The Wild, Wild World of Producing Interactive Media

Remember my first blog post when I commented on how FAST this semester is flying by?! I don’t know about you, but that literally felt like earlier this month. Now here we are, classes are done, and exams are on (the very near) horizon. Looking back on our Producing Interactive Media course, it’s crazy to think about the plethora of all we’ve covered.

The First Half of the Semester

The first half of the semester was tough, no one can deny that. Once we began feeling comfortable with HTML/CSS in another course, we were introduced to the unusual language of Javascript. The p5.js site was quickly bookmarked on our browsers as we tackled coding projects, such as making funny faces using only p5.js’ JavaScript library. We played around with canvas-based interactive experiences in class, drawing original compositions with p5. We even attempted to make our seas of code responsive to mouse, keyboard, and hovering touches. Just as the first half of the semester was wrapping up, we learned about another subset of the JavaScript language, JSON (check out their site for a quick giggle about how primitive it is). We went into fall break with a JSON and weather API project under our belts and a much needed brain break.

The Second Half of the Semester

Truth be told, I was a little nervous coming back from break and not really knowing what was in store. Learning JavaScript really forced a lot of us out of our comfort zone. To my delight though, we found out we would be switching gears a little bit. It was time to take the concepts we learned and apply them to some real world scenarios, hence this blog. Everyone in the program was asked to buy a domain on Reclaim Hosting. Unfortunately, many of us who bought our domains around the same time were presented with some issues involving the server our domains were placed on. The combination of our professor’s help and the timely customer support resolved the various issues we were experiencing.

Before we could start blogging, we got some background on the evolution of blogs and user-generated content. Crazy to think that blogs have been around long enough to get a “history lesson” on them, huh? Its true though! We looked at some of the oldest blogs that have lasted through the changes of Web 2.0, such as Jason Kottke‘s extensive work since ’98, and even the humorous Justin Hall‘s bare bones blog that he has been updating since ’94 (the year I was born btw, yikes!). Ever since then, we’ve been exploring technology that we find most appealing in the world of interactive media. Therefore, I chose to research and write about targeted advertising and the technology, limitations, and ethics behind it.

The Final Few Weeks

Meanwhile, the last few classes of this course have involved learning various project management techniques, such as Agile (another hilariously primitive site), Waterfall, Scrum, Lean UX, and Design Thinking principles and exercises such as design sprints and rapid prototyping. Most recently, we were divided into small groups to come up with an idea about how to teach someone something. Literally ANYTHING. Somehow, my randomly chosen group has been incredibly cohesive from choosing what to teach, how to teach it, and how the work will be split up (big shoutout to Trello for making the latter so much easier).

That’s All (for now?)!

If you’re interested in seeing what my group came up with and how our prototype turns out, check out my Twitter and the Elon iMedia account to stay up to date on what we’re all accomplishing!

Wondering how we packed all of this into a semester? That’s all thanks to our super smart and SUPER quirky professor, William J. Moner. He and two other Elon iMedia professors will be speaking at SXSWedu about “Design Thinking, Social Innovation, and Breaking Higher Ed”, so you could say they know a thing or two about the wild, wild world of producing Interactive Media.

The Tech Behind Targeted Ads-Limitations

By now, you’ve learned about some of the limitations of each targeted advertising technology. What about the limitations of tracking technologies as a whole though? There are definitely some limitations to knowing the behaviors of an anonymous consumer. “One of the big concerns in the online advertising space is who’s seeing the ads. When you’re targeting in a cookie-based world [the web], you’re targeting an unknown. If I’m selling luxury vacations, cookies say all the people who’ve gone to Forbes.com are highly affluent. That’s not accurate”, says Greg Mosley, director of sales at El Toro.

Therefore, a genuinely good marketer won’t rely solely on cookies. Even incorporating Device IDs and Geolocation technologies can still be difficult to recognize consumers across devices. The American Marketing Association gave an example of this inefficiency: Imagine a consumer sees your ad on a tablet, browses your mobile website on their cellphone and converts on their desktop computer. The data provided by those impressions would suggest your brand interfaced with three different consumers because the tablet and phone will have unique device IDs, and the cookie you may have used on your site recognizes the desktop visit as unique from the mobile visits.

“If you target them as three different people, your targeting may not be as effective as it could be,” says Dustin O’Dell, senior director of business development at tracking platform company Barometric, because it removes the possibility of targeting sequentially your target. So then whats the best way to figure out how to target your audience? Big Data must be translated into smart data. Marketers need to evaluate the right mix for their budget and goals.

“You balance scale and precision in a lot of cases,” O’Dell says. “I call it the dartboard effect. You can shoot for the bullseye, and those are super premium, top-level audiences, but you may only get 10 people. You should absolutely use those 10, but we understand you need scale, too. The more scale you get, you have to understand the precision may not be there, but if you use a combination of both, that will get you to a place that’s beneficial.”

The Tech Behind Targeted Ads-IP Mapping

Hello again! I’m back again to take this tech talk one step further this week. My last post discussed the mobile version of cookies, known as Device IDs. This post will focus on IP Mapping computers and Geolocating mobile devices. Advertisers use location-based data points as another way to segment their audience​. IP mapping can be used to theorize characteristics about the consumers who are browsing on an address.

