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ClickZ Interview with Glenn Fleishman


The ClickZ Letter

September 18, 1997

Issue Three

Ann Handley, Editor


Welcome to the ClickZ Letter!

In this week's issue:

The ClickZ Q?:

Glenn Fleishman




Is the third-generation web activity reporting system that




To find out how ARIA can improve your

on-line advertising efforts visit:


The ClickZ Q?

This Week's Guest:

Glenn Fleishman

Having worked in various capacities all across the Net,

Glenn Fleishman is truly an industry pioneer.

Companies? He's run them. Books? He's written them. Facts?

He knows them. Opinions? Well, he's got them, too.

Glenn's a Yalie who was in publishing before he co-founded

Point of Presence Company (POPCO) in mid-1994, just as the

World Wide Web started to accelerate. Around that time, he

also began moderating the Internet Marketing Discussion

List, a forum for discussion of marketing to and on the

Internet. The widely read list had over 7,000 subscribers on

its last day (in 1996), and precipitated Tenagra

Corporation's Online Advertising Discussion List and MMGCO's

Internet-Sales Moderated Discussion List.

He sold POPCO in 1996 to join, where he dealt

with managing, increasing, and improving a catalog that grew

from one million to 2.5 million items during his tenure. In

early May 1997, he turned to freelance writing and

consulting -- a role he has relished off and on since the

start of his career.

In between, Fleishman has always played the role of

unsolicited pundit. And, he points out, offering his opinion

without asking first has gotten him some nice gigs, from

freelance articles to books. Currently, Fleishman is

revising Real World Scanning and Halftones for its second

edition. (For the first edition, he acted as managing

editor, designer, and wrote the Photo CD chapter; David

Blatner and Stephen F. Roth wrote the book.)

Fleishman is also chairing the Web Advertising '98/New

York Conference.

CLICKZ: You are known as one of the founding fathers of

internet marketing, dating back to your being moderator of

the Internet Marketing Discussion List. Given the many

changes in internet marketing and advertising you have

witnessed over the past several years, what developments are

the ones you see as the most promising?

FLEISHMAN: I have to say that I feel like things are pretty

much the same as they were two years ago, except that some

techniques have changed. The newer, more animated and

interactive ads are interesting, but they don't really

change the picture that much. Interstitial advertising is

the biggest development, and it has the most potential to

turn parts of the Internet into programming. But it can only

be used in limited situations.

Jupiter's report on advertising projects a significant

minority of ads in a few years will be interstitial, but I

think that's rampant speculation as the advertisers will

drive the market with their money. If advertising sites

develop new, better ideas about how to deliver customers or

change minds or impress brands on surfers, advertising will

put their money into it. Of course, there are limited

modalities on the Internet as it exists today, partly due to

bandwidth, partly to software, and, frankly, partly to


Glenn Davis [Project Cool,] says that he

was the first person to do pop-up windows for advertising

some months ago where a separate window appears with

advertising material in it. Now that's great, and I don't

doubt he was first or among the first. But it's really not

that different from other techniques.

You Don't Know Jack (Berkeley Systems), and some similar

downloadable games or environments like mPath Interactive's

that work over the Internet, are really the first new kind

of thing where you are put into an entirely different mode

of interaction. I heard a guy from Mattel several years ago

call a certain kind of interaction "Coke machine

interactivity": you push the button and the can comes out.

And that's really the mode in which most of Web advertising

is locked today. It's a model that works, but everyone isn't

entirely satisfied with it -- sort of cola aftertaste, as it


CLICKZ: What developments do you find troubling?

FLEISHMAN: Two big ones: interstitials and tracking.

I like interstitials conceptually, but hijacking a browser

might result in massive user backlash and avoidance of

sites. You can get "suckered" once, but the second time you

might just go away. I remember seeing the first

interstitials on Word a long time ago, and feeling a small

sense of annoyance. But I was also impressed. As more

regular users come on board who care less and less about

technology and view the Web entirely as a medium,

interstitials will certainly seem familiar and not as

jarring -- they'll have no basis of comparison. But

deployment has to be careful.

I remember Steve Manes, a columnist at the New York Times,

telling me quite some time ago that he thought Java's

principle function would be to seize control of users'

machines for 15 or 30 seconds to present an ad they couldn't

escape from. And it would be used on every site, so you'd

have to opt out of the Web entirely to not be involved in

that mode of advertising.

That's a terrible thought, because we will really lose

eyeballs that way and permanently -- potentially-- and we

have to make sure that it doesn't come to pass. Advertisers

can benefit from interstitials used appropriately, and there

has to be care to avoid AOL-type missteps that reverberate

across the industry or industries involved in this.

Really, it comes down to creativity again.

Tracking is a "troubling development" because the technology

has been so poorly explained to end-users. And people who

write about it are often scarcely informed. I often see

articles that say that cookies pass user information like

credit card numbers. And this is a bad explanation. Cookies

can be anything from being like having your hand stamped at

a conference to being like your driver's license. The fact

is that it's impossible for a cookie to contain any

information about yourself -- or be a key that points to

this information -- unless you've provided it.

