How Adzerk Teaches Non-Engineers to Code With a Programming Club

From the very earliest days of Adzerk, CEO James Avery has wanted everyone in the company to be a coder— not to push code to the product itself, but to be able to program as a skill. But why would a sales rep or HR manager need to understand how to write software? Well, why not? We actually have several good reasons:

The Adzerk platform is a highly technical product. While we have a web interface, our customers do much of the heavy lifting of their integrations through our APIs. Some Adzerk features, like custom targeting, make use of queries that require programming knowledge.

Selling or supporting Adzerk (and definitely understanding how it works) requires a basic understanding of how web developers build sites and apps.

The hacker mindset is part of our company culture. Being a hacker is even one of our core values. While being a hacker means something different for a software engineer versus an operations manager, both involve thinking creatively and making use of technology to solve problems.

With that in mind, we recently created a Programming Club open to all non-engineers. (And every non-engineer in the company signed up, which was awesome!) We meet at lunch on Wednesdays to discuss our progress in Codeacademy's JavaScript course and other programming topics. The Adzerk engineers are our mentors, both in the Wednesday meetings and in a dedicated Slack channel.

Every member of Programming Club approaches the course with a different level of technical expertise. For example, our support lead Jacob already diagnoses JavaScript issues as part of his role, and I've used JSON and curl to write our API documentation. But some of our team has never looked at a HTML page source before, let alone tried to write their own code.

The open format (self-driven coursework combined with discussions about general topics) allows everyone to learn new skills at their own pace. Club members become more technical, and club organizers get a chance to impart their knowledge in a structured environment. It's a win for the whole company.

Starting Your Own Company Programming Club

The first rule of Programming Club, according to our organizer Alan Dipert, is to pick an existing curriculum so you don't have to develop your own. It's unrealistic to create a course that can meet the needs of all your club members. The self-driven nature of Codeacademy was ideal for the diversity of tech experience at Adzerk.

Then, enlist all the engineers you can as mentors. The more self-driven your course is, the less time your mentors will need to commit. For us, the Club meetings are for general discussions and chances for one on one help rather than "teaching".

Finally, try to get the budget for free food. It works wonders for morale.

JSON Ads Are the Key to Fully Integrated Native Advertising

Let's be real— publishers want simple advertising solutions that let them spend more time on creating content and building their business. They want to be able to implement tags without a hassle, offer their inventory to buyers without jumping through hoops, and maximize their inventory's value.

But simple doesn't always translate to effective. In the real world, publishers have to pick two out of the three: maximum ease of set up, maximum value, or maximum availability.

JSON native ads offer the latter two.

The problem with "faux native"

Publishers can find plenty of options that allow them to integrate "native ads" into their site via JavaScript tags. These are usually widgets that offer top headlines or similar news from around the web. Much of the time, the content of the ads comes from the same clickbaity sources that clutter up display inventory.

Still, implementing these should build revenue in ways display ads can't, right?

Not exactly. There are two problems with these "faux native" units:

  1. Most of the time, their content isn't actually native. For example, the network will serve the same testosterone-boosting ads regardless of their audience or the vertical of their site. This is little better than tapping into the most generic of ad networks with the lowest CPMs.

  2. Not only is the content not native, but neither is the form of the ads. Web users aren't stupid. They are learning to recognize which part of the page is content and which is text-based advertising. Font changes and eye-popping images distract them from the experience of browsing the page, and in time these ads are as glossed over as any of the standard banner units.

The key to good native ads has always been the right fit between why a user is on a page, and what the ad is able to offer. But the central challenge to native advertising has been scalability, which is what the "faux native" units are trying to solve.

Scalability can only happen through JSON ads

JSON is a standard for data sent between web browsers and servers. While it was created for use with JavaScript, it can be used by almost any programming language in any application.

Unlike JavaScript tags, which render ads directly in a browser, JSON ads contain the metadata about the ad unit. When a browser makes an ad request, the ad server returns the unrendered ad. The raw ad contents can contain either all the elements needed to form an ad in a CMS, or it can contain a reference to an ad stored on the publisher's side.

That JSON doesn't render ads in a browser makes it the ideal format for native. A publisher's CMS can ingest the ads any way it sees fit, and more importantly, an advertiser can buy native inventory across hundreds of sites and let publishers style the ads in ways appropriate for their content.

This is the key to native scalability— ads that can be displayed across the web in a variety of contexts, all thanks to a versatile data format.

JSON ads are already here

OpenRTB responses are returned as JSON, which not only delivers the ad contents to a publisher in real-time but gives access to bid data and other metadata from the transaction. This happens for both display and native.

Some of our customers at Adzerk use JSON metadata to serve ads stored hosted on their local servers. They use the metadata from the ad response to determine which ad to serve, which keeps the ad rendering 100% local (and thus prevents it from being blocked by ad blockers).

Ad servers must support JSON ads

JSON support is already a requirement for publishers looking to use an ad server for native RTB or home-grown native ads, and it will become even more essential in the months to come. The ad industry is becoming more data-driven and more focused on native, and an ad server has to keep up with the industry's demands, preferably leading the charge.

