First let’s start with a quick definition since I am not sure how many of you are familiar with this term. From Wikipedia: A killer application refers to any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it provides the core value of some larger technology, such as a gaming console, software, operating system, or piece of computer hardware. In this sense, a killer app substantially increases sales of the hardware that supports it.
So for MS Office, Excel was the killer application. It was the one part of that suite of applications that every business needed, and it was far better at the time than any of the competition. I still use Excel occasionally, even though Google docs and Zoho have more convenient alternatives. I have not used Word or PowerPoint in a very longtime. Anyway, now that you know what a killer app is. Let’s talk about advertising.
Advertising on the web is one of the most annoying parts of the whole online experience. It gets in the way of common sense things like full-text RSS feeds and useful outside links. Pop-ups and pop-unders, flashing lights and all kinds of other junk get in the way and make what could have been a nice design look awful while at the same time slowing things down horribly. But, advertising has a good side. It pays for all kinds of great software and content to be put online for free.
The problem with most ads is that they are irrelevant and poorly done. Poorly done because designers have to produce so many so fast and because they are not targeted at all. The reason there are so many is that advertisers have no way of getting the right ad to the right person. So they try to make sure everyone possible sees the ad knowing that some percentage of them will be interested. It is a numbers game – played at the expense of our tired eyes and scattered attention.
Google is making some progress by gathering huge amounts of information about its users and scaring the fool out of (if that is possible) people like my brother-in-law. Amazon may be doing an even better job in a narrower market, and many niche sites have found sponsors that are very relevant to their guests. But getting users to allow you to essentially build a dossier can be difficult and opens you up to law-suits, and finding relevant sponsors is very difficult.
Adverting that works and is acceptable, even useful, to the consumer is a tough problem, but I think Facebook has found the killer application.
They now allow you to rate the advertisements on their site. THIS IS HUGE. It is 100% without question, opt-in only, data sharing. They do not collect data on anyone that does not want to be spied on. For those who do participate, they at least imply that you can eliminate whatever types of ads you personally find annoying, (Obama ads in my case – I don’t care who the next president is – the next four years are going to be rough) and maybe even trick the system into showing you interesting ads (Like the best new, free, online applications).
People are very likely to provide “personal” information on their preferences if by doing that, they can make their life better. Also, who can resist the temptation to blast a really bad ad? There is an old saying that goes, “What you say about others, says more about you than it does about them.” The rating system makes you think you are getting rid of bad ads and promoting okay ones, but in reality you are telling a lot about yourself. Still I would much rather rate an ad than fill-out a survey.
I bet they get a lot more thumbs-down responses than thumbs-up at first, but you can still learn a lot about what people might like by looking at what they do not like. You might be wrong at first, but over time the user will set you straight. I am probably going to be seeing a few extra McCain ads now, but after I thumb those down too, maybe they will get the idea that I am really not that interested in the presidential epic marathon. You could about make a career out of campaigning now that they are starting to run so early.
Facebook also has the advantage of combining all of your ad ratings with other personal info one the site. Putting all of this together they can make very good use of very limited advertising space and even more limited attention. The benifit for them is increased revenue. The benefit to the users, is less ads per page, and less annoying ads. It’s a win-win solution.