The Big News: A tale of two Freds
Exclusive report by Ryan Monceaux, Editor In Chief
Editor's Note:Part one of the story can be found at this link: Showker's revenge
What a difference a week makes.
In the span of seven days, Fred Showker has gone from a small business owner in Virginia to one of the most hated (or revered, depending on your vantage point) men in the Online Advertising industry. Fred's brainchild, a patent-pending technology that strips out ads coming into an ISP and replaces them with locally-sold advertising, stood to make him one of the most controversial men in America.
But now he's got company.
Fred Davis, CEO of Lumeria, says that his company has been working for over a year on a technology eerily similar to that of Fred Showker's. Lumeria, an Internet incubator and holding firm based in Berkeley, California, is poised to announce it's newest product, the Lumeria Ad Network, in the not-too-distant future. Davis calls his work "technology that allows users to get more relevant Internet advertising," and says the procedure will utilize a profiling system to determine the consumer's location and interests, which will in turn establish what ads to serve. The "SuperProfile" system is patent-pending, as are several other pieces of Lumeria's master plan.
Showker, who has an avid distaste for banner ads (Web spam as he calls it), is an unlikely candidate to be pioneering such equipment, at least at first glance. Living in rural Virginia for 28 years and a banner-hater, he does not appear to be on the cutting edge.
But do not allow looks to fool you. Showker has run an Internet business for several years and has been apart of the UseNet group since it's inception in the early 1980's. He sees the Internet as the perfect medium for local businesses to get their message across, even if they have to resort to banner ads to do so. The technology he has developed will allow companies to advertise to people who use his ISP, and other ISPs should he choose to go into a partnership deal with others. The question is not whether he can do it, but if he chooses to do so.
"I am not in the advertising business ... yet," Showker proclaims. "But that might change. I am not saying that we are for-sure going ahead with this, but plenty of people are getting interested."
Whereas Showker proudly boasted his firm's accomplishments on the Online Ads List, Davis has taken a more guarded approach. Just after Christmas, Davis was told by a friend that someone on the Online Ads List was talking about his ad network. After researching and then joining the list, Davis saw that indeed, another Fred was in the process of putting out feelers to judge advertisers' interest in the idea. Davis, not quite ready to fully announce his plans but not wanting to look reactionary if Showker's design was a success, has decided to hint at what Lumeria plans to do in the near future.
"Amazing isn't it," Davis said. "In a marvelous case of parallel evolution, someone else named Fred was indeed espousing an idea very similar to what we've been working on for the past year."
With Showker's East coast plan and Davis' West coast plan both using different technologies to achieve the same goal, how will national advertisers be able to continue to dominate the Internet, which until now has seen little competition from small businesses? One answer, the obvious one, is through litigation.
While no precedent has been set, many advertisers believe that legal action involving Showker, and now Davis, would be an open and shut case. Not wanting to go on record, a spokesman at AOL said that, "there is no chance that a local ISP could get away with this. Essentially, it's theft."
Showker says that while his idea may be ethically-challenged, it is not illegal. He points to software that strips out banner ads (but does not replace them) as a perfectly legal case similar to what he is attempting. Also, Showker believes that cries of copyright infringement will fall on deaf ears in the judicial system.
"What we're doing is, I believe, totally within the law," Showker said. "There is no copyright on the ads that are served because Web sites cannot validate which ads are served on their site at any given time.
"This technology still serves their ad," he continued, "but it will trash it and bring up our ad automatically. They will still get the hit, which is all they are looking for."
Again, Davis attempts to take the high road. While fully admitting that he plans on running into legal hurdles, he thinks Lumeria can vault them without a problem.
"We have a very capable legal team to help us defend our approach," is the only comment Davis would give.
Both agree that Online Advertising needs to have a more targeted approach and has yet to fulfill the needs of consumers. Showker has gone as far as to say that current advertising tactics will fail miserably and the only way for the e-commerce revolution to take off is to revamp the entire Online Advertising proposition. Showker's solution (he readily concedes that it might not be the best) is more limited in scope than Davis', but each presents a real problem to advertisers around the globe.
The end to advertising as we know it could be very close, much closer than most people know. And when it's all said and done, these two Freds could play a major role in the overhauling of the industry.
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