Movement to Develop XML Standards for Ad Industry Picks Up Steam

Have you ever faxed an advertising insertion order or received one in an
overnight delivery? If so, it’s no surprise. Even though Internet advertising revolves around bits and bytes, the most crucial transactions are still often made on paper.


That’s why 46 industry people from 29 different companies got together in
December to discuss a solution to that problem.

These people, who hail from companies like Flycast Communications (FCST)
, DoubleClick (DCLK)
, Solbright, OpenGrid, and Winstar Interactive (WCII)
, established an organization to try to come up with digital standards for
exchanging information like ad sizes, numbers of impressions, and types of
ads.


In recent weeks, the action at adXML.org, so named because the XML
language is central to the process, has heated up, as the group gets closer
to releasing the beta version of the standard.


“It’s ironic that the advertising industry still relies on fax and
overnight delivery to try and drive a medium that should be totally
electronic,” said Gregory Raifman, chairman and chief executive officer of
Mediaplex (MPLX).


“The adXML.org’s mission is to create an ‘open exchange,’ like an XML-based
commodities exchange, that gives the industry the ability to buy and sell
the stock of its trade — time and space — in real time.”


Mediaplex started the initiative because, as a media buying firm, it was
dealing with the problems of inefficiencies and human error as it bought
space on Internet sites. The company still sponsors adXML.org, but it hopes
to eventually bring in other companies to help with the expense.


“The long term vision is that the organization stands on its own,” said Ken
Kucera, vice president of strategic business development at Mediaplex.


XML is a metalanguage, providing self-describing information. Within the
language itself, there are ways to describe what is being described, which
means that, given the correct translating software, it can easily be
imported into whatever software the agency, publisher, or advertiser is
using to manage its advertising.


The development of such a standard is especially important for the
burgeoning wireless and broadband markets. Because there is currently no standard governing size or placement of ads in these new media, it’s important
to find a way to communicate those parameters.


With XML, information about size, placement and the type of ad can be built
into the order (or request for orders) themselves. So an XML standard
could, theoretically, provide the industry with a way to communicate
effectively about all of the new kinds of ads that are popping up — in
handheld devices, on wireless phones, in elevators, at kiosks at airports,
and on refrigerators. Since developers of wireless advertising eventually
hope to target ads to people depending on where they are physically located
— a McDonald’s ad, for example, would appear when someone was walking past
the restaurant — that kind of information could be communicated, as well.


“We felt it was important that adXML had a real-time component,” said Jens
Horstmann, president of OpenGrid, a
wireless company that’s participating in adXML.org.


“The opportunity here is to build a standard before a de facto standard
falls into place. S

imple things like http and HTML worked out to the
benefit of everybody, and I think adXML will be one of those things.”


And the vision for adXML goes well beyond digital advertising. AdXML.org
hopes that it can also be used in traditional media — print, TV, and outdoor.


The idea is that, like with http and HTML, the establishment of a standard
would help everyone, and that, the more companies adopt this standard, the
more valuable it will be.


“The more ubiquitous this becomes, the better it is for the industry,” said
Kucera. “It’s good for our business, as it is for everybody’s business.”


Although this isn’t the first time there have been efforts to create a
better way of communicating, the growing use of XML is what seems to give
this initiative a better chance, according to Stefan Pomerantz, senior
product manager at Flycast and head of the online subcommittee of adXML.org.


“The people that I’ve spoken with about it seem pretty excited,” Pomerantz said. “It’s sparking a lot of ideas.”


The organization’s goal is to unveil a beta version of its standard in May
at the @d:tech conference in San Francisco, but it expects that the
standard will continually evolve.

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