Solariat today launched an advertising platform for forums, social media and Q&A sites called AdLib, which uses linguistic analysis to automatically generate sponsored replies to users’ questions.
With user behavior is starting to trend away from search and toward asking online communities for help, a new method of advertising is needed; while search is easily monetizable through automated Google-type contextual advertising, online communities are not.
When AdLib works, it seems like another community member has smoothly joined into an online conversation with an informative response. The product is currently running on About.com’s Calorie Count site, where it brings Calorie Count editorial content into conversations on the forum part of the site. In the