small amount for this service, and I bet quite a few other people would as well.

Reader comments

DougApr 25, 2003 at 1:44PM

I have the feeling that (smart) sites running ads would just modify the code each time something threatening their revenue like this came around. Of course, it would just lead to constant one-upping between the sites and the users, which at the very least could be fun.

Steve DieringerApr 25, 2003 at 1:54PM

Sounds good to me...

I already fight ads using the site blocking feature on my home gateway and a list of sites in my hosts file....

DavidApr 25, 2003 at 2:10PM

A slightly different twist: invite sites to participate in this process, instead of trying to outflank them, which will be annoying to maintain (as Doug notes).

Agree on a style name (side_todo_something_something) that is unlikely to be replicated accidentally, and allow web designers place them on the page where they see fit (possibly near textads, so that textads become more valuable/desirable).

Or, this could be a centralized service (like iSync automatically updates my to-do items. When I visit a page a cookie identifies me and the correct file is pulled from the server and displayed (I know this opens up a lot of security concerns). Yahoo and MSN are both in a position to do this immediately.

Thanks, Jason, for the great converage of the conference.

Gary BurdApr 25, 2003 at 2:12PM

Here's a way to do it. Create a desktop proxy server that replaces ads with the content you want as the pages flow through it. Configure your browser to use the desktop proxy server and off you go.

Desktop proxy servers are the basis of some banner blockers. A search for "banner proxy" on Freshmeat finds nine open source projects in this area. Perhaps one of these can be modified to add the personal info.

Joshua KaufmanApr 25, 2003 at 2:58PM

Well, I have to give props to Greg Elin for the very innovative idea. A few thoughts come to mind.

Would it replace every single ad? If not, how would I know which ads to ignore and which ads to pay attention to? Maybe a certain border color could be added to personal reminders to differentiate them from real ads. Another advantage is that the reminders would appear in different places depending on what site I was on, which will keep you on your toes. (There's a problem with windows alerts always appearing in the middle of the screen. They're frequently ignored because many users think they always say the same thing.)

dowingbaApr 25, 2003 at 3:30PM

If you fail to do something on the list, it could crash your computer as punishment (don't ask me the logistics behind this because obviously there are none).

Jeremy Tai AbbettApr 25, 2003 at 3:48PM

Or better yet, if you fail to do something it has a direct consequence to people that are linked to your site. For example, if Jason K. forgot to take out the trash Meg would have it posted on her site.

Greg SchuelerApr 25, 2003 at 3:51PM

A while ago I wrote a small patch to the Internet Junkbuster Proxy that instead of just blocking ad images, it responded with a 302 redirect to any custom url. I used this to replace images with a transparent gif so that the layout of the page would be maintained, just no ads.

It could easily be used to just redirect to a local php page which dished out generated images.

If someone's interested in it, send me an email.

Greg SchuelerApr 25, 2003 at 3:57PM email is [email protected] (thought that would get linked)

jkottkeApr 25, 2003 at 4:38PM

A slightly different twist: invite sites to participate in this process, instead of trying to outflank them, which will be annoying to maintain (as Doug notes).

Totally...that was Greg's original idea, that this would be a service of some sort, not the quick hack that Matt described.

StacieApr 25, 2003 at 5:21PM

Actually, the result would be: People would be paying more attention to those content areas. Which, in theory, would be better for people who advertise in the spot.

It's like driving down the highway and making sure you check out the billboards, in case your husband has added something to your grocery list, on your way to the store.

Very cool idea.

JonApr 25, 2003 at 5:31PM

But if iCal was truly well integrated into my life, would this even be a problem? I have an iPod, a Mac at work, and a Mac at home. By always being near an iCal-enabled device (not to mention my .Mac account), I already know what I need, thankyouverymuch.

This way I can block ads and not feel like I'm forgetting something. Isn't that the way it should be?

jonahApr 25, 2003 at 7:33PM

Most of us read our email, if you want persistant reminders, why not just set up a script to email you remiders? Aren't you generally programmed to ignore ads already?

jcterminalApr 25, 2003 at 7:45PM

Can we just create a small script that replaces banner ads with scenes from Gigantor?

dale.Apr 25, 2003 at 10:02PM

Like Jonah said, I would'nt read those ads, even if they were placed there by me. I'd prefer have my Mac tell me when I go out the door that I must not forget the milk.

Kip IngramApr 26, 2003 at 10:10AM

I agree with keeping ads and reminders separate. Toast the ads and use whatever organizer technology you already use for the reminders. I use a Samsung I300 Palm/cellphone, and I can't imagine life without it or something like it.

Tom TaylorApr 26, 2003 at 11:22AM

There is of course a fundamental problem with this. Many website rely on advertising to pay the bills. If we start blocking adverts, many of sites could simply flounder and die.

Unless of course you want to donate money to sites that you like/use often, but don't wish to view advertising on.

We all get annoyed with pop-ups, pop-unders, pop-all-over-the-shops, and rightly so, but there are plenty of websites that understand this, and keep it simple and sensible, and these should be supported.

TibApr 26, 2003 at 1:54PM

IMO am idea or inovation should cover a need, practical or creative, of the user or the author, or simplify things in a radical manner. This would not cover such thing, and simple ways for reminders exist already both on and off the computer screen (cell phones).

