The Algorithm That Blocks Annoying Things (Like Your Ad)
Chris Baker has a new start-up that could make it more difficult to market your company online. Earlier this week, the ex-creative director of BuzzFeed unveiled his latest project, Rather, a Google Chrome extension that filters out "annoying things" on the Internet, including the ads companies place on Twitter and Facebook.
Companies increasingly rely on Web-based advertisements to drive sales. Online ad spending topped $100 billion in 2012, according to eMarketer, and it's expected to grow 15 percent to $118 billion by the end of this year. But Baker envisions a different kind of Internet, one that’s more customized for its users.
“The Internet is such a mess right now,” he tells Inc. “People are A and B testing and only one out of every 100 ads will make you smile.” By filtering out the annoying stuff, he hopes to improve users' experiences.
With Rather, users can select certain topics they dislike (such as Obama or babies). Anytime that keyword appears, the extention will swap out that piece of online content for something the user would rather see. Rather also relies on three separate algorithms to filter the Internet: Popularily, which enables users to filter out trending topics like the World Series; Upcoming, which prevents upcoming events or trends like the Olympics from clogging your feed; and Service, which selectively turns off ads on Facebook and Twitter.
Baker stresses that he's not looking to block ads completely--"We don't want to be Adblock; they've wiped the slate"--but hopes the service might teach small businesses to make better ads.
“Oftentimes, these ads are just talking to the wrong person at the wrong time with the wrong language,” he says. “A lot of the promoted tweets I’ve seen are way off; they’re talking about esoteric things. I’ve never seen one that made me say, ‘Hmm, I think that’s something I’ll use.’”
Facebook does a better job of enticing consumers, he says, because its advertisers know their audience. “I eventually bought stuff from Bonobos because my cousin kept seeing their ads for 100 years and he bought stuff,” Baker jokes. "The bigger issue is annoying people, really."
Rather is an offshoot of Unbaby.me, another Baker-helmed Chrome extension that let users filter out friends' baby pictures on Facebook. What began as a joke (and a $500 project on Elance) became an overnight success, drawing international press and hundreds of thousands of users. "We just saw the world react in such a way where we were like, 'Holy shit! We have to see where this takes us," says Baker. "We saw an opportunity to turn this into something bigger than that."
If Rather manages to catch on with users, small businesses may have to retool their marketing strategies. And that's what Baker is hoping for. "People don't mind ads, people love those AT&T ads with the kids," he says. "There are ads that people do love."
JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer
Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.