PromulGate: A Full-Page Multimedia Experience over a Slow Connection

Joseph MOSLEY <jmosley@delfinproject.com>
DelFin Project Inc.
USA

Abstract

PromulGate technology enables any type of interactive multimedia experience during the process of connection (and disconnection) to the Internet using normal telephony.

Contents

Internet multimedia -- an oxymoron!

The world is racing to simultaneously broaden the Internet deployment and improve the experience by adding multimedia content. Everyone has come to demand an interactive TV-like experience. Advertisers want a TV experience targeted to each Internet user independent of the connection bandwidth. With the current Internet this is an oxymoron. It is well understood that a multimedia message can be sent over a slow connection but the idea of having a compelling multimedia message delivered only after a long wait destroys the sponsor's intended reaction. How then can a compelling personalized message be delivered each and every time someone connects to the Internet? Perhaps a more immediate question is, how will this be funded?

How will we pay for multimedia on the Internet?

For developed nations this manifests itself as the upgrading of dial-up connections to high-bandwidth connections, such as cable modems and digital subscriber line (DSL). A question here is: How much will the public pay for the bandwidth? The movement toward "free" dial-up Internet offerings magnifies this issue.

For emerging nations, however, this is not an option. For this segment, high-bandwidth wiring is not a reality. In fact, in some cases telephony is only now being deployed. This does not lessen the demand for a TV-like message. According to Tom Steienert-Threlkeld of Inter@ctive Week there is a significant "digital gap." For example, in Tanzania on the edge of Africa only 5,000 persons of a population of 31.3 million are Internet users." (Inter@ctive Week page 5 November 29, 1999) Internet usage is about 1 in 6,000 for Tanzania. The U.S. usage is better than 1 in 2.

One would think that this gap is closing but in the same issue Mel Duvall chronicled the "digital divide", which is really a reflection of the disparity of the haves and the have-nots. With this as the background, how will the Internet be implemented at all into the emerging nations, let alone be "free"? How can we close the gap, so that the World Wide Web can truly be worldwide?

Even Europeans are struggling with the change over to the wired world of the Internet. Europe has widely deployed telephony; however, the connection rates are high. Therefore, they have been reluctant to pay monthly subscriptions to Internet service providers (ISPs). So the phone companies pay ISPs a percentage of the revenues from the phone calls made to access the Internet. This business model enables free ISPs to flourish in Europe. This approach, however, is threatened by the trend in Europe toward flat-rate local calls.

With the theme of this conference, "Global Distributed Knowledge for Everyone," how will we pay for the telecommunication installation and upgrading? Clearly the two answers are user fees and advertising. With the assumption that user fees will be tuned to the local ability to pay for the service, all shortfall will be filled with advertising.

Everyone's reaction is, "Not more advertising!" The reality is that for newsprint, magazines, radio, and TV, ad revenues pay for most if not all of these different media. The Internet will not be different. How, then, will Internet advertising help to pay for deployment of this global knowledge for everyone?

Normal Internet advertising

The Internet currently has three major types of advertising: Sponsorships, Banners, and various versions of Pop-Ups. Sponsorship advertising works the best as it is attempting to build a brand identity and a collaborative network.

Banners are the most prolific and yet least effective. The banner may not be coherent with respect to the page that the banner is being presented on. They render an impression on a given page; however, the duration of the banner exposure is indeterminate, as the banner is up only as long as the page is being viewed. In addition after some amount of surfing, everyone exhibits banner fatigue. This is in spite of some very creative ways of getting attention such as motion GIF and audio attachments to banners. Lastly the ability to tune the banner to the user is usually limited, as most of the time the subscriber is anonymous. The click-through rate for banners has been steadily declining over the past years and is currently about 0.5%.

Pop-ups and their variations allow for a new browser window to be called into which an ad is placed. This is viewed as an interruption to the normal surfing experience, hence the name. If there is any multimedia it is usually a small short video experience but this involves a significant download and resulting interruption to the surfing experience.

In all of these cases the Internet allows for interactivity. Unlike TV, on the Internet one can receive the ad and click for more information or even to buy. From the message sponsor's point of view, the number of impressions, the quality, and viewer response can be measured in a very timely way.

According to the Internet Advertising Bureau's Internet Ad Revenue Report, banners remain the predominant type of Internet advertising on the Net, constituting 58 percent of all creative advertising. Sponsorship are second, representing 29 percent of the online advertising buys. According to Forrester Research total ad dollars in the United States is $2.8 billion in 1999 and will grow to $22 billion by 2004. (Digital South November 1999, page 67). How will this ad revenue split out and be used?

As good as all of these advertising methods are, something more compelling is needed to help pay for the World Wide Web deployment.

PromulGate: thinking outside the box

PromulGate allows for a full multimedia experience during the process of connecting to the Internet. This experience is non-invasive as the normal latency for a telephony dial-up is in the range of 20 sec, during which no actions are possible.

