Will AJAX Scrub IAB Impression Guidelines?

At every conference, in every industry meeting, and in every discussion I’ve been in over the past few months, people have anxiously asked me about a looming problem in our industry. It’s a problem I first raised back in March — and it’s becoming urgent.

Digital advertising (note that I didn’t write “interactive”) changes incredibly fast. Even the basic fabric of our industry changes so fast that “traditional” ways of defining and managing the advertising infrastructure must change.

By “infrastructure,” I mean our business fundamentals of the business: planning, buying, selling, counting, and billing. If the medium doesn’t change much over time, there’s little need to change the tools that manage business fundamentals. The digital medium is constantly shifting and evolving.

It took years for the industry to define ad impressions and to enact the impression audit standards every major publisher and ad server currently implement. And those standard are already out of date. That may seem a bit harsh to colleagues I’ve worked so hard with to get those standards enacted, but it’s not much of an exaggeration.

The current standards are designed around Web 1.0, in which a page view is very clearly defined, much like a page in a magazine. Ads are placed on a specific page; when another page appears, another set of ads loads. Each page view means a hard content refresh and the rendering of a new page of content. On the technology side, a new page means server calls to pull content from a remote location, including ads. Ad counting occurs when a full page loads.

Now we’re at Web 2.0. The fundamental way pages refresh is different and constantly changing. New methods of rendering page content in both Web pages and a variety of new applications and formats mean the recently minted impression guidelines are falling out of synch with the way the industry works.

The most commonly known name for these new technologies is AJAX (define). AJAX is changing the way Web pages function. It enables much more seamless experiences of Web content. Fundamentally, the biggest change is that content loads into an AJAX page asynchronously. The whole page doesn’t need to refresh to load new content. If you’ve played with the beta versions of Hotmail, Virtual Earth, Google Maps, or any of dozens of other AJAX applications, you know what I’m talking about.

AJAX is all the rage. It shows how to load “standard” Web content in completely different ways. But Flash has been able to do this for years. And there are many new emerging technologies, such as the Windows Presentation Foundation, that will make this type of dynamic content loading ubiquitous.

Beyond the Web, there are the applications. Ad-funded applications are a huge focus for the software industry. Again, the Web 1.0 concept of refreshing the whole “page” of content breaks down in this model.

In the scenarios listed above, current impression guidelines simply don’t provide any significant guidance. The principles and thinking that went into those guidelines remain sound, but we must urgently address issues such as refreshing ads. Fortunately, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Council (MRC) have started working on the problem. With luck and persistence, we’ll craft new guidelines in time to resolve concerns — and before we’re right back where we started.

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