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.