Okay so what are IPs, you ask? Also known as an Internet Protocol address, an IP is a set of numbers (such as 128.201.86.290) which can be located within  a network. Every desktop and laptop computer, server, scanner, printer, modem, router, smartphone, tablet, and even smart TV is assigned an IP address.

In an interview with the American Marketing Association, Greg Mosley, director of sales at El Toro says, “We’re turning the router inside your home into the most accurate way to target digital ads to you”. El Toro is an ad-targeting company that has mapped IP addresses to physical households, which can then be cross-referenced with publicly available data sets.

With that being said it is almost impossible to find exact location of a host given just its IP address. However, there are tools and databases available for company and individual use to help identify approximate location of the host. Ip2location, MaxMind, Tamo Soft, DB-IP, Ipinfo and IPligence offer a fee-based databases that can be easily integrated into an web application. Most geolocation database vendors offers APIs and example codes (in ASP, PHP, .NET and Java programming languages) that can be used to retrieve geolocation data from the database.

Still with me? Good. I know that was kind of a lot but I promise its beneficial! As of now I haven’t decided what exactly to write my next post about, so even more of a reason to stick around and see whats to come!

The Tech Behind Targeted Ads-Device IDs

Last week, I posted about the basics of targeted advertising and gave a little information about cookies. This week, we’ll take it a little further and discuss Device IDs. With mobile devices being more prevalent than ever, advertisers needed a more useful tracking method than the old-fashioned cookies. In fact, 90% of consumers’ time spent on mobile devices is in-app as opposed to the mobile web, and without a web address. That means, cookies are practically useless for advertisers trying to target mobile users. Therefore, advertisers use device IDs to track and target consumers.

According to the American Marketing Association, “Device IDs differ from cookies in that they don’t have to be placed by an app the way cookies are on a web page; they are recorded from the device on which the user accesses an app—be it an iPhone, Android or tablet—and they are rarely reset, making them reliably consistent across many visits from the same user”.

To get even further into Device IDs, let’s talk a little more about the actual technology behind it all. A Device ID is a string of numbers and letters that identifies every individual smartphone or tablet in the world (which is pretty crazy when you think about it, right?!). The ID number itself is stored on the mobile device and it can be retrieved by any app that is downloaded and installed.

As for variances in Apple vs Android devices, there isn’t much, other than the name each software uses. On iOS, a device ID is called the ‘Identity For Advertisers’ (IDFA, or IFA for short). On Android, the device ID is the GPS ADID (or Google Play Services ID for Android). A user is able to access their GPS ADID within the settings menu under ‘Google – Ads,’ as well as reset the ID, and opt-out of ad personalization too. This was particularly surprising to me as Apple is typically known for its customizable features.

In an interview with Matt Ellinwood, senior director of data products at advertising software platformTube Mogul, Ellinwood further described Device IDs; “It’s an anonymous ID you’re able to use to identify the same user at different times,” says Ellinwood. “The way you set it and the way you get it is a little different [from a cookie], but the application is almost identical”.

You may remember from my post that week that cookies can be grouped by segments. The same goes for Device IDs to create target audiences. Other than that, I think we’ve just about covered what you might need to know about Device IDs! If you have any more specific questions, feel free to fill out the form below. My next post will be about IP Mapping and Geolocation so stay on the look out for that!!

The Tech Behind Targeted Ads

By now, I hope you (at least) have a little better understanding of targeted ads. Now, it’s time to discuss the tech behind targeted ads. Bear with me now, as I’m still trying to understand all the ins and outs of it myself. It’s important to at least have a grasp on something like this, regardless of whether you’re a marketer or just a consumer.

It’s Cookie Time!

Let’s start with the basics: Cookies. These are one of the oldest tracking technologies so I’m sure you’ve heard of them. It’s okay if you really don’t know what they are though! According to the American Marketing Association, cookies are a script added to a URL to track visitor engagement with a web page. In other words, cookies are used for retargeting so that when you visit a website and then leave it, an ad appears during another browsing session relating to that previous site or product viewed.

Matt Ellinwood, senior director of data products at advertising software platform Tube Mogul, elaborates, “At the most basic level, we’re using cookies… to identify that someone has either visited a site or seen an ad and [then] identify that same user again when there’s another advertising opportunity”.

At the basic level, advertisers use cookies to assign an anonymous ID to each consumer/user. But when a site visitor has provided a website with personally identifying information such as a name, e-mail address or login information, the site can assign a more specific ID. Anything the user does from thereon out are tracked and segmented into various demographics, their purchase behavior, or any number of characteristics to further narrow the segmentation.

Now that wasn’t too bad, was it? Next week, we’ll take this tech talk one step further to discuss Device IDs. I promise, they’re not as scary as they sound.

Downfalls of Targeted Advertising

Last week, I introduced the topic of targeted advertising. I presented some pros, and quite a few cons (because let’s be honest, its easier to complain than praise). This week, I want to dive a little deeper into those negative aspects surrounding this advertising technique.