Yes, you can use cookies to track user patterns and even how

a single user goes through a site. Conceivably, companies

with sufficient traffic could combine cookies with buying

behavior with clickthrough behavior with web site

trolling...and data mine the results to target ads, offers,

or threats at these users.

The fact is, this happens every day in the real world in a

more intrusive manner. I hate getting unsolicited phone

calls and they don't do anything for me. No one has ever

called and said, "Hi, your phone bill this month has been

paid by XYZ Corp., bringing you the finest ball point pens

money can buy and would you like a thousand of them for

$19.95, Mr. Fleishman?" If it worked that way, I might be

okay about it.

On the web, the limited amount of tracking, analysis, and

customized ad delivery is part of the money getting diverted

to sites that are providing content that I read and want. I

don't go to pages with ads because I'm randomly trolling; I

go to or the New York Times on the Web for

information. I'm willing to give up some of my mindshare as

part of that transaction.

You'd think with all of the marketers involved on the Web,

that some group or groups would figure out a way to

effectively market this concept to the users so they

understand the tradeoffs. Personally, and honestly, I would

ban users from sites if they won't accept cookies or try to

exclude ads. This is anti-social behavior in the sense that

these users are depriving these sites of income that enables

them to provide these resources, which are not public

utilities, but paid for.

My metaphor would be the whole social contract: if I make a

living in the United States and get paid in dollars, I've

opted into the system, and I don't feel I can arbitrarily

stop paying tax and so forth as I am realizing the benefits

of the system. The police come to my house when I call. The

traffic lights work for me. Insurance companies pay for my

prescription drugs. If I want to opt out of that, I can't go

a la carte. And I know this attitude is unpopular.

If I were running a commercial sites that took ads at the

moment, I doubt I would implement my ideas, but I have a

feeling many sites will start doing this in the next year.

CLICKZ: In your farewell to the 7,000-member Internet

Marketing Discussion List way back in June of '96, you

pointed to yourself as a main cause of the decline of its

content...specifically because you had run out of the time

and energy the list required.

If this was the case, why didn't you hand the management of

the I-M list to someone else? Why not let it live on?

FLEISHMAN: I'll go back to June 1994, when I started my

first Net list: WWWORDER, a list for discussing how to

implement Web ordering systems. This started just a month

before I did Internet Marketing. I had great hope that

WWWORDER would be a forum where we could learn and exchange

and figure out how to turn the Internet into a great medium

to placing orders. I realized within about two weeks,

however, with several hundred people on the list, that no

one participating had a clue about how to do it. Those that

did were also on the list, but they wouldn't ante up -- they

had put their hard work and money into building systems and

weren't about to reveal the secrets.

The same became true of Internet Marketing by early 1996,

although it took me a while to accept that. Most people who

had figured out secrets, tricks, etc., or who had valuable

information and analysis about what worked either wouldn't

or couldn't share it with the group. There was too much

value in this information, and either you would sell it (by

writing a report for Jupiter, or Forrester, or one of the

others) or use it yourself. But you certainly wouldn't

reveal it to your competitors -- or colleagues.

Because of that, the utility of the whole thing disappeared.

The discussions wound up on the same topics, none of which

was really useful to real marketers: spamming, selling

advertising, and setting up a site. There were definitely

side issues and discussions on issues of the day. But there

wasn't much new or useful.

I didn't hand the list off, because it's success and

interest to others was in part due to my iron-fisted

moderation. I didn't want to be responsible directly or

indirectly for the list becoming bad. Killing it preserved

it in amber and sparked other lists to get off the ground. I

look at the major lists covering these topics today --

Internet Sales run by John Audette, MMGCO, and Online

Advertising run by Richard Hoy, Tenagra Corp. -- and think I

did the right thing. (John's list started in Nov. '95, so

predated the demise of IMDL.)

I did get a lot of criticism for not passing the names on to

someone else. I couldn't just host the list and not moderate

because of the huge amount of technical support it required

(another reason I killed it off). But I felt that I couldn't

guarantee what my subscribers would get from another group.

So I thought it best to give them the choice of signing up

with new lists or not.

I am, by the way, starting a new list, which is really an

electronic newsletter: NetBITS ( It'll be

issued weekly and feature articles of interest to those who

use the Internet quite a bit, whether for work or fun, and

want to know more of what's happening and what's in the


CLICKZ: Over the past year, you were the catalog manager for, arguably the leading online retailer on the net.

Could you tell us a little about what you were doing there?

FLEISHMAN: My goals at were informational in

nature. My role there was to help organize and clarify the

kinds of information had about books and build a

framework on which to hang new information and sort the

details we already had. In my tenure, I helped increase the

catalog from one million to 2.5 million items, dramatically

expanded the amount of content (reviews, synopses, tables of

contents) available for each book and overall, and developed

a cross-referencing system that allowed content from one

specific edition of a book (a single ISBN'd title) to be

linked to all editions of the book.

