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Advertising Report
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Movement to Develop XML Standards for Ad Industry Picks Up Steam
By Pamela Parker

Have you ever faxed an advertising insertion order or received one in an overnight delivery? If so, it's no surprise. Even though Internet advertising revolves around bits and bytes, the most crucial transactions are still often made on paper.

That's why 46 industry people from 29 different companies got together in December to discuss a solution to that problem.

These people, who hail from companies like Flycast Communications (FCST) , DoubleClick (DCLK) , Solbright, OpenGrid, and Winstar Interactive (WCII) , established an organization to try to come up with digital standards for exchanging information like ad sizes, numbers of impressions, and types of ads.

In recent weeks, the action at adXML.org, so named because the XML language is central to the process, has heated up, as the group gets closer to releasing the beta version of the standard.

"It's ironic that the advertising industry still relies on fax and overnight delivery to try and drive a medium that should be totally electronic," said Gregory Raifman, chairman and chief executive officer of Mediaplex (MPLX).

"The adXML.org's mission is to create an 'open exchange,' like an XML-based commodities exchange, that gives the industry the ability to buy and sell the stock of its trade -- time and space -- in real time."

Mediaplex started the initiative because, as a media buying firm, it was dealing with the problems of inefficiencies and human error as it bought space on Internet sites. The company still sponsors adXML.org, but it hopes to eventually bring in other companies to help with the expense.

"The long term vision is that the organization stands on its own," said Ken Kucera, vice president of strategic business development at Mediaplex.

XML is a metalanguage, providing self-describing information. Within the language itself, there are ways to describe what is being described, which means that, given the correct translating software, it can easily be imported into whatever software the agency, publisher, or advertiser is using to manage its advertising.

The development of such a standard is especially important for the burgeoning wireless and broadband markets. Because there is currently no standard governing size or placement of ads in these new media, it's important to find a way to communicate those parameters.

With XML, information about size, placement and the type of ad can be built into the order (or request for orders) themselves. So an XML standard could, theoretically, provide the industry with a way to communicate effectively about all of the new kinds of ads that are popping up -- in handheld devices, on wireless phones, in elevators, at kiosks at airports, and on refrigerators. Since developers of wireless advertising eventually hope to target ads to people depending on where they are physically located -- a McDonald's ad, for example, would appear when someone was walking past the restaurant -- that kind of information could be communicated, as well.

"We felt it was important that adXML had a real-time component," said Jens Horstmann, president of OpenGrid, a wireless company that's participating in adXML.org.

"The opportunity here is to build a standard before a de facto standard falls into place. Simple things like http and HTML worked out to the benefit of everybody, and I think adXML will be one of those things."

And the vision for adXML goes well beyond digital advertising. AdXML.org hopes that it can also be used in traditional media -- print, TV, and outdoor.

The idea is that, like with http and HTML, the establishment of a standard would help everyone, and that, the more companies adopt this standard, the more valuable it will be.

"The more ubiquitous this becomes, the better it is for the industry," said Kucera. "It's good for our business, as it is for everybody's business."

Although this isn't the first time there have been efforts to create a better way of communicating, the growing use of XML is what seems to give this initiative a better chance, according to Stefan Pomerantz, senior product manager at Flycast and head of the online subcommittee of adXML.org.

"The people that I've spoken with about it seem pretty excited," Pomerantz said. "It's sparking a lot of ideas."

The organization's goal is to unveil a beta version of its standard in May at the @d:tech conference in San Francisco, but it expects that the standard will continually evolve.

March 10, 2000