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Prediction: Google Will Acquire ThePudding…Parsing Voice Calls for Targeted Ad Delivery…

September 24th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the potential coming of the GooglePhone as follow-on to all things Google and their impending World Domination Tour™

The highlight of the GooglePhone rambling was my fun little illustration of how, if Google won the spectrum auction and became a mobile operator, they would offer free wireless service on the GooglePhone underwritten with ad revenues utilizing some unique applications of some of their new and existing services:

So, without the dark overlord overtones, let’s say that Google wins the auction.  They become a mobile operator —
or they can likely lease that space back to others with some element of
control over the four conditions above.  Even if you use someone else’s
phone and resold service, Google wins.

This means that they pair the GooglePhone which will utilize
the newly acquired GoogleFi (as I call it) served securely cached out
of converged IMS GooglePOPs
which I blogged about earlier.   If the GooglePhone has some form of
WiFi capabilities, I would expect it will have the split capability to
use that network connectivity, also.

…but here’s the rub.  Google makes it’s dough from serving Ads.
What do you think will subsidize the on-going operation and assumed
"low cost" consumer service for the GooglePhone.

Yup.  Ads.

So, in between your call to Aunt Sally (or perhaps before,
during or after) you’ll get an Ad popping up on your phone for sales on
  An SMS will be sent to your GooglePhone which will be placed
in your GoogleMail inbox.  It’ll then pop up GoogleMaps directing you
to the closest store.  When you get to the store, you can search
directly for the Geritol product you want by comparing it to pictures
provided by Google Photos and interact in realtime with a pharmacist
using Google Talk whereupon you’ll be able to pay for said products
with Google Checkout.

All. From. Your. GooglePhone.

All driven, end-to-end, through GoogleNet.  Revenue is shared
throughout the entire transaction and supply chain driven from that one
little ad.

I got a ton of emails suggesting I was a little GoogleMad and that the blue/underlined section above was neither possible or sustainable from a business model perspective.  To address the former point regarding the technical possibility of what amounts to electronic parsing of audio — of course it is.  I’ve blogged about that before in my DRM/DLP/Watermarking discussions.

To the latter point regarding using this as a base for a business model, check this out from TechCrunch today:

The New York Times is reporting today on a new service called ThePudding that provides free, PC-based phone calls to anywhere in the US or Canada.

The big catch: computers in Fremont, CA will eavesdrop on and
analyze every word of your conversation so they can serve up
advertisements tailored to the topic at hand.

So all this takes is a move to a platform like the GooglePhone (what’s a "PC" today, anyway?") to enable this in the mobile market…looks like these guys were born to be bought!

Users initiate a phone call simply by visiting ThePudding’s website
(currently in private beta) and entering a phone number into the
browser. After the call begins, advertisements tailored to the
conversation will begin to appear on screen. The NYT has a good
screenshot of what these advertisements will look like here.

That’s the exact model I suggested in the underlined section above!  Quite honestly, with the "privacy specter" aside, this would be pimp!  It’s the natural voice-operated semantic web!

Phone conversations are monitored only by computers, not actual
human beings. The company also does not record any of the conversations
or log any of the topics discussed. Therefore, advertisements are
tailored to each particular phone call and not to trends in users’
calling behavior.

ThePudding has already experienced a fair amount of backlash, with some calling it
a terrible idea because users will not be comfortable enough with
allowing their phone conversations to be monitored. There is also the
concern that niche users will not be swayed by this completely free
offering, because they already pay very little for services like Skype. However, ThePudding may be a potential acquisition target for Skype itself, which may be interested in developing an ad-based revenue model.

While Skype is mentioned, I’d add a whole host of others to this list if they’re smart…

Despite the criticism, ThePudding does not seem all that different
to me from a privacy perspective than Gmail. If users are comfortable
with letting computers analyze their email messages and display
targeted advertisements alongside them, why won’t they be comfortable
with allowing the same thing with their verbal communications? Perhaps
there is an important psychological factor at play here that will
always make people unwilling to let strangers monitor what they
actually speak. But consumers are caring less and less about how much
information they provide online about themselves to unverified
companies, so it doesn’t seem implausible to me that with time many
people will overcome their anxieties about this type of service.

I totally agree.

While ThePudding is currently only available through the web browser
on PCs, the company has plans to expand into mobile (and to display
advertisements on the screens of handheld devices).

ThePudding is a service of Pudding Media,
which was founded by two Israelis with experience in military
intelligence and telecommunications. The company is based in San Jose,

So whether it’s Google, Skype, Yahoo or Cisco, you can expect this technology to make its way into/onto communications platforms in the near future; it’s a natural extension of data mining…we get targeted ads today in search engines, unified communications is next.  i wonder who’s going to pony up the cash. I still bet on Google — it’s a natural integration into GrandCentral!

