MichaelMistretta.com finally hits version 2.0.
Cameron Hunt and I have been working on this design since January. It keeps with the light-on-dark motif of the previous design while sporting an all-new look. Some of the noticeable changes are the lack of comments, re-written colophon page, and distinct photos section.
If you’re reading this through the RSS feed, click through to join the fun.
Articles and links are formatted accordingly, while photos are treated as first-class citizens and displayed big and beautiful (very Big Picture-esque).
My favourite touch is the way the Fusion ad jumps up to the header in the photos section to make room for larger pictures. I’ll have a full post up describing the design process once I’ve had a chance to catch my breath and recuperate.
And yes, rejoice, you can search at last.
One of my favourite parts about summer days in southern Ontario is our strategic location an hour away from one of the sunniest beaches in Canada. There’s nothing quite like grabbing a couple pre-cooked ribs and potato wedges from the local grocery store and heading up north to a place where the 3G doesn’t shine — but that’s another story for another day.
When I was little, I remember seeing dogs roam the beach, leash-less and free. Watching them gallop across the sand, splashing in the frothy waves — it was the only time I ever saw dogs off their leashes and it just felt so… right.
Everyone took care of their own animal, and everyone reaped the benefits of a dog-friendly beach.
But one year, all the dogs disappeared. The beach that had once welcomed dogs with open arms had now banned them. Dog poop had been left scattered across the shoreline, and the Health and Safety officers had done what they thought best. Certain owners had grown careless and abused their rights, in turn, ruining the beach for all dog owners.
A couple bad apples spoiled the batch for everybody.
And that’s exactly what’s happened to the advertising industry.
‘Nothing In Life Is Free’
I am passionate about advertising. I think it’s a brilliant concept that has been pooped upon by selfish marketers, resulting in corrupted motives and flawed execution (not to mention universal condemnation of the entire industry).
Everyone hates advertising. I hate that I run a company that’s title carries with it all the negative connotations that accompany ‘advertising’.
Kyle Baxter eloquently describes the state of web advertising:
Online advertising is broken. Web sites place ads to the side of content, and readers learn to ignore it; so web sites put ads in the header, and readers learn to ignore it; so web sites put ads in-line with content, and readers learn to scroll past it; so web sites use video ads and create ones that overflow into the content, so readers stop reading.
Really, I love advertising. It allows companies and individuals to give their content or products away free of charge, while, in many cases, making a full time living. To be honest, I’m a little perturbed that people “hate” the very means by which their favourite content is delivered to them for free.
If nothing in life is free, then why do we expect content to be? Why do we feel that it is our God-given right to consume any form of blog post, movie, song, podcast — any sort of content whatsoever — without paying the price that comes along with that content?
Maybe it’s because I’ve actually produced content of my own, and I know how long it takes to make something worth consuming. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last 6 months in the business of selling ads. I don’t know.
It’s time to remember that just because we don’t pay for the content doesn’t mean it’s free. Content and services take time and money and can’t simply be done ‘for the community’.
Advertising is the economy of the web. When someone gives my favourite blog money to help them continue to be my favourite blog, I think that someone is pretty cool. And if that someone respects me enough not to bombard me with flashy animations and obnoxious pop-ups, maybe, just maybe, I’ll click on the ad and discover a new product.
Advertising was meant to be a win-win-win solution for consumers, publishers, and advertisers alike.
Blocking the Poop
Up until a week ago, my clean install of Mac OS X typically included a tradition that involved (1) opening Safari, (2) navigating to CNN.com, (3) closing the window, (4) downloading and installing the free Safari AdBlock, and (5) navigating to ad-free CNN.com once again.
(Of course, filtering Fusion and The Deck ads along the ways.)
I know, I know: it’s a little weird for someone running an ad network to block ads. But they’re the enemy! They’re the ones pooping on the beach and ruining the market for everyone. They don’t deserve to make money off me or anyone else.
Then I had my ephiany: despite how much I hate the way flashy ads look or how they ramp up my processor or how they bombard me and insult my intelligence — the fact of the matter remains, many people make their living off advertising.
When you purchase a product, you look at the pricetag and the value the product adds to your life, and make an intelligent business decision about whether or not to buy said product. If the product’s not worth the pricetag then you simply don’t buy it.
The same can be said for free content and services online.
Looking at the value of the product, you have to make a decision about whether the content is worth putting up with the flashy, intrusive, disgusting ads. And guess what? If the content’s not worth it, you don’t consume it.
It’s quite simple really.
You don’t strip the content of the ads — that’s stealing.