Adzerk supports all the latest native standards from the IAB, and our publishers demand the best performance and analytics from their native ads. By developing an infrastructure-building platform for publishers and their developers, we are prepared for the future of native ads, whether it continues down the JSON route or takes a new direction.

Find out more about how the Adzerk ad platform works, and get in touch with us to start a free 30-day trial. Our support engineers will be happy to assist you with setting up JSON ads.

Adzerk Joins EFF's "Do Not Track" Coalition, Becomes First Online Advertising Company to Adopt New Privacy Standard

We are excited to announce that Adzerk has joined forces with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to implement their new "Do Not Track" standard for web browsing as an option for our customers.

EFF and privacy company Disconnect launched the standard last month, and today Adzerk joins privacy-focused companies such as Medium, Mixpanel, AdBlock, and DuckDuckGo in their commitment to better protect users from sites that try to secretly follow and record their Internet activity.

What is Do Not Track?

DNT is a preference you can set on Firefox, Chrome, or other Web browsers as well as in the iOS or FirefoxOS mobile operating systems. Setting the DNT flag signals to websites that you want to opt-out of tracking of your online activities. It works in tandem with software like Privacy Badger and Disconnect, which not only set the flag but also block trackers and ads that do not respect it.

Tracking by advertisers and other third parties is ubiquitous on the Web today, and typically occurs without the knowledge, permission, and consent of Internet users. However, you can see the evidence of this tracking when the online ads you see on one site seem to be based on what you looked at on another site. Meanwhile, the underlying records and profiles of your online activity are distributed between a vast network of advertising exchanges, data brokers, and tracking companies.

"Many websites get much of their operating revenue from online ads, yet the groundswell of discomfort from users about how their private information is being collected and used is leading to a boom in ad-blocking technologies. We need to find a way for privacy and advertising to work together," says Adzerk CEO James Avery. "The new Do Not Track gives us a way to provide publishers with ads that respect users' privacy and online choices, and which as a result will be visible in more users' browsers".

How is Adzerk implementing DNT?

Adzerk is the first online advertising company that is offering its customers the ability to opt-in to using DNT, which would pass the extra tracking protection on to our customers' users.

We will enable DNT on a customer-by-customer basis. They have two options:

  • An "Honor DNT" setting that meets the EFF requirements for individual users
  • A "Super DNT" setting that takes effect across a customer's entire account

For customers using Honor DNT, Adzerk will not set advertising cookies in a user's browser if they have chosen to enable DNT in their browser. We also won't store users' IP addresses in our logs for added security. This allows publishers and app developers to commit to their users' privacy while also enhancing advertising opportunities for users who consent to their data being shared, which is a win-win for all parties.

The Super DNT setting takes place for every user that views an Adzerk user's web properties, whether or not they have DNT enabled in their browser. This setting is ideal for customers who want to serve advertising but also want to assure users that they have no intent to engage with their personal data.

"Adzerk is an important new member of the Do Not Track coalition, helping to protect millions of Internet users and others from stealthy online tracking and exploitation of their reading history," says EFF Chief Computer Scientist Peter Eckersley. "We are thrilled that consensus keeps growing in the online advertising community: clear and fair practices are essential not only for privacy, but for the ongoing health of the industry."

What's next?

If you are an Adzerk customer and would like to enable DNT for your account, please contact us and we'll be happy to discuss the next steps for getting you set up.

Interested in serving ads through Adzerk? See what our ad server can do and get in touch with us to start your free 30-day trial!

If you'd like to learn more about the details of DNT, vist the EFF's site.

Adzerk Expands to the West Coast with a New Business Development Manager

Adzerk has been rooted in the Durham startup scene since we began. Even before we launched our public Beta in early 2011, we've had an office of some sort (some more closet-like than others) in downtown Durham. And we intend to keep our headquarters here.

But the vast majority of our customers (and future customers) aren't based in the Triangle.

We've always had great trips flying to New York or San Francisco for onsite meetings or attending events like LAUNCH Festival. But Adzerk continues to grow very fast, and as we expand it's become clear that we need an permanent presence in the Bay Area with its own team members.

Adzerk customers are innovation-minded publishers and app developers, and the bulk of them are either based in San Francisco or have their own offices in the area. It makes for a better working relationship when a customer or future customer can walk down Market Street for an in-person meeting instead of hopping on a conference call or taking a six-hour flight to RDU.

That's where Dylan Hulser comes in.

We worked with him when he was a sales planner and strategist at Reddit, and now he becomes the first team member in our San Francisco office as a Business Development Manager. As part of the sales team, Dylan will be working with our inbound leads, discovering new opportunities, and representing Adzerk at Bay Area functions. If you're in the neighborhood, you can welcome Dylan aboard at dylan {at} adzerk {dot} com.

Incidentally, Adzerk launched at LAUNCH Festival back in 2011, and we've returned every year since as sort of homecoming. So in some ways, getting a San Francisco office is a return to our roots.

Stay tuned as we add more West Coast Adzerkers...