GigaOm's Liz Gannes reports that Fox Interactive, owner of MySpace, has overtaken Yahoo! for page impressions in November. TechDirt quickly clarifies that the improvements to Yahoo!'s AJAX webmail, combined with the lack of improvements to the MySpace page farm (Jay Small), are at the heart of this ostensible MySpace win. Indeed.
"Does this matter?" asks SEJ. Yes, a lot. As I've noted before, between Mar05 and Mar06 online ad impressions purchased (not merely available) rose from 97.1 billion to 185 billion, more-or-less doubling (ZDnet). Over roughly the same period, online ad spend rose only 30% (SearchRules). That's impressions doubling, revenues rising 30%. Yields have been deflating, caused mainly, I think, by the fact that impression increases have been driven by webmail and social networks (MediaPlannerBuyer) with considerable unsold inventory and (therefore) diminishing CPMs. Yahoo!'s move to a more efficient AJAX-based webmail reader may have turned our industry around an important corner. Hopefully the move ultimately points us towards display ad yields heading upwards across the industry and a return to buyers concentrating more on quality of response and less on price. That's good for any media owner who's not just running a page farm.
People like Browster have already tried to fix the page farm problem from the outside - though since the latest press mention on their site dates back to August it's not clear how they're doing. And Gareth Stack has a sophisticated explanation of how the social networking page farm draws users in, noting that sites like Bebo make use of a "variable ratio conditioning schedule" similar to that used by fruit machines to "effectively condition...its users to continually surf its listings".
Finally, I was talking yesterday about Steve Rubel's excellent comments on the imminent death of the page view, the increasing widgetisation of the web and why, therefore, blunt strategies that rely on merely generating vast ad inventory - especially low-value page farm impressions - will be dominated by more thoughtful, value-focused strategies. Yahoo! are already moving there. Browster and other custom-browsing applications are waiting in the wings to force the issue on MySpace - if design is cumbersome enough, users will simply use the flexibility of web2.0 tools to work around it. Looks to me like MySpace's move.