All-Time QuarterbackApr 27, 2003 at 3:00AM

Where can I learn about this "Matt Haughey" of whom you speak? Is he the guy that made that hideous blue site that's a complete ripoff of IraqFilter? Poseur.

SteveApr 27, 2003 at 11:23AM

It would really be great if the filter went both ways. If you could write to the service aswell that would be truly great. I hate opening new apps. That's why I never write stuff down in iCal when I should be.

JimApr 28, 2003 at 1:20PM

I like that idea of Greg Elin. Great. Just do it.

John WehrApr 28, 2003 at 10:13PM

ehrm, right, well what if you wrote a service that would be a custom, personal ad database. You could upload as many ads to yourself as you liked (ie iCal) and you could name your price for third parties to buy ad space on pages you view. Click-through data etc would of course be recorded.

If you didn't want ads you could always just buy the space yourself, which would probably be pretty cheap, like a tenth of a cent per impression or something.

You could choose what advertisers you want, have no ads at your favorite sites, and so on.

keith knutssonApr 29, 2003 at 12:52AM

It would be a great opportunity for companies like evite. Display the banner ad, detect evite cookie... encourage login via iframe... access calendar item.

VishiApr 29, 2003 at 2:14AM

Well I'd never use the application coz, I would have to look at all the ads to see if its is my list or just an ad.

MarcusApr 29, 2003 at 2:21AM

Death to advertising. I just can't see DoubleClick et al taking that kind of thing lying down though - subverting their adverts rather than just removing them?

Hmm. Watch the lawsuits fly in - especially if you get people to pay for such a cool idea.

RichardApr 30, 2003 at 10:25AM

I'm a bit appalled at the accolades this advertising approach is getting. Has it not occurred to anyone that tailor-making these ads requires that Mr. Ad-man will have access to all kinds of information about you, some of which may be rather private.

"Advertising is the rattling of a stick in a swill bucket"
George Orwell

DylanApr 30, 2003 at 1:22PM

I can see it now, you are in the sales meeting with your laptop showing the new site design, and up pops the reminder for.....

The proctologist at 12:00.


PeterApr 30, 2003 at 4:27PM

I like to actually remeber things. If that doesn't work. I write a to do list.

Why use a sledge hammer to put in thumb tacks? Isn't that what the dot com craze was all about? We have enough reminder tools and gadgets.

LucianMay 01, 2003 at 11:47AM

That's some amazing insight. Marketers fail to realise that the very core of business is not just to make profits, but to provide a service to their customers. Such ads would work as they operate on the side of angels, incorporating themselves into our lifestyles instead of expecting us to live on theier terms.

johnMay 02, 2003 at 6:31PM

It seems that the more we try to block/ignore ads, the more invasive they get. Banners became popups, popups became integrated Flash, etc. I'm not saying one shouldn't be able to control what they see, just don't be surprised if it proliferates the online equivalent of product placement.

DanMay 04, 2003 at 2:06AM

I write reminders to myself on slips of paper.

Hillbilly IndianMay 05, 2003 at 1:17PM

in 30+ replies, I voice of sanity - no one questions the fundamental concept - why not just try and make an effort to remember things instead of spending brain power on inventing new devices and methods to remind yourself. Jeeze. A brain clever enough to think up such ideas might actually have the capacity to store some important information too, don't you think. O tempora, o mores!

danMay 08, 2003 at 5:00AM

for those who are unaware, you can easy get rid of ads on your blog or free-hosted website with CSS. view the source here : or here : for the how-to.

MicahMay 08, 2003 at 6:42PM

dan, that's pretty clever of you. I used the same CSS trick at VirtualAve a couple years back as proof of concept, then chucked it. Also considering that their TOS state the following:

"Each page you create that is hosted by VirtualAvenue as part of the Free Hosting Service is required to carry VirtualAvenue HTML advertising. These advertisements will include, but may not be limited to, one 468x60 sponsorship banner. All advertisements must be located "above the fold" on all VirtualAvenue pages."

Blogspot pretty much leaves this up to your conscience; don't abuse the freedom or it'll end up being taken away. Blogger is a decent weblogging service, please do your part to support them.

To get this back on topic, I'd agree with Dan about the pieces of paper. A small ringed notepad in the back pocket does wonders for my memory.

danMay 08, 2003 at 7:23PM

yeah - i guess i should really pay some money and get the ad banners removed the proper way :)
.. it was really just a 'for instance' - now I'm feeling guilty :)

Steve_UKMay 15, 2003 at 9:44AM

UK - interesting innovation that adds some value is well worth considering. increasing the online experience - whether functional, operational, visual or as coding - is surely a must for online interactivity, beyond that of a grey B2B network or glitzy shopping mall of tatt.

I think its a good idea, and that it has credit and viability in the 'youth' & 'entertainments' markets, where the addition of a self-styled avatar, as the induviduals online persona, would enhance the personalised model. A Scottish (UK) company, would be an excellent addition, adding an animated visual virtual i.d.

Personally speaking, portals and ISP's should consider sharing data to improve the user experience, delete duplication and personalise the web visits each user makes. Confirmed registrations - whether through stockmarkets, email accounts or youth entertainment sites (eg) - generate the model, into which the organisation download and reminders can be initiated. Thoughts?

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.