I found this vlog post about a social network building their own advertising infrastructure to be interesting.  Basically, Dogster founder Ted Rheingold (whose lapdog gives him a Bond-villian-like presence during the interview) argues that building your own ad pipeline is harder than using an ad network, but is far more profitable and sustainable.  Ad networks are easy to slap in and give a startup instant revenue, but automated content targeting leaves something to be desired.  In addition, there’s no relationship built between the content purveyor and the advertiser, which leaves the content purveyor more vulnerable to advertising cutbacks.  Advertising salespeople are the easiest to hire, and the easiest to fire, as they should pay for themselves.  (As an aside, here’s an interesting article by Jakob Nielsen talking about how “paid search confiscates too much of a website’s value.”)

I passed it along to a friend who is building a directory site around local Colorado farmers and food and he mentioned some interest in it.  On my own, I took a look around to see what was available for self managed website advertising, and was surpised at the paucity of good open source ad serving software out there.  After all, advertising is one of the great business models (of the web, and of all time); I expected to see a bit more code out there.  But perhaps ad network software isn’t anyone’s itch.  Or maybe there’s no demand for it–sites are either small enough to use Adsense, or they are big enough to pay for a commercial ad server.  Regardless, here’s what I found:

There were a number of projects on source forge that seemed appropriate, but nothing that was actively maintained and useful (lots of projects started in 2001, and dormant).  Adsapient seemed the most useful, but they say on their website: “AdSapient Ad Server is an open source ad server that can be used as a platform for building your own ad serving technology. We recommend using it for educational purposes though.”  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  Update, 4/27/2009: Someone who worked on Adsapient has started a new ad server.  More information below.

For some reason, this didn’t show up on my search of Sourceforge, but OASIS is definitely an ad serving and management solution.  Last release was 2007.
There is a company that offers hosted OASIS and OpenX ad serving solutions, but they’re rather pricey.  Another (closed source) option is Google’s ad management solution.

The best solution I could find was OpenX.  They have a demo site that works, they are continuing development as you read this, they have a free hosted solution good for up to 25 million impressions a month, and at that time, you can choose to either pay them a monthly fee, or download, install and configure the software and run the ad server on your own box.

Now, I haven’t spent enough time with the OpenX UI to know if there are dealbreakers in there, but based on pricing, ongoing development effort and freedom, I would definitely recommend OpenX.  Here’s an interesting discussion comparing the hosted OpenX solution and Google Ad Manager.

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23 thoughts on “Open Source Ad Server Roundup

  1. Ted Rheingold says:

    Hi Dan,

    I saw the link. Glad our experiences resonate with you.

    Definitely go with OpenX. Their server software has served our ads for almost 5 years now, with no scalability issues (we serve ~30 mil pages a month).

    And their hosted offering is great. Honestly I think they should start charging well before 25 mil impressions, so use it and run with it.

  2. Vitaly Sazanovich says:

    Hi Dan,
    I have been developing AdSapient until 2007 and have taken part in the development of some commercial ad servers. So I think I have the right to share some ideas of mine on open source ad serving.
    You are right about the demand for ad serving. Small publishers prefer to be part of ad networks like Google AdSense. Bigger ones use expensive solutions like DoubleClick’s DART. The truth is there is no free professional ad server on the market that would have a rich feature set and robust performance.
    OpenX is a very good offer when there is no alternative. Many people (users of of OpenX) I have talked to expressed dissatisfaction with the UI and the overall feel of the product. Also companies that consider using either a commercial or open source ad server to build their own ad network don’t like the idea of using PHP because it can result in performance issues when you go over 1B ad views per month and don’t want to buy a third party commercial ad server because they don’t want to associate their resulting proprietary product with something else.
    I’ve realized many issues with AdSapient, OpenX and other ad servers I have known of and now I’m working on a revamped open source ad server.
    I have taken the best parts from AdSapient and have done a lot refactoring and performance profiling. The UI has been written from scratch in Flex. The banner-matching concept is based on bids.
    The product is called Ad Server Beans (http://adserverbeans.com/index.html or https://sourceforge.net/projects/adserverbeans).
    The main differences from other ad servers are:
    – Java (J2EE) is used with Flex UI
    – all modules are written to run separately and communicate reasonably through RMI, this solves many performance issues before they appear
    – features set is constantly growing, banner matching is based on bids (like in a stock exchange or auction)
    – last but not least it’s open source and hence free, the business model right now is based on custom development, paid support to interested parties, probably ASP.

    The product is not mature yet. That’s true. But I believe it has very good potential to be the next MySQL of open source ad serving.

    I hope this post doesn’t sound like ‘OpenX sucks, look what I’ve done’. That’s not what I meant.
    I believe there shouldn’t be competition between open source projects.. My goal is to draw your attention to other alternatives that are out there but no one can find them in the search engines.

  3. Aaron says:

    “There is a company that offers hosted OASIS and OpenX ad serving solutions, but they’re rather pricey.”

    ADS open-source ad servers are pricier when compared to an OpenX free account and a Google AdManager free account. However, ADS offers user, deployment and trafficking support along with a guaranteed SLA.
    An experienced go-to support agent is invaluable in today’s ad ops environment.
    You don’t get that with free OpenX or GAM accounts.