This doesn't have much to do with marketing or advertising,

but I'm an information guy. I actually did quite a bit of

perl hacking while I was there, too, as well as being a

general busybody. I interacted quite a bit with marketing,

and was involved in the interviewing and hiring of the

current VP of Marketing.

CLICKZ: What lessons did you learn while you were there? Any

things you will be determined NOT to do, having seen it

tried and failed there?

FLEISHMAN: The CEO of, Jeff Bezos, has kept a

laser beam focus on the core business and principles that

he's had from day one. That's an incredible lesson. Jeff is

tremendous at cutting through any situation to the heart of

the matter and analyzing it on whether it's something should be doing or whether it's extraneous. Many

notions and ideas were tossed by the wayside because they

didn't fall sufficiently within the mission; others were

adopted wholeheartedly, like selling out of print books.

Jeff also taught me, as did the VP of Customer Service (note

that it's a VP level position), the Chief Operating Officer,

and several others in the company, that customer service is

critical to a business that has customers. Duh, yeah, I

know... pretty obvious. But the commitment behind that went

from absolute newest, lowest-level employee all the way up

to Jeff. Every piece of e-mail into gets answered

intelligently within about a day; when I left 50 people were

worked 60-hour weeks just to accomplish that and that was in

May 1997!

Barnes and Noble, by contrast, punted for me -- my first

query to them about why I couldn't find Scott Adams's newest

book took a week to get answered, was answered by two

people, and neither answer was useful or correct or took

into account my actual question.

Jeff, by the way, has always insisted on hiring the best

possible people in customer service (as well as at the rest

of the company). I predicted, and I think rightly so, that

Barnes and Noble is not doing this, and it shows. B? has

missed their own lesson! You walk into a B?

brick-and-mortar and it's one of the most pleasant

experiences you get in the retail world.

On the down side, I learned that using proprietary software

rather than off-the-shelf components can limit your

flexibility. had to "roll their own" because web

systems didn't exist that were integrated with databases at

the time they got started. However, even while I was there,

there wasn't enough of a shift for me to systems that were

more standard and flexible, and would have allowed faster

deployment of new features -- like search by publisher! The

programming team there is incredible, though, and the site

still feels amazing, even though I know every thing I'd

still like to see in place.

CLICKZ: As conference chair of Web Advertising '98, what are

your hopes for the gathering? What do you expect to draw

crowds this year?

FLEISHMAN: What we've done for '98/New York is laser beam in

on issues that affect buyers and marketers. We read every

evaluation from previous events and use statistical analysis

to understand exactly where we succeeded and failed with

sessions, speakers, and overall focus. This time around, I

would say the focus is around deliverables and deals: how do

you get the best results (with hard numbers to back up those

sessions) and where do you find the deals.

For instance, we've got the return of one of our most

popular sessions, What's a Click Worth, where the speakers

analyze four major objectives from their perspectives:

direct sales, cost per download, banner exchange, and raw

impressions. We have David Yoder back to talk even more

precisely about reaching unduplicated customers and figuring

exactly what the costs of web advertising are compared to

conventional media. Michael Tchong will be talking about

numbers in a session devoted to analyzing all the data out

there and explaining where to find the best statistics and

which numbers you need to know.

We've chosen speakers primarily who don't have a product to

sell, which we know is rare in the industry. Our goal is get

people on stage who will deliver a thesis -- like, using red

as a background color in a banner increases clickthroughs

and sales -- and then talk about how they achieved proving

this, showing examples, the process of development, and hard

numbers. There will be conceptual overviews of new areas and

some background information about how parts of the

technology work, but we really want to show the folks who

are doing the ad buys or building campaigns what works, how

to do it, and how to measure success.

Let me put it this way: there will be no "future of web

advertising" sessions at Web Advertising '98/New York.

They're all about how to deal with the here and now.


Real-world answers from the people

who make web advertising _work._

Web Advertising '98:

How to Bring the World to Your Web Site

Mark Your Calendar:

February 2-4, New York City


This Past Week on ClickZ!

September 19, 1997

Scott Cherkin

Thinking it Through:

Calculating the Risks

of Performance Based Pricing

September 18, 1997

Ray Taylor

Transatlantic Trade: Why be afraid?

September 17, 1997

Rob Frankel

Future Push:

Yelling Toasters and Nagging Refrigerators?

September 16, 1997

Michael Sexton

Service Businesses On the Net:

Getting Traffic and Closing the Sale

September 15, 1997

Michael Bannen

Internet Advertisingâs Weakest Link:

Hiding from Would-Be Customers

September 13, 1997

Sharon Tucci

Reciprocal Links:

What Are They Worth To You?


Next Week on ClickZ:

MONDAY: Tina Koenig of Express Press talks about the value

of site awards

TUESDAY: Ken Glaser of The Internet Culinary

CyberCity shares his site's approach to web advertising

WEDNESDAY: Rob Frankel's weekly rant

THURSDAY: James Houck of Fallon-McElligott offers web wisdom

FRIDAY: ClickZ Publisher Andy Bourland is on a tear....


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