Claria Embarks on Behavioral Content and Ad Personalization Path

As Claria exits its beleaguered adware business, the firm is starting afresh today with the beta launch of its downloadable personalized homepage application. PersonalWeb applies the behavioral targeting component of its moribund GAIN and BehaviorLink networks to deliver relevant editorial content and ads to users.

Based on anonymous user behavior, the system constantly refines the content and contextually-relevant ads it serves to users on their PersonalWeb homepage. Users will have the ability to manually choose which email systems, search engine, RSS feeds and other tools and content they’d like to feature on their PersonalWeb homepage.

In some ways, it’s similar to personalize-able home page offerings from Google, Yahoo and MSN, but there’s an important difference. As users interact across the Web, sponsored and organic links to content move up and down the page according to what the system’s algorithm perceives to be relevant. Users can also put the application in pause mode, disabling the monitoring system from tracking their Web interactions.

“You’re basically teaching PersonalWeb with how you use it and how you use the Web,” explained Scott Eagle, Claria’s chief marketing officer.

For example, if a user indicates interest in Cote D’Azur by viewing online content about the beach paradise, PersonalWeb would automatically raise the positioning of links to relevant content. It would most likely throw in an ad offering a discount on travel to the French Riviera, too. In addition to defined sponsored links located along the right side of the page, the platform will deliver standard display ads targeted based on user behavior.

Added Eagle, the system will show no ads “if we don’t have a relevant ad to show you.”

Is the timing right for another downloadable personalization tool? “Certainly,” commented Dave Morgan, CEO of Tacoda Systems, a firm that partners with publishers to deliver behaviorally-targeted ads. Tacoda is not planning to enter the content delivery business, according to Morgan, who believes that ad delivery and content delivery systems are too different to make such a venture feasible. What Claria is doing, he continued, is “making a lot of sense” by offering a content delivery system that’s “more intelligent.” As he sees it though, Claria’s challenge will be competing with big players like Yahoo and Google that already offer Web-based personalized homepage tools that don’t require a download as Claria’s tool does.

One of the differences Claria hopes will set PersonalWeb apart from other personalized homepage offerings is automation. According to focus group studies conducted by Claria when developing the new product, fewer than 10 percent of users actually customize a homepage. The fact that PersonalWeb does the customization for users may appeal to folks who can’t be bothered to manually personalize a homepage. Eagle likens the new application to Google’s downloadable Sidebar tool, which also adjusts content links based on user behavior and manual settings.

The company faces the uphill task of establishing its PersonalWeb user base and related data from scratch, since it will not be applying any user registration or behavioral data from its previous products like the GAIN adware system or its behavioral targeting network, BehaviorLink. Claria’s BehaviorLink technology, but not its data, has been built into the PersonalWeb platform. Claria will run online ads throughout April to promote the application to potential users.

In June, Claria expects to roll out private-label editions of PersonalWeb which will be branded by publisher sites that will promote usage of the system to their own readers. According to Eagle, the firm will reveal names of publisher partners at the start of Q3.

Downloadable applications are coming under increasing scrutiny for their potential to invade user privacy or simply annoy them with intrusive ads. Eagle said PersonalWeb should not be labeled as adware, which he defined as applications that show ads outside the parameters of that particular application, whether or not the ads are targeted. Privacy watchdog Truste has developed its Trusted Download program to evaluate downloadable adware and trackware applications for certification. Truste’s director of product development Colin O’Malley agrees that ad targeting does not impact adware classification, but he continued, “it may impact classification of the application as trackware.”

Claria has secured $40 million in financing with investments from Asia Pacific Ventures, Sand Hill Capital, Softbank America and Rogers Communications, which will be used towards driving PersonalWeb. Claria is also partnering with Yahoo Japan and Softbank Corp. to provide the product to consumers in Japan.

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