…still waiting for my GooglePhone, although the iPhone would be a pretty damned good platform for this, too 😉


P.S. Did you see that Google is now sinking it’s own transpacific oceanic fiber cable…

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  1. September 25th, 2007 at 09:55 | #1

    Unfortunately, ad delivery is a nuisance that annoys people. Be it radio ads, television ads, junk mail, little slips of shiny paper in electric bills, tear-away envelope flaps in credit card bills, flash ads popping up over the content you want to see, spam mail, telemarketers, billboard stains on the landscape, and so on. Advertising has a point, but no one really truly likes it.
    If you put ads through on my phone to me before, during, or after, I will be annoyed at:
    1) the wasted battery life for lighting up my phone to get me to see it.
    2) the wasted time to click past it or delete the text or whatever. That's just bad karma for the soul.
    3) I might benefit from the inability of providers to charge me for received junk texts/SMS. Paying per text for ads wouldn't last long.
    I'll eventually opt out, turn it off, or go elsewhere.
    Basically, Google can try this and be somewhat successful, but they will also be opening many doors for competitors to not be quite so "evil." If Google can target people who WANT ads, for instance if I'm on street Y in city X and want to find a bar to hit, I'd welcome the ads (assuming bars are part of it and Google knows where I am and what I like perhaps…). Then again, what if I want something new and not targeted firmly in what I already like?
    Blah blah. In the end, I really just cannot buy into the longevity of ad-driven revenues. Marketing, sure. Ad-driving, no. Then again, I am one of those people who has never bought anything due to a radio ad (concert notices don't count since they're more like one-time announcements!), spam mail, web ad, telemarketing call, or junk mail.

  2. September 25th, 2007 at 12:12 | #2

    I wish I had polling setup…
    I have a question — you answered it sideways already — but how old are you? I think it would be an interesting distribution analysis exercise to cross-reference a poll question about tolerance for ad placement versus age of the viewer.
    It happens all the time now — and not just on websites. TV is a great example with those little preview trailers on the bottom of the screen. How about direct placement in movies.
    It's unavoidable.
    As to your opinion that ad revenue is not a sustainable business model, you better mozy over to NorCal and tell those poor saps at Google about this — they're betting the farm on it (as it represents the bulk of their income.)
    There is no difference between ad driven "revenue" and ad driven "marketing" — click-throughs are click-throughs. The end goal is the same.
    I'm not trying to pick a fight, but you've already identified yourself as an opt-outer, so I'm not trying to convince you otherwise (and by the way, for the most part, I am one too) but bombardment from ads like this is the reality of our society.
    I see it as inevitable. It may fail the first time around, but just like everything else ahead of its time, it will come back and be successful.

  3. September 25th, 2007 at 15:36 | #3

    I don't think it will take off like crazy, but there's definitely a segment of the population (perhaps I'm not part of that slice, and neither is user LonerVamp) that would gladly wade through advertisements in exchange for free phone calls.
    I remember in college, way back before VoIP, when I used to have copper going into my dorm room, the university phone gestapo would charge an arm and a leg for a call back east to family. Then a new service came out, a predecessor to Net2Phone that I can't remember the name of (if someone can, please help me out here).
    You would call a toll-free number and sit through as many 15-second audio advertisements as you could handle. When you had had enough, you would hit the # key and then it would announce how many minutes of time you had "earned" by listening to the ads. They would make sure you were actively listening because to get to the next 15-second ad, you had to press a different random key on the keypad. Sit through about 3 minutes of ads and you'd have nearly an hour of talk time. Punch in the phone number and then away you go! Then downside was that you weren't able to try your party before listening to the ads and on more than one occasion I had stored up a bunch of talk time only to find out that once I placed the call, I reached an answering machine. Doh!
    While I don't think most people would enjoy ad-supported phone conversations, I know there is a segment of the cell-phone-enabled population (starving college students) that would gladly trade their privacy for free calls.

  4. September 25th, 2007 at 19:41 | #4

    Keep in mind that those ads could surface in many ways, especially if you own the applications and platform via a unified interface.
    Imagine if your voice-mined conversation delivered either audio ads at the end of your convo which extended your minutes once you signalled you heard it (like your example above) OR just sent the same insertions and/or messages to your GMail account…or discounts on your GooglePay purchases, or credits…
    Advertisers want to make it easy for you to clickthrough — they may be abrasive at first, but they'll learn to attract flies with honey in the long term…

  5. September 28th, 2007 at 21:10 | #5

    BTW, I wrote this before Google launched their mobile version of AdSense AND acquired a company that allows advertisers to send ads to mobile social networks.
    From "Google is Really Serious about Mobile Advertising": http://www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives
    The company in question, Zingku, has been around since 2005. Zingku's platform lets users build mobile social networks designed to share content, like photos, push out polls and poll results, and communicate through text messages, e-mail, and IM.
    The most interesting application, at least from Google's perspective, has to be Zingku's flyer function. The flyer program lets merchants send Zingku members promotional messages like discount codes.
    Flyer ads…here they come!

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