It is noted that unlike sponsorships, banners, and pop-ups, which contend for "ad" space during an Internet session, PromulGate is in addition to the Internet experience and is not contentious with the existing methods. Therefore it is additional ad revenue.


Figure 1

Referring to Figure 1 above, with PromulGate the normal dial-up dialog box (dialing, connecting, checking password, etc.) is replaced with a dialog strip, which is placed on the bottom of the personal computer (PC) monitor. This allows the user's "default browser" to be called in off-line mode and fill the balance of the screen. What is rendered in the browser during the dialing can be a full and complete multimedia experience. PromulGate is compatible with all of the standard multimedia plug-ins.

The message that is rendered during this time has been forward stored in the user's hard drive. This download was accomplished in the background in a non-invasive way during the previous Internet session(s). Initially several ads are stored and once in place they are updated only as required. Each ad contains identification tags that allow for targeting so as to maximize the advertising experience.

Message selection

The industry has a very good understanding of the normal types of filtering: geographic, demographic, time of day, etc. However PromulGate has innovated additional techniques of targeting advertising.


Figure 2

For advertisers, TV broadcasting is considered a shotgun. Ideally, the Internet is considered a Laser because the targeting can be very accurate. PromulGate allows for the ad sponsor not only to use the Laser but to "shoot" when the time and viewer's attitude is correct. Figure 2, above, illustrates an improved method of targeting, filtering, and selection. Starting on the left there is an enterprise list, which contains all ads that are current. This list is distributed based on geography to ensure localized tuning. The middle of the figure illustrates the user's PC accepting some of the ads and yet rejecting others based on the user's profile that is used for this selection process. Note that the ads that are deployed into the viewer's PC have been selected by the PromulGate client database engine. There is no wasted Internet bandwidth, PC storage, or ad money spent. Once in the PC, the particular ad that is rendered is based on additional selection techniques. The user is profiled relative to interests, and, if volunteered, attitude. Using food as an example, everyone likes food; the trick is to advertise when someone is hungry. This "trick" is used by the PromulGate sponsors to differentiate interest in a product or product type to an attitude of wanting to buy. However, going further, the time of the day is also used for selection. Continuing the food example, PromulGate would render different ads for breakfast, lunch, or dinner foods, based on the time of the day. The final selection is based on bidding. For a given time of the day there may be overlapping ads, therefore the highest bidder will be selected. Note that the ad sponsor is billed for ads that are selected, rendered, and reported but not for any ads that have been stored forward on the PC's hard drive but never selected.

Event ads

PromulGate technology allows for event-based messages. An example: with winter approaching, a mass retailer places an ad for snow shovels with a trigger of snow in the forecast for a given location. During each Internet session the PromulGate PC-based client consults an Internet weather site for the trigger. When snow is forecast the snow shovel ad is enabled for bidding and if it is the highest bidder will be rendered. Other examples of events are loan rates, sales of homes in a particular area, and travel or vacation opportunities. In general, any type of opportunity that has the potential for happening but is waiting for an external trigger presents very high commerce opportunities.

For an emerging nation, events can sometime be life threatening. PromulGate can be used to help alleviate weather, civil unrest, or natural disasters by presenting very compelling messages in a timely way and perhaps be triggered in a way so as to preempt the worst effects.

PromulGate architecture

PromulGate is a very sophisticated technology and yet is designed to be completely compatible with the Internet open standards and to grow with them as the Internet evolves.


Figure 3

Figure 3 above illustrates the PromulGate technology as it applies to a typical client - server-based Internet solution. On the left is a server and on the right is the client with all of the major components drawn relative to the Internet PromulGate solution. PromulGate-specific functions are illustrated using double lined boxes, starting with step 1 in the upper left. The ad sponsor schedules an ad using a database-like program (A) and selects the details of the Targeting and Timing (B) of the ad campaign starting with a particular geography and using all of the particular PromulGate-specific tags. The actual content for the ads may contain any of the "standard" hypertext markup language (HTML), AVI, Apple's Quick Time, or Macromedia's Flash based authoring content. PromulGate supports all of the popular multimedia standards. The resulting ad files are compressed and encrypted for transmission according to the schedule. The ad files are stored and served from the PromulGate ad server (C). The server-based operating system (D) is illustrated here and may be any of the industry standards. The transmission of the ad and ad schedules (E) and the Server Side Network Interface Protocols (F) support all of the Internet standards.

The network fabric (G) is illustrated in the center of the figure. Note that total compatibility for the Internet is a given.

