I love the smell of democratic governance in the morning.
I'm back in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and their aides as part of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Long Tail Fly-In. Around 50 web publishers have paid our own way to come to D.C. to explain how Google AdSense and other contextual ad networks power small businesses.
This is my third year attending the event. We spend one day talking shop about web publishing and learning about new web privacy legislation, then spend the next marching around the halls of Congress to explain that some of that legislation will kill our businesses and force us to return to a life of crime -- or whatever it was we did before the web came along.
(I was in the newspaper business. Don't make me go back there!)
When I was interviewed by AdWeek about the event, I tried basically the same approach on the reporter I'll be using on Rep. ToBeDetermined and Sen. NotSureYet. I've been publishing on the web since 1995 and ran sites before AdSense came along. Ads were completely untargeted, aggravated users because they didn't relate to their interests and didn't earn squat. Now, with ads that use anonymous cookies to learn some demographics about the audience, I've been able to publish the Drudge Retort for eight years.
I could not afford to do that without this ad model, given server hosting costs of around $7,400 a year on a site that gets two million hits a month. AdSense helped my blogging hobby get completely out of hand and turn into a small business. (Some of the Retort's conservative users believe that this experience in bidness will turn me Republican. I have thus far avoided that fate.)
I'll have more to say about the privacy concerns and the pending legislation this week, after I hear from the main policy wonk at the IAB. The biggest issue is likely to be the browser do-not-track header, which Microsoft is turning on by default in Internet Explorer 10.
There are over a million people using contextual ads to fund full- or part-time businesses. Google has paid $30 billion to AdSense publishers in the decade since the service began. Even during the worst of the 2008 economic crash, ad-supported online sites were a part of the economy that was growing.
As one of the only political bloggers who attends this event, I talk on Capitol Hill about the thousands of independent news sites and blogs that fund themselves through this model. You can publish a commercial news site or blog today and be beholden to no one.
I worry sometimes that the thought of getting rid of bloggers will be viewed as a plus by some members of Congress.
Last year, our efforts were unfortunately timed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed up on the same day to address a joint session of Congress, and the members all decided to hear him speak instead of us. I did get to wave to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) as she left her office, but was unable to convey the importance of contextual advertising through a hand gesture.