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Ads Making Overtures in RSS

Amid intense discussion over whether advertising has a place in RSS , online ad powerhouse Overture Systems has quietly entered the game.

Overture, the search advertising division of Yahoo , is delivering targeted advertising into several feeds, including that of MobileTracker.net.

Overture is working with FeedBurner to deliver the ads via a system that combines Overture's contextual matching technology with FeedBurner's posting and processing services.

FeedBurner acts as a clearinghouse, offering services for publishers that include formatting into both RSS and Atom formats and tracking where and how often feeds are displayed. That tracking ability is a crucial tool for advertising.

"Another concept was, as people start to manage feeds through us, we can begin to also run ads in the feed for them," Dick Costolo, CEO of FeedBurner, told internetnews.com. He said significant interest in delivering ads with feeds runs the spectrum from publishers and professionals to hobbyists.

Costolo said that a major challenge for RSS advertising is the diversity of software used to read feeds.

"Unlike in the browser world, where supporting three or four browsers gets you 99.99 percent of browsers," he said, "in the feed reader world, we've catalogued over 640 of these things."

In fact, FeedBurner supports more than 300 different RSS clients that have more than 1000 users each. Costolo said there are many more clients that are used by a few hundred people.

Costolo said FeedBurner also is working with Kanoodle, an ad network that provides search keyword, contextual and behavioral targeting. Kanoodle recently began serving ads into blogs published via Six Apart's hosted TypePad blogging service.

Costolo said the ad- and feed-serving systems needed to be adjusted for feeds so that when an ad is rotated it doesn't appear as updated content.

Jon Gales, editor of MobileTracker.net, said he wasn't yet receiving reports on the response to ads in his site. While the advertising service still is being worked out, he said he jumped at the chance to be a beta tester.

"I have a feeling the FeedBurner Overture ads will be a hit once the program starts for everyone," he said. "I'm pretty impressed with the targeting. I just checked the ad on an article I wrote earlier today about T-Mobile ringtones, and the ad is for a service to get free ringtones sent to your phone. That's an ad the readers might actually want to use."

Gales said he'd had no negative feedback about the ads, which are delivered as clickable graphics.

While there's still idealism about an ad-free blogosphere, Paul Kedrosky, a fellow at U.C. San Diego's William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement, believes we're in a "weird" ad-free phase for the medium. Once the two major ad networks dig in, RSS ads will be ubiquitous, he said, while ad serving and tracking will be enabled in the next generation of readers.

Overture Services already is delivering ads into RSS in partnership with FeedBurner, and Kedrosky expects Google to follow suit within two quarters.

"You don't get to skip the ads in RSS; that's naive," said Kedrosky. The only difference will be that ads will be viewed inside the reader instead of on a Web page. "It will be trailing banners, leading banners, side banners, all the stuff you've grown to not like."