Adware’s New Day: WhenU CEO Bill Day Cleans House and Educates Consumers

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After it’s raised red flags in the online advertising industry, raised eyebrows amongst consumers and perhaps even lowered the standards of the online space, it’s no surprise that Bill Day would declare that adware “dies as a term in the next twelve months.”

The “term” in question is not only often maligned by industry acolytes and the government, it’s somehow inextricably linked to the even more lethal spyware. So Day’s prediction is understandable, if not completely merited. But rather than just cry foul, the co-founder and former CEO of About.com is doing something to both clear adware’s name, and also reinvent a company which was embroiled in its worst practices.

Two years ago, WhenU was a beleaguered adware provider, not only taking lashes from government, but renowned industry analysts/watchdogs like Ben Edelman. Edelman, a tenacious PhD candidate at Harvard, spent much time in his lab researching and then reporting on WhenU’s missteps, which included ‘cloaking’ techniques on Google that would send bogus search results to sites that provided favorable WhenU content.

But Edelman’s handiwork was published prior to the arrival of Bill Day, who argues, “The ‘cloaking’ thing, when I got close to it, was really a non-issue. An SEO vendor had done something, and Google picked it up, but it was quickly corrected.” This would just be the beginning of several corrections and improvements that would be implemented concurrent to the hiring of Bill Day.

A dotcom veteran who helped found one of the original search-based portals in About.com — originally called The Mining Company — Day moved from IT guy at Prodigy to practically spearheading the online revolution. In his 8 years at About, Day experienced the ups and downs like most ten-year vets have in this space. “I was all about building the company and growing it towards being an IPO, which it became in 1998,” he explains. “I then sold the company in 2000, but I stayed on as the CEO of About through the end of 2003. By that time, things were in pretty good shape. The company had survived the downturn in ad spending and the dotcom bubble. It had actually gotten stronger, because it has a very strong relationship with the growth of search engines like Google. The model was more and more accepted as a way of creating niche content on the Internet and targeted advertising.”

While About.com is now taking haven in the comfy umbrella of the New York Times Company, Day left with the idea of taking his targeted advertising approach and involving it with something fresh. “Coming out of About, I spent a lot of time looking at models that I thought would generate the next generation of targeted advertising,” he says. “If you think about it in a way, About.com from its conception was very oriented around targeted advertising based on adjacency. So I spent a lot of time looking at information strategies and ways to look at new content companies. Then, I happened upon the adware space.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. No doubt about it Bill Day has taken WhenU from a complete mess to a much more respectable company as “adware” goes.

    But what of the past? What of the trickery and slimy tactics that built up the business? Who is to be held accountable for that and can WhenU ever shed that stigma?

  2. I notice Mr Day mentioned the benefits for advertisers (click through rates) but not the consumer. Let’s not pretend “target advertising” is actually more beneficial to the consumer that general advertising. I know it is FAR more annoying to me (what advertisers consider relevant and what consumers consider relevant are two different things). I find the idea of advertisers tracking my Internet use, to deliver me (usually irrelevant and almost always duplicitous )advertising, repellent.

    I propose Mr Day’s company pay for an independent researcher (or research company) to conduct a study (under the direction of a well-known consumer advocate group) to show consumers like targeting advertising, find it useful and are aware of, and understand, the REAL terms and conditions of the software used to deliver this advertising.

    Of course that will never happen, as Mr Day doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the consumer.

    His company’s practices may not be quite as sleazy as they once were, but let’s not pretend they are REALLY above board.

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