As a result of this shift, I find myself spending less time consuming content wrapped in layers of ads, and more time reading content that values my attention.
Adblockers are only a temporary answer to the poop. But they don’t solve the problem.
The State of Fusion
One year ago to the day, the idea behind Fusion Ads was birthed. Six months ago, we launched Fusion with ten sites, a single advertiser, and big dreams. Our network served a mere 300,000 impressions a month to ten advertisers at $640 each. We never sold out a single month.
Fast forward two network expansions, a couple mistakes, and a lot of hard work later, and you have Fusion Ads today. Thirty-three established publishers serving 8,000,000 impressions a month. There are fifteen ad spots available at $950 apiece, and we’ve already sold out for the month of May.
“We’ve grown” is the understatement of the century. We started off charging advertisers $640 for a meagre 30,000 impressions per ad, and are now serving well-over 500,000 impressions for $950 a month. For those of your keeping score at home, that’s a 50% raise in price for a 1600% increase in value.
But numbers were never why we created Fusion.
For me, having a Fusion ad on my website has never been about joining a club of exclusive bloggers or making a ton of money. I’ve always thought of the Fusion ad as a statement — that my content takes time and money to create; that I respect the time you take to consume it; that I value your attention.
Adding publishers to Fusion has been somewhat of a selfish obsession of mine. When I add sites like Geek & Mild, Phil Coffman, and Ignore the Code, it’s because I’m an avid reader and fan of the stuff they make. Already, a good 30% of my feed reader has been Fusion-ized.
Some of the feedback we’ve received about our ads in Tweetie for Mac has blown me away. I’m used to people not minding our ads. But liking them enough to deliberately turn them on in software that they paid good money for? That puts us in a whole different ball game.
I’ve seen quotes and testimonials from publishers that have made a lot of money going with this ad network or that ad network, but I’ve never seen end-users raving about advertisements. Until now.
I love how Adam Lisagor put it in a private email conversation: “You bring taste back to a space of the world that has been lacking in taste these days.”
I enjoy the ads in Tweetie. I’m continually wishing there were more of them. I’m biased, so that may not count, but when people say that our ads are more relevant than half their tweets, I start to wonder if we’re really advertising after all (at least, in the traditional sense of the word).
I feel that my job has changed from simply filling x number of ad spots every month, to finding great new products that are worthy of your attention, and presenting them to you in the best way possible.
Via The Deck
Starting out, my biggest mistake was not having a clearly defined vision. I wanted to be a smaller version of The Deck — riding on their success and making a little profit while at it.
Needless to say, that has changed over the last six months.
I don’t want to be like The Deck because we’re not The Deck. While we do believe in the same calibre of advertising, our focus is different. I want us to be an advocate for the small guy. I want to find unknown publishers and advertisers that reek of awesomeness, and I want to tell you about them.
The same goes for other ad networks like (the recently shut-down) SidebarAds. When Steve Jobs was asked whether iTunes competed with other online music retailers, he questioned how they could compete when they all had a common enemy — piracy. The challenge was not bickering among themselves to determine who’s best, but creating a solution that was better than piracy.
Our enemy is traditional advertising. Anyone that chooses to offer quality ads, no matter the target market, is not my competitor. We’re all on the same side.
The Road Ahead
Right now, we have a reputation for serving some of the best looking ads around. My priority is to make sure that we can grow and expand while keeping our ads beautiful and relevant. It’s not easy to turn down someone who wants to give you money, but I’d like Fusion to be in the place financially to vet advertisers.
I’m proud to say that we’ve already turned down a considerable number of ads. The first one was tough, but it got easier from there on out. It really comes down to not advertising products that make me cringe everytime I see them.
I am a user and a reader that sees my ads and clicks my ads and even buys products from my ads (that Ballpark one got me!). I’m not saying we’re perfect, but I’d like to get to the place where not only are most Fusion ads beautiful, but all of them.
There are a few people I want to take the time to highlight and thank: Chris Bowler, for being my faithful partner and putting up with my rigid spreadsheets, Shawn Blanc, for continually finding flaws in my work and leaving it up to me to discover how to fix them, Cameron Hunt, for designing some downright sexy ads and raising the bar for Fusion as a network, and Chris Thomson, for making sure the ads actually show up on everyone else’s screen.
I really believe in this kind of advertising. If we can create an ecosystem that isn’t really an ad network, but instead, a place where great people are free to make great things and get paid by other great people making other great things, all while readers get to learn about and experience new products that actually interest them — well, that would be my dream. My great thing.