Q&A With Claria's Scott Eagle

iMedia Connection: What prompted Claria's decision to leave the AdWare business? Is it simply that the personalization technology market is more profitable, or were the challenges surrounding AdWare becoming untenable?

Scott Eagle: The reason why we're getting out of the adware business is that we want to be able to focus 100 percent of our efforts on PersonalWeb, and on our new personalization platform that provides value for consumers, publishers and advertisers. Given recent partner momentum and investments, we are now in a great position to exit the adware business.
 
Adware still addresses an estimated $400 to $500 million market, and with Industry Best Practices emerging, it still presents a viable opportunity for companies who want to stay in the adware space. That said, at Claria we see a much broader opportunity in the $20+ Billion dollar mainstream internet market around content, standard IAB advertising and search, where we can leverage our industry leading technology and personalization platform on behalf of consumers, publishers and advertisers.

iMedia Connection: While I've heard of Claria's new product, PersonalWeb, and I understand that it creates dynamically created web pages based on a user's behavior, I'm still not clear on what it is. Can you give me a concrete example?

Eagle: PersonalWeb is a consumer service with the goal of bringing the content that a user wants together in one place -- creating a customized web page based on their online interests -- automatically and anonymously. 

Based on ordinary web browsing and searching, PersonalWeb learns what topics an individual user is interested in, and brings related content right to their customized web page. PersonalWeb provides one-click access to the websites and content they use most. It also recommends new content that matches their interests--content they may never have discovered otherwise.

As personal interests and favorite websites change over time, the PersonalWeb page also changes-- remaining totally personalized with content relevant to each individual consumer. PersonalWeb benefits not only consumers, but publishers and advertisers as well by enabling them to bring their relevant content and advertising to consumers based on their unique interests. PersonalWeb, currently in Beta release, is our first step at trying to solve this problem for consumers. This beta version serves as a proof of concept around content personalization. There is some functionality that consumers want like access to local weather and stocks that we currently don't provide in PersonalWeb, and some browser platforms we don't support. We will be listening to feedback and working diligently to add to and improve the product over the coming quarters.

iMedia Connection: How is PersonalWeb different than the My Yahoo! customizable webpage, MSN Live or the Google Personalized Homepage?

Eagle: Automation. Consumers have many options to choose from in personalizing a home page, and many of these options offer some pretty cool functionality. But in all cases, a consumer has to manually configure theses pages and then must manually update them as their interests change. PersonalWeb creates a customized home page tailored to a user's unique interests-- automatically. There is nothing for a user to set up or maintain.

This is an important point since less than 10 percent of consumers take the time to manually configure or personalize a home page. Our internal research shows that the other 90 percent want the benefits of personalization but either don't know how, are too busy to bother, or feel that the page will become outdated if they don't continually update their preferences. 

By searching and surfing the web just as you already do, you teach PersonalWeb about your interests. PersonalWeb even recommends new things related to your interests that you may not yet have discovered yourself. With PersonalWeb, every time you go online, the first page you see will be filled with the links and content you use and enjoy everyday.

The thing to remember here is that this is a difficult problem to solve. With so much happening online in terms of the vast amount of content available to discover, it can be difficult for consumers to easily find and enjoy the content most relevant to them. The solution is technology that understands your ever-changing interests and automatically brings you what you like most.

iMedia Connection: Some users may be concerned about a page based on their behavior. They'll want to know how their behavior is being tracked. Is it personally identifiable information? Is there any way for users to use PersonalWeb anonymously?

Eagle: PersonalWeb creates a customized home page without needing to know who you are, so PersonalWeb doesn't collect and use any information that identifies users. So it can suggest relevant content, music, videos, and product recommendations for each unique user without ever knowing anything that personally identifies them.

So yes, anybody using PersonalWeb is using it anonymously. It's the only way a person can use it. 

Additionally, users can "pause" personalization at anytime. When PersonalWeb is paused, no information about a user's anonymous web browsing activities will be collected. It's similar to the approach Google takes with its Sidebar product. 

iMedia Connection: In your view, what are some of the broad factors that have aligned to make personalization of the type offered by PersonalWeb, and products from Google, Yahoo and MSN, possible? Technology factors? Has the web audience matured?

Eagle: It's really two things-- improved technology and the proliferation of content that the Internet offers today. The internet is more complex than ever from the standpoint that there is so much content available. This problem is also the solution. With improved technology, we are seeing the first steps of products helping consumers to cut through the clutter to bring them a more personalized internet experience.  

iMedia Connection: Personal pages from MSN, Google and Yahoo are largely ad free. It's clear that you're in, say, Google or MSN's domain when you're on their personal home pages, and Yahoo has a small banner at the top of their personal page, but neither has a strong advertising presence. How is PersonalWeb different? Can advertisers get involved? 

Eagle: Portals and ISPs, today, show ads on their site and get paid for generating traffic to their content and advertising partners. All of these pages have a monetization model in place.

With that said, we feel the key is relevancy. For example, take search. A consumer that conducts a search at a search provider will see a page with search results as well as sponsored ads wrapped within the page. To the consumer, everything on the page is relevant to their interests. In effect, what search engines do is wrap target content with relevant advertising, and with PersonalWeb we'll be wrapping targeted personalized content with relevant advertising.

Consumers will look at an advertisement and consider it information if it is relevant to them. For example, if I'm shopping for a sports car and see an advertisement for a model that is in my consideration set, I view that ad as information and welcomed. If I receive an ad for the personals category-- it isn't relevant to me as I'm married with two kids.

The objective with PersonalWeb is to deliver content that is relevant to each individual user-- whether it's news, RSS feeds, weather, links to email, or advertisements. So while the page will mostly be traditional content, there will be standard IAB banners integrated into the PersonalWeb home page that advertisers can utilize to deliver messages that are targeted and relevant.

 

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