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There's a ticking time bomb inside the online advertising market

Half of all online ads are never seen by a human being, huge amounts of traffic and clicks come from bot networks, and fraud is rampant.

Mathew Ingram

July 1, 2015


The media industry has no shortage of things to worry about. Audiences are going elsewhere, whether it’s to social networks like Facebook or digital-only competitors such as BuzzFeed, and so advertising revenues continue to fall—not just for print, but for digital and video and pretty much everything. But there’s an even bigger problem for ad-based media that doesn’t get talked about much: Namely, the fact that a massive chunk of the advertising market is based on smoke and mirrors, or even outright fraud.


Department store magnate John Wanamaker famously said: “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” He was talking about traditional ads in print newspapers and magazines and other formats, which were notoriously difficult to measure. As a result, media companies were able to charge huge sums based on the assumption that lots of people saw an advertiser’s message.


That was all supposed to change when advertising and media went digital, since one of the benefits of the internet is that you can track almost every aspect of someone’s behavior—whether it’s the amount of time they spend on a page, where they came from, what browser they use and what they clicked on.


That doesn’t mean measuring the effectiveness of advertising has gotten any easier, however. In fact, it’s arguably gotten even harder, for a number of reasons. One is that no one can seem to agree on what exactly media companies should be measuring: Clicks? Page-views? Unique monthly visitors? Time spent on a page? Many advertisers are still attached to the idea of page-views or visitors as representing eyeballs, although analytics companies like Chartbeat are trying to wean them away from these metrics.



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Published on Jul 5, 2015

The Yale computer scientist on the dumbing down of America, the internet, and art. Click "Show more" to view all chapters. For more conversations, visit http://www.conversationswithbillkrist...

Chapter 1 (00:15 - 19:25): America-Lite
Chapter 2 (19:25 - 35:01): Computers and the Internet
Chapter 3 (35:01 - 42:48): Technology and Education
Chapter 4 (42:48 - 58:16): Art and the Art World Today

Yale University professor David Gelernter is a pioneering computer scientist, cultural critic, and artist. In this conversation, Gelernter details the decline in America’s cultural literacy over the last few generations—a phenomenon Gelernter terms “America-lite.” Gelernter also discusses computer science, the future of the Internet, and the promise and peril of new technologies. Finally, Kristol and Gelernter consider art and the art world today.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.
Amy Maxwell

Spiny grass and scraggly pines creep amid the arts-and-crafts buildings of the Asilomar Conference Grounds, 100 acres of dune where California's Monterey Peninsula hammerheads into the Pacific. It's a rugged landscape, designed to inspire people to contemplate their evolving place on Earth. So it was natural that 140 scientists gathered here in 1975 for an unprecedented conference.


They were worried about what people called “recombinant DNA,” the manipulation of the source code of life. It had been just 22 years since James Watson, Francis Crick, and Rosalind Franklin described what DNA was—deoxyribonucleic acid, four different structures called bases stuck to a backbone of sugar and phosphate, in sequences thousands of bases long. DNA is what genes are made of, and genes are the basis of heredity.




Earlier this year, Baltimore joined 17 other researchers for another California conference, this one at the Carneros Inn in Napa Valley. “It was a feeling of déjà vu,” Baltimore says. There he was again, gathered with some of the smartest scientists on earth to talk about the implications of genome engineering.


The stakes, however, have changed. Everyone at the Napa meeting had access to a gene-editing technique called Crispr-Cas9. The first term is an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” a description of the genetic basis of the method; Cas9 is the name of a protein that makes it work. Technical details aside, Crispr-Cas9 makes it easy, cheap, and fast to move genes around—any genes, in any living thing, from bacteria to people. “These are monumental moments in the history of biomedical research,” Baltimore says. “They don't happen every day.”


Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals. Startups devoted to Crispr have launched. International pharmaceutical and agricultural companies have spun up Crispr R&D. Two of the most powerful universities in the US are engaged in a vicious war over the basic patent. Depending on what kind of person you are, Crispr makes you see a gleaming world of the future, a Nobel medallion, or dollar signs.




Even if scientists never try to design a baby, the worries those Asilomar attendees had four decades ago now seem even more prescient. The world has changed. “Genome editing started with just a few big labs putting in lots of effort, trying something 1,000 times for one or two successes,” says Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford. “Now it’s something that someone with a BS and a couple thousand dollars’ worth of equipment can do. What was impractical is now almost everyday. That’s a big deal.”


In 1975 no one was asking whether a genetically modified vegetable should be welcome in the produce aisle. No one was able to test the genes of an unborn baby, or sequence them all. Today swarms of investors are racing to bring genetically engineered creations to market. The idea of Crispr slides almost frictionlessly into modern culture.


In an odd reversal, it’s the scientists who are showing more fear than the civilians. When I ask Church for his most nightmarish Crispr scenario, he mutters something about weapons and then stops short. He says he hopes to take the specifics of the idea, whatever it is, to his grave. But thousands of other scientists are working on Crispr. Not all of them will be as cautious. “You can’t stop science from progressing,” Jinek says. “Science is what it is.” He’s right. Science gives people power. And power is unpredictable.





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  • 1 month later...

Sept. 24, 1979: First Online Service for Consumers Debuts

Dylan Tweney






1979: CompuServe begins offering a dial-up online information service to consumers.


The company known as Compu-Serve, and later CompuServe, opened its doors in 1969, providing dial-up computer timesharing to businesses. Over the next decade, it grew into a solid business providing corporations with online data.


But the idea of offering a similar service to consumers might have seemed a little risky in 1979, when personal computers still seemed like a wild and crazy idea to most people. It was such an oddball notion that CompuServe’s own corporate sales force mocked their company’s fledgling consumer service as “schlock timesharing.”


Launched as MicroNET in 1979 and sold through Radio Shack stores, the service turned out to be surprisingly popular, thanks perhaps to Radio Shack’s Tandy Model 100 computers, which were portable, rugged writing machines that dovetailed very nicely with the fledgling, 300-baud information service.


A competing online service, The Source, launched the same year, but didn’t grow as fast. CompuServe eventually acquired and then deep-sixed The Source in 1989.


MicroNET was renamed the CompuServe Information Service in 1980. Around the same time, CompuServe began working with newspapers to offer online versions of their news stories, starting with the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch in 1980. At least 10 major newspapers were offering online editions through CompuServe by 1982, including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Examiner.







First commercial for a major internet service provider.

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