Simon Palmer’s blog

October 16, 2008

Adventures in Media Planning

Filed under: Flex — simonpalmer @ 8:31 pm

I’ve been recently working on an algorithm which sorts through a large list of possible advertising media and suggests a set of suitable candidates for inclusion in a campaign.  I’m doing this in conjunction with a company in Hong Kong called who have created a media buying market place.  They act as broker and middle-man between advertisers and the ad providers.  The media they have on their books if of a wide range, from TV ads, to billboards to newspapers and magazines and online ads.

I’m quite excited…

The revolution is that the media buyers being targetted are not media buyers at all but regular business people buying ad space.  This is something I have done a little of myself in the past and I struggled to know how and where to spend my money.  I never had the budget or ongoing need to merit using an agency to plan a campaign for me, so I guessed.  On reflection I probably got it partly right, but that means I also got it mostly wrong.

It turns out that this is not an uncommon scenario, so what we did (we being me and a brainy friend) is dream up a means of allowing a novice user to tell us about the following things:

  • what the demographic of the target audience is
  • what the intention of the campaign is
  • how much money they have to spend

and we then look through the list of media that are available and come up with a suggestion for them which matches who they are trying to reach, what they are trying to do and how much they want to spend.

We have them tell us these things by filling in an interactive online form – with sliders! – in a web page on the site (oh, btw, if you go looking there right now you won’t find it because we’re still beta testing with selected customers).  They press the magic button and in the background our algorithm chugs away and they are presented with a list that they can either just buy straight away, add to or change quantities, or contact the sales team to start haggling about price.

The clever bit is how we decide what we should include.  It turns out this is actually quite a complex problem, not least because the advertising media tend to overlap – by which I mean that a billboard and a newspaper and a TV ad will have some audience in common.  What’s more they individually have very different reaches and different impacts on the viewer.

Then there’s the question of cost.  It’s possible to come up with the perfect media campaign, but how do you maximise the effect and still stay within budget?

These were the problems that we set about tackling and we have come up with a very novel way of doing it which doesn’t mean a huge computational cost as well.  So how does it work?  Well, that would be telling.  Just as soon as we have some solid commercial success I’ll spill the beans, but until then it has to remain top secret.  Suffice to say it has Flex and Python in it…

October 12, 2008

My stack floweth over

Filed under: facebook, stackoverflow — simonpalmer @ 10:25 pm

Thou preparest a forum before me in the presence of mine nerdy peers: thou anointest my questions with answers; my stack floweth over.

I *really* like Stackoverflow.  I think it is partly the innate nerd in me and partly the socialist programmer.  I regularly contribute to several technical forums and I try and balance what I take from them with what I contribute to them.  A quick back-of-a-fag-packet summary of my posts shows that my answers far outweigh my questions, so I am a good little citizen as well – at least I hope I am.

I’m also quite an avid Facebook follower, but that phenomenon has definitely peaked.  I like the fact that I have a place to put my photos and I know there are certain friends whom I pretty much keep in touch with via that medium.  So it has found its place in the substrate of human interaction and will, I suspect, ever remain there, but the shine is off it.

What Stackoverflow has, which Facebook never will, is the single interest group fraternity.  They have also been very clever in using a self-regulated voting system so you can recommend and decommend (is that a word – if not it should be) people’s answers.  Like many social phenomena it is amazingly good at rewarding good behaviour and it is totally addictive.  Basically the rest of teh community gives you a reputation which is reflected in your profile as a point score.

I currently have 944 Reputation points (rubs fingertips together excitedly).

And the fact that those points have been obtained by other people voting for answers that I have posted makes it totally addictive.  Maybe I am disclosing an unfulfilled side of myself, but I do get a buzz out of providing a good answer and conversely it is cringingly awful when a question gets panned.

And as if the reputation were not enough it is actually informative and useful and watched by some seriously good techincal people.  It has almost replaced google as my go-to source for technical answers.  As the number of questions grows it becomes more and more authoritative.

The authors of the site are being haled as brilliant innovators and I think that they have the balance of playful addiction and useful resource just about right.

I suspect the allure of a large reputation number may wane, but the value of the resource is likely to remain.

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