When the client makes a connection to the Internet using the PromulGate dialer the progress of connection to the Net is reported in the status bar (H). On the client side all of the Network Interface Protocols are maintained (I). Once connected the ads and ad schedule are received, or updated, in the background during a given Internet session and stored on the hard drive (J). The Client Operating System is any of the industry standards (K). During the "next" Internet dial-up session, the ad selection engine (described above) selects an ad for rendering. The selected ad is de-crypted, un-zipped, and rendered during the dial-up latency (L). The client is using any of the standard browsers (N) which have plug-ins for audio and video (M) and handle all of the typing and clicking (O). The client enjoys a normal Internet type of interaction before the connection is accomplished -- not the least of which is a full TV-like experience without waiting for any files to download. This completes the ad deployment and rendering which is labeled as 2 in the upper right of Figure 3.

Turning now to the ad placement reporting and starting at point 3 in the client, all of the typing and clicking (O) is reported back to the ad server. While the viewer is waiting for the Internet connection he/she may interact with the PromulGate message. This may result in a simple impression, a click-through, or in fact a sale of the sponsored product. In any case the particular PromulGate message that has been rendered, the time of the day, the duration and all of the other associated ad tags are recorded in the client (P). Once connected, PromulGate reports back to the server this information, within the confines of the privacy filter (Q) and it is stored in the ad reporting data base (R) at the server. The ad campaign can be measured in a very effective and timely way maximizing the ad effectiveness using the reporting and tuning tools (S). This completes the ad placement report at step 4 at the server. Note that part of the real worth of the PromulGate technology is that an ad's content can be deployed and within a day for most users will be rendered and its effectiveness can be measured to adjust the next day's ad content. This allows unprecedented ad measurement and tuning.

How does this help deploy the Internet?

All new media must be deemed necessary if it is to reach wide adoption. Because of PromulGate's multimedia content and targeting ability, both the ad sponsor and the ad viewer will interact in a way that heretofore was unthinkable, even with a low-bandwidth infrastructure. This push-pull demand will help to spark the complete deployment of sufficient bandwidth on a worldwide level to the benefit of everyone.

Does it work?

PromulGate has been tested by Ziff-Davis Test and Analysis Group and a full report is available. PromulGate has been demonstrated using several multimedia examples, all of which do not impede time to connect to the Internet. In fact the dial-up process seems faster. When connecting normally to the Internet the familiar but boring set of dialog boxes that illustrate the progress of connection is rendered. With PromulGate something is render that is "NOW." These new and different messages cause the wait time to seem to be less. In fact with PromulGate a personalized TV-like experience is possible using a normal telephone Internet connection.

Real statistics and examples

Once installed, PromulGate takes well under 150 KB of storage. This does not include any of the ad content. The ad content can range from very simple full-page HTML at less than 10KB, to video clips that are above hundreds of KB. Once installed, only updates and new content need to be downloaded, thus enabling fresh ads while minimizing communication bandwidth. The download time for the ad content will vary based on all of the normal Internet parameters. Key here is that the viewer is not waiting for the download to complete. In real usage a typical multimedia ad of 20 seconds is well under 100KB. The PromulGate ad report, which contains what was rendered and the associated tags, is well below 1 KB of storage. This is reported back to the ad server after the connection. In general, after connecting to the Internet, PromulGate has about 2 to 3 minuets of "housekeeping" that is accomplished in the background of the Internet session.

Conclusion

PromulGate's fundamental idea is messaging during times of man-machine latency. What was a time of waiting, now can become a time that one looks forward to as it may be the most enjoyable multimedia experience of the Internet without any of the download wait times. In addition, what has been described is one of the many manifestations that are possible. What PromulGate enables is a very compelling first (and last) message each and every time the Internet is accessed, even in the absent of a high-bandwidth Internet connection.

Other implications are log-off of the Internet, waiting for events on your PC such as printing or operating system start-up and shutdown. In addition new platforms are being looked at, such as product dispensers and ATMs, etc. Perhaps the best opportunity for PromulGate is that of messaging when a TV is first turned on. With PromulGate, future converged PCs and TVs will have a set-top box that will blend in a seamless way broadcast video and Internet information.

The Internet will be deployed and it will be paid for in a variety of ways. The DelFin Project believes that PromulGate will participate. This is an exciting and humbling time, when the world will erase the difference between the haves and the have-nots. The digital gap will be closed. No one less that Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, has stated that "The combined power of the PC and the Internet will help poorer countries transform themselves into global economies. We're already seeing some of those countries literally bypass the industrial Age -- they're heading straight into the Digital Age, where they can compete on an equal footing with rich countries. I never imagined that would happen in my lifetime." In their own words..., in PC Week of December 27, 1999 page 72.

Acknowledgments

It is the author's privilege to represent The DelFin Project. We would also like to thank our software partners Econ Technologies Inc. of Orlando, Florida, and our Intellectual Property Attorneys of Fleit, Kain, Gibbons, Gutman & Bongini P.L. with offices in Boca Raton, Florida.