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The Big News: Showker's revenge
by Ryan Monceaux, Editor In Chief


Fred Showker has the uncanny ability to portray himself in several different lights, most of them drawing on his distinct tastes and interests. At one point, he's just a country fellow, living off of his farm in rural Virginia, 90 miles southwest of Washington D.C. Yet just as quick, Showker can turn into a shrewd businessman with the savvy to have embraced the possibilities of the Internet at a time when practically no one knew what email meant. It's those complex doppelgangers that puzzle his detractors and adversaries, who see him as the man who could ruin Online Advertising as it is presently known.

Showker makes his living off of running a local ISP in Virginia, selling Internet access to over 60,000 people who might otherwise not have the ability to get online. He also runs several Web sites that, until this very day, do not accept banner advertising or their revenues due to his total hatred of spam and "Webspam," his term for all blinking banner ads.

Yes, he's a different guy, always thinking slightly different than those around him, but that's the reason why he's got the entire Online Advertising world on his back. Showker has developed a way to take Web pages that come onto his ISP, strip the ads out and replace them with ads he could sell locally. Although he points out that his company has not begun to sell ads ("We're not an advertising firm - yet," he says with a chuckle) nor has he fully decided if he wants to go forward with the scheme, he has set in motion a process that could make him the most controversial figure in the advertising profession.

His scheme revealed
Showker introduced his brainchild to the participants of the Online Ads Discussion List late last month and within hours, had dozens of people questioning whether or not his idea is legal, ethical, or in the case of many who sought him out privately, possible.

"I was expecting to get some positive and negative response," Showker said. "I figured I would get some people who didn't like the idea, and I would get some that wanted to go along with me," Showker explained. "I've got several companies and other ISPs who have contacted me who want to explore this further."

If he brings the plan to market and either uses it for his ISP or sells it to other local providers, Showker will be a pioneer in providing advertising availability on the Internet to small-town companies, one of his initial desires when he was kicking this idea around with his programmers.

"We want to be able to sell this to the hardware store on the corner," Showker says, reverting back to his country inflection. "We know how much small-town companies spend in advertising on TV or on the radio or in the newspaper, and we think we could offer them advertising on the Internet at a rate very similar, and in some cases lower, than what they pay for advertising now."

Showker would use his technology on sites that have banners that are served through ad networks or banner exchange groups. He says that his programmers found a common key in the coding of these that make it easy to differentiate third-party advertising from that which a Web site serves itself. While admitting that the practice might be seen as unethical (an issue that will be dealt with in the second part of this series), he says the original ad will still give the networks their true desire: the click-through.

"This technology still serves their ad," he says, "but it will trash it and bring up our ad automatically. They will still get the hit, which is all they are looking for."

The detractors
Many of his opponents think that while the idea is an interesting one and that possibilities abound, the idea is still corrupt. Detractors cite copyright law violations, saying that all content on the site is protected under United States and International copyright laws. They also accuse Showker of trying to profit off of the hard work of others, all of which Showker vehemently denies.

"I don't think that this would be a copyright violation," Showker says, although he admits he is looking into it with his attorneys. "Web site owners never know what ads are going to be served on their site if it's coming from a third party, and they can never validate if an ad ever showed up at all. Besides, these sites will still get their hits, which allows them to make their money."

Showker says the idea is still a hypothetical and may never see the light of day. He believes that the current model for advertising on the Internet will not last very much longer and thinks that giving local companies the ability to advertise on the Web is the only way that the ecommerce avalanche will be able to survive. Still, he acknowledges that he's not sure if this proposal is the way to go or if his programmers need to go back to the drawing board.

"It's important to me to get local advertisers on the Web," Showker says. "Our research says that most people don't care about banner ads but they would like to see local businesses and business-owners, people they went to school with and grew up with, utilizing the Web like the major companies do. This idea gives them that chance."

Assuming that Showker does go ahead with the plan, he is certain to run into dozens of legal and ethical challenges along the way. Everyone from ad networks to Web site owners will be breathing down his neck trying to convince him to drop the idea. Next week, we will examine the legal and ethical objections of his most vocal opponents and their reasons for pressuring Showker, who at this point, has just dangled the thought without an actual threat of going ahead with it.



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