Sure, marketers love being able to hone in on their target audiences, but are those ads as well received by the audience? Typically, no. Targeted advertising can feel a lot like being followed around by a persistent salesman, so its only natural to question any lack of consent, privacy, and data security. A 2012 Slate article questioned this as well; “Some are satisfied with the National Advertising Initiative’s tool, which allows users to opt-out of behavioral advertising from “member companies” that placed cookies on one’s computer, while others defend the stronger Internet equivalent of the “Do Not Call” registry, i.e., the “Do Not Track” option”.

The American Marketing Association published an article about the unintended consequences of this, what they call, “targeting nirvana”. The first is “if you only target those who are close to the bottom of the purchase funnel, how do you expect to fill the top of the funnel with people who will eventually trickle down to the bottom?”. The second unintended consequence is “that by the time they actually get to the point of purchase, those wallet-ready consumers may actually despise your brand because you’ve oversaturated them with the same message ad nauseam”.

We can all relate to these two examples. Even after you buy that bath rug you’ve been eyeing on Amazon, you’re STILL getting inundated with ads for similar rugs on your Facebook. Its clear that too many advertisers do not have a wide enough breadth in their campaign tactics. Its time to target intelligently. Think of your audience as actual people, with thoughts and emotions, and not just another number in your marketing plan. Happy, brand loyal consumers will come when user-centered targeted ads do.

The “Filter Bubble” Era

Before the Filters

With the advent of Web 2.0, society was given the capability to interact with the Internet and other users unlike ever before. With Web 2.0 came blogging instead of personal sites, Wikipedia instead of Britannica Online (you almost forgot about that site didn’t you?), and Search Engine Optimization. The term “Web 2.0” was coined around 1999-2003, that’s almost 20 years ago (which is practically ANCIENT at the pace that the Internet is evolving)!

So now what? Is there a Web 3.0? Kind of. Maybe? Honestly no one really knows. There are plenty of people out there hypothesizing about what the next phase of the web will be like, but a particular term for it has yet to be coined.

So what is this new phase of Internet you ask? Simply put, there is a huge importance placed on personalization. We’re already experiencing a large amount of personalization that has nearly seamlessly been integrated in platforms we already use everyday. Think about it, you handpick exactly who you want to follow on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media platforms. When you watch a video on YouTube, the site makes suggestions for you based on what you’ve previously watched.

The “Filter Bubble” Society

But what if I told you this personalization went even further? To the point that websites can see exactly where your cursor is on their page at any point in time. This means they can see exactly how you interact with their site. Why? So they can send you targeted ads.

Have you ever been on Facebook, just innocently scrolling through your timeline and see an advertisement for the SAME boots you were just looking at on Amazon? This is the perfect example of targeted advertising. Now that we’ve determined that we’ve all probably experienced this, what exactly is targeted advertising? Thankfully, this Wikipedia article gives a great overview. If you don’t want to comb through something so extensive then the condensed version is simply this: Targeted advertising is a form of advertising where online advertisers can use sophisticated methods to target the most receptive audiences with certain traits, based on the product or person the advertiser is promoting.

You might be thinking, “That sounds really smart! Why would advertisers waste their time trying to communicate a message for uninterested audiences?”. And yeah, you make a great point! The idea behind targeted advertising is genuinely smart and pretty cutting edge. After reading The People’s Platform by Astra Taylor, I looked at this personalization method from a different angle; that is, the “filter bubble” angle. Does this personalization keep us from seeing and learning about other products, people, and ideas? Definitely. Is that bad? Yeah, it has the potential to create a narrow-minded society where we come to expect more for just us instead of learning about what else is out there. Call me extreme, but I don’t think this world can afford much more “me” thinking and needs more “we” thinking.

Just some food for thought. More on this next week!

Travel and User-Generated Content

My parents have instilled a sense of importance of being a global citizen and to travel as often as possible ever since I was a little girl. Through travels such as cross-country road trips with my family, studying abroad in northern Italy in high school, visiting marine biology labs in Japan, traveling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with my family to adopt my little brother, and most recently going to Lisbon, Portugal I have learned first-hand the importance of experiencing how various parts of the world live.

I feel so strongly about sharing this mindset with others, that for my senior year capstone I studied how travel bloggers and other user-generated content (UGC) sites, such as TripAdvisor, is making it easier than ever to assist potential travelers during their trip planning process.

I get it though, as a young adult its not always easy to prioritize international travel when there are other looming tasks and expenses such as school, job hunting, and the everyday cost of living. That’s why I think its so important to give young adults reliable and cost effective trip and accommodation information when they feel like they are ready to set aside some money to be the global traveler they want to be. In order to give this high quality information to Millennials, I would like to come up with a website that compiles young, professional travel bloggers who create stunning, yet reliable content for this generation.

I am also interested in exploring some cutting edge technology, such as Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and Google Chrome experiments, to hopefully attract this targeted age group. Through my past research it is also evident how important high quality photos and media content are to the travel planning process, especially for Millennials. Keeping a clean and simply yet visually appealing web design will be essential in order to make this project a reality.

More to come on this as the semester (quickly) moves along!