Why adsense for feeds is a bad idea (at least for now)

I've been thinking about advertising in RSS for a while (and Google's foray most specifically) and always with a general distaste for it. It wasn't until recently that I was able to put my finger on exactly why I think it's misguided, but I think I figured it out.
From my experiences in using Adsense nearly two years on PVRblog, I've noticed a great deal of my traffic comes from search engines. I only have stats on those viewing the site via the web (bloglines says 4k users read it via RSS, but there's no way of knowing the full number), but a random swath of stats will frequently show 75% or more of the web traffic has google.com as their referrer. Here's a screenshot of my Typepad stats, showing a single page of accesses in the past few minutes as I'm writing this. The ones with no referrer listed were reading the site directly.
These are folks looking for information on products I reviewed and mentioned or tips I might have divulged in a post. I have no way of verifying this, but I would assume that my adsense click-throughs are mostly due to this search engine traffic and not due to my daily readers. At the very least, the random searchers simply outnumber the daily readers, but I think it goes beyond that (which would assume both groups click through ads at the same click through rate). I don't have any data to prove this, but I'm going off on a hunch since that's how I tend to use google's text ads myself. If I'm searching for information about a baby monitor or trying to figure out when the superbowl is starting, and I end up on a site with Google text ads, I often click on the ones that seem to offer better info than the site I'm viewing. If I'm viewing a page that mentions the text string "Superbowl" and "start" and "time" but doesn't answer my question, and there's an ad that says "Plan your Superbowl Party Here" I would probably click it, hoping they happen to mention the kickoff time.
Let me circle this back to ads in RSS feeds. You can be fairly sure that every single person subscribed to your feed is a daily reader and it's not likely random searchers would add your feed. The people reading your feed are using a feed because they don't want to miss a single word you're saying. They're not just fans reading your site, they're more die-hard than that.
Who would you subject to advertising, if you had a say in the matter: random visitors or your biggest fans?
I've come to the conclusion that I do have a say in the matter, and that I do my best to decrease advertising pitches to my biggest fans. On MetaFilter for instance, there are blogads and google text ads for outside browsers, but when you get an account there you don't see any of it and the site is ad-free. PVRblog has both blogads and google text ads on the site but I won't be adding anything to the feeds.
None of this is set in stone, of course. Currently, the technology that does text matching in all the RSS ad examples I've seen is quite poor. Out of the context of a site with thousands of words, giving a unique ad to every single post that might only have a handful of words seems to result in totally random ads. I find myself looking at a someone's blog post on iPods and seeing a text ad for refinancing a mortgage far too often. If ads in RSS were more sophisticated and actually were pitched at the very things you were discussing in a post, I might reconsider. The other main thing that might change over time is that RSS readers are typically technology-savvy and a small minority of your audience. If RSS grows to the point that random visitors become the majority of your traffic, it might be time to reconsider this, but for now it seems pretty obvious: don't clobber your biggest fans with pitches to ads and instead relegate ads to areas where it might help people find more information or related products.

Work for Creative Commons, work with me

I’m happy to announce that we’re looking for a designer at Creative Commons to handle print projects and assist me in web projects. My ideal match would be a San Francisco-based someone with a nicely designed xhtml/css blog and portfolio that has done annual reports, business cards, logos, and illustrations in their past. Working for Creative Commons is a great experience and our office is an amazing environment to work in. The person that gets the job will likely be working with me (mostly over AIM) on a regular basis, so readers of this site should have a good idea of what I’m like. I’ll be looking forward to pouring over portfolios in the next few weeks trying to find the best match.

links for 2005-05-24

Worst “journalism” ever.

This Reuters article on critics of Creative Commons is just about the most ridiculous article I’ve seen about CC to date. It reads as if the president of the National Music Publisher’s Association knew the author and basically wanted to get a anti-CC article out there. It contains a few quotes from CC board members and CC supporters (including Hilary Rosen and the current RIAA president) but generally lets the songwriter representitive dub the movement a “trojan horse” and claims that when you license a song under CC “it is really an argument why others should be forced to give away their property.” (my emphasis) Then the article confounds the Eldred case into Creative Commons because Lessig is behind both but the real gem is at the end.

They cover one songwriter that found success. Nevermind that Tim O’Reilly’s quote in the same article explains how 1 in a million songs are successfull and that CC exists for letting the other 99.999% of people that didn’t hit it big share their works with the world. In a wonderful bit of journalistic gymnastics they mention how this successful songwriter has contracted the AIDS virus, and bring it all back to Creative Commons. I quote from the article:

Had he given up his rights to those early hits, he would not have the resources to cover his treatment for AIDS.

Such a decision might have been tragic. Fraser says he has been kept alive by medication, radiation therapy and experimental medical treatments — largely paid for with his song royalties.

“No one should let artists give up their rights,” he says.

That’s right, you just read a Reuters article try to make the claim that Creative Commons can kill those living with AIDS.

So to recap, the only legitimate point made in the article is that a musician may not know what rights they are giving away, and I’ll grant you that it may be true, provided an artist ignored the page explaining the licenses and the page explaining the rights in all licenses. While the article contains comments supportive of Creative Commons from music industry giants like the RIAA, the article’s author turns some minor confusion about a name appearing in an amicus brief into unwanted support for a supreme court case that is somehow CC’s fault and the author lets the songwriter association president call the movement names, construe that it is unfair to artists, and finally, twist some emotion out of a ailing songwriter, equating a CC license with a death sentence.

I’m sure Reuters will be getting a Pulitzer for this bit of drivel.

update: Lessig has more to say and mentions previous (and similar) articles from the same Billboard Magazine reporter. Also, it occurred to me that the ailing songwriter in the article could still be alive and paying for medications through royalites, if he chose a non-commercial Creative Commons license for his song. As they say, share your music and good things often follow.

links for 2005-05-21

links for 2005-05-20