  4. POed says:

    Openx suck just like phpadsnew did. They can change the name but sucks is still spelled SUCKS. Half the time it won’t even install and you will get a migraine trying to get it to track html clicks. Support; forget it. Like talking to someone with cotton balls for a brain.Oasis will make you start talking in tongues before you get it working.

  5. moore says:

    POed,

    Sorry to hear you have had some bad experiences. Any recommendations for useful ad servers?

    Dan

  6. Jaap says:

    BittAds (www.bittads.com) is also free up to 25M requests/month.

  7. Aaron says:

    POed, a semi-experienced sysadmin can install OpenX or OASIS in a snap. Maybe you should stop penny pinching and hire someone competent, unlike yourself.

  8. Srini says:

    The problem with google ad server solution is you need to have a Adsence account and for new entries especially from India and China find it hard to get by.

    The alternatives like Openx seems to be having complexities.

  9. Michael says:

    @Aaron

    sorry to ping an old thread, but I was only able to log in to openx once. now attempting to login to both my local install and openx’s website I get a redirection error that 1) I cannot affect as it is not occurring on my server 2) have tried forums, chat, AND trying to hire a professional (which is what I am) to help me resolve (I cannot afford the time to mess around with this) the issue, 3) wrote an email to hello@openx.org as suggested in my welcome email if I have any questions and 4) watched nobody respond to other people’s forum posts about the same issue, nobody respond in chat, nobody respond to my email, and no “professional” willing to take my money to help me.

    All in all, openx sucks because the few users slipping through the cracks are being left there and the only responses I have seen to anyone having trouble are crude and unwarranted. If you are so good at openx why not help me GET LOGGED IN and I’LL PAY YOU WHATEVER YOU WANT. IT DOESN’T FREAKING WORK!!!

  10. xvader says:

    well, i’m also still wandering around the net to find the same thing like you, open source ad server (the proprietaries’ price are too up high for me). because i think, it can be turned into a medium to high scale profitable machine. i hope so 🙂

  11. star says:

    I have used PhpAdsNew in the past and after much hacking got it to work. Not very user-friendly or easy.

    I recently installed OpenX. There was a an error with the Invocation Code that I neither my hosting company could resolve. (I use Siteground, which offers awesome and prompt customer service). OpenX NEVER RESPONDED to my questions and neither to anyone else who had the same problem.

    Now we will test a few others. No more time to waste on OpenX and their crappy support team.

  12. moore says:

    Hi Star,

    Sorry to hear you have had tough times with ad servers. Please let me know what you end up using…

  13. Online ads for sites says:

    We use openx. It is good one.You have said about adsapient.We have to check that.

  14. Scott says:

    I was able to get OpenX setup and running fairly easily. There was a few minor hiccups but that’s ok. The main issue I’ve encountered is with their xmlrpc api. We’re wanting to build our own front-end for OpenX in our existing application and only expose the functionality we need. I’ve been playing around with the API for the past couple of days and was satisfied until I attempted to upload a banner image using it. That’s when the trouble started. There appears to be a bug in the API that won’t recognize the base64 encoded image data in the XML post.

    After searching online for a solution, I discovered that several other people have encountered this problem and that there is a bug filed in OpenX’s JIRA relating to the issue. It was initially reported over a year ago and is still marked as “unverified”. Posting to their community forum isn’t much help either as it seems the developers rarely go to the forum to answer questions.

  15. xxxx says:

    Open X f-ing SUCKS!!!!!!!!!

  16. Jeff says:

    Aaron, with all due respect, go [editor: expletive deleted] yourself. I’m a competent sys admin and I can’t install openx without getting a redirect loop at login. Permissions, database, everything is as it should be, and still no dice. This is openx’s fault.

  17. Thomas says:

    Last year I was confronted with a clients report on clickrates and those differed from what I was reporting them (client: 200 and mine: 900)
    I was able to track this down to be a fault in OpenX. Took me some time to explain this… so better cross-check OpenX results every now and then!

  18. Robert M Glynn says:

    Good article. The conclusion (including the comments) seems to be the one I didn’t want to hear. For those caught between AdSense and a commercial ad server: Roll your own.

  19. moore says:

    At the risk of being a google fanboi, I would also recommend taking a look at Google Ad Manager, which used to be Doubleclick. http://www.google.com/admanager/

  20. OpenX developer says:

    For those getting the redirecting loop :
    If you have OpenX running on the same server as your website,
    open the admin console in a different browser (e.g IE) than your website with ads (e.g. Firefox).
    OpenX uses the same OAID cookie for both and this causes the infinite redirect loop.
    You can also throw away your cookies to fix it but then you will need to log in again every time it happens.

  21. Jeff J says:

    Openx is scary to say the least. Even though you may disable all hook to their network the code is still there and hackers constantly hack their software to send exploitive code to your websites. We have two high volume forums and hackers have hacked openx (not on our site) but the openx network and have brute forced through their virus infected ads to the unsuspecting users of OpenX. I’ve used it for year but can no longer afford to allow their vulnerabilities to infect users of our forums.

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