While at the excellent DEMO conference last week I wrote a post about Browster in which I slammed the “pre-caching” company for creating a business which based on the history of the Internet is a) breaking the law, b) extremely selfish, c) unethical, and d) unnecessary.
A group of very high-profile publishers discussed Browster at DEMO and all agreed that if this company continued in their current form they would face significant legal challenge.
What does it do? When you load a webpage, let’s say the New York Times homepage, pre-caching software then searches the page for hyperlinks and in the background downloads those web pages. Typically this software launches 20 “threads” (or tasks) at a time. So, if the New York Times we page has 100 links on it, and you spend a couple of minutes reading the home page, then chances are you will have loaded the 100 pages linked off the home page in the background.
How long has it been around? It has been around since the early days of the Internet.
There are two results of caching the 100 pages linked off the New York Times homepage in the background. First, if you click on a link the page will load instantly because it’s no your hard drive already. Your browser doesn’t need to download it from the serverit already has it! Second, Browster has created an extremely simplebut clevertool which lets you hover over the link and see a popup of the page you are about to visit.
In order to make money as a company, as the CEO gleefully reported on stage at DEMO, the company wraps the New York Times page in contextual/targeted advertising. So, if you’re reading David Pogue’s review of the Treo 650or Walt’s in the Wall Street JournalBrowster knows that and they can sell Palm (or Blackberry) the advertising up top.
This sound like a nice thing for users: who wouldn’t want to surf faster and see a little preview window right? Why would any be opposed to loading all these pages in the background and have the next series of pages ready to go?
This sounds like a nice thing for the advertisers: What advertiser wouldn’t want to buy tens of millions of eyeballsat a cheap priceacross all the technology websites?! Browster doesn’t have to pay David Pogue or Walt Mossberg’s salarythey got the content for free. What a great business stealing is!
Well, we went through this issues back in 95 and 96 in round one of the Interneta session the management team at Browster must have missed.
Here are the reasons why Browster should shut their company down and start over:
1. Web surfing is fast enough today. You don’t need to see the page in advance because right mouse clicking and opening in another window works well enough. When was the last time you said “my god I wish this web page would load faster?” My guess is back in 1997 or 1998 when you gave up your dialup account! Finding information faster, sure, that is helpful, but the loading of the page a little faster isn’t important unless you are on dialup perhaps.
2. Pre-caching software is selfish. This software works by pre-loading webpages that are linked from the page you are currently viewing. So, if you were reading the New York Times home page the software would launch 20 threads which could retrieve all the HTML pages linked from the home page of the New York Times for you. If you visit the top level of the New York Times and read just the top level you will have loaded 50-100 pages you never read. If every web surfer on the Internet had this software tomorrow the Internet servers would grind to halt as would corporate, educational, and home networks.
3. Pre-caching software hurts publishers bandwidth costs: In the example above if 1,000 people come to the New York Times website and loaded two pages each, those people would actually load about 200-300,000 webpages as opposed to just 2,000. That means the New York Times would need to get many more expensive servers, pay for more bandwidth, and increase their tech staff.
4. Pre-caching software hurts a publishers relationship with their advertisers: If the person coming to the New York Times is using pre-caching software they are loading an extra 50-100 webpages for everyone they visit. This means that advertisers are getting charged for pages that were not seen by anyone, and their click-through rates will be way off. For example, if out a of a 1,000 pages shown 10 people click on an advertisement you have a 1% clickthrough rate. If 500 of those pages were loaded by pre-caching software and never seen then the advertisers now thinks their advertisement has a .5% click through and they might drop the campaign on a publishers website, change their creative unnecessarily, or waste a ton of money and dismiss online advertising as ineffective.
5. Pre-caching software will result in click fraud: This software willat their own admissionclick on a certain number of advertisements even though they are trying to identify and not click on advertisements. The result? Well, in the New York Times example the software might click on a half dozens ads the person never sees! When I watched the demo in Browster’s booth the CEO was giddily demonstrating this on Google Adwords!!! You think Google is going to be happyor even be able to exist as a businessif ever time someone does a search all ten text ads are clicked on! Those advertise will have just paid .05 to $50 for each clickand on average about seventy-five cents. So, my one search will result in $7 to $15 in advertising charges!
6. Browster wrapping and targeting advertisements against content sites is against most publisher’s TOS (terms of service). This is cut and dry, our content and other publishers is provided to end users for non-commercial use, and retransmission is strictly prohibited. Do you think the TV industry would let someone sell or give away for freea TV that runs advertisements on the top 20% of the screen?! Absolutely not! Additional, if this “free TV” company started selling targeted advertising against the NFL or HBO’s Sopranos do you think the TV industry would let them do that?! Of course not! This is the same exact thing.
The bottom line is that this company’s executives seem to have missed the fact that this kind of software was a) blocked by servers and ISPs because of bandwidth issues, and websites that framed other websites and sold advertisements against them were suedback in 1996!
We’ve already discussed, debated, and closed these issues as an industrywe don’t need to go over this again because some folks weren’t around for round one of the Internet!
This company should just shut down and give the money back to investors, or come up with another idea that takes into account the fact that the Internet is an ecosystem that identifies and expels parasites extremely efficiently.