InFocus: Attributor Corp.

Article ImageLike so many internet publishing strategies before it, hyperdistribution has been more of a web ethic than a business model. Let content run free, Web 2.0 pundits recommended, and the revenue would somehow follow from all those bloggers quoting you and long tail sites rehashing for free all the content your company paid to produce. Honestly, we don’t know yet how all of this pans out as a business, but we do know that publishers can’t even begin to build businesses unless they know where their content goes and how it is being used.

In late 2007, Attributor Corp. made a big splash in the content world with technology that breaks down, fingerprints, and tracks text, images, and video as they move off-site. Its web service monitors billions of pages to render real-time analysis in a dashboard that allows publishers to see how and where others reuse their content. According to Attributor CEO Jim Brock, resistance to hyperdistribution is futile, so you might as well be smart about it. "The content wants to get close to the folks that want to consume it. You should consider the reach of the content to be far beyond the boundaries of your own domain. That can be very exciting," he says.

Attributor technology tries to make Web 2.0 less frustrating and more exciting. The company has discovered that thousands of sites worldwide simply rip off major media by cutting and pasting large swatches of material without attribution or linkage. In an early test, it found more than 10,000 copies of recipes from major food brands popping up on 3,000 other sites. Not only were most of them copied verbatim from the publisher without linkage, but in Google searches the pirated copies ranked higher than the originals. "Off-site distribution exceeded our expectations," says Brock. Attributor technology lets publishers locate pirates and potential partners (sometimes one and the same) and build models that establish and extract the real value of content in a hyperdistributed world. Now content providers can see how other sites, social networks, and blogs value their content—insights that can drive editorial decisions and suggest new monetization strategies. Publishers are in a better position to finger content thieves, establish meaningful business partnerships and content packages, or just insist that other sites provide the linkage that is the new lifeblood of the Web 2.0 ecosystem.

The comprehensive Attributor dashboard shows publishers how many sites are copying content and the extent to which an original is being reused, with and without advertising around it. In real time, a content provider sees which sites are reusing its content most as well as the visitors the site attracts. In fact, Attributor built tools into its engine for contacting third-party publishers with various types of links, partnership offers, or takedown requests. In other words, Attributor put a compass and steering wheel on the runaway train of hyperdistribution.

The Redwood City, Calif., company was founded in 2005 by Brock, former Yahoo! SVP of communications and consumer services, and CTO Jim Pitkow, former CEO of online syndication pioneer Moreover Technologies, Inc. Major funding from JAFCO Ventures and Sigma Partners helped propel growth, and an investment from Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. is driving Attributor into deeper tracking of the wildly proliferating video content on the web. "There is a huge opportunity in extracting value no matter where it might be," says Brock. "I have been astonished at the value of publisher content inside ad networks such as AdSense." One of the company’s key innovations in the last year has been estimating a publisher’s off-site audience using its content and thus quantifying its untapped advertising potential.

Brock’s next big mission is leveraging the value of publishers’ content within other people’s ad networks. Attributor has a typology of ad networks it can use to crawl commercial pages and understand which third-party publishers are cashing in on reusing your content … and the money you are leaving at the table. In Attributor’s vision of a profitable Web 2.0, publishers will get a fair share of the ad revenue others make from off-site content. "We see an alignment of interests," says Brock. "The ad networks want the best content, and the publishers want the plumbing to make divvying up the proceeds more automatic. Content providers and ad networks will work more closely together to monetize the off-site use and reach of content," he says.

We don’t know yet which business models will drive Web 2.0 monetization, but it seems certain that publishers will need more maps like Attributor’s to find their way there.

Fun Fact: When VP of marketing Rich Pearson invited VCs to a company event at an indoor go-kart arena, the VCs turned a race into a "demolition derby," he recalls. The winner wore his medal to the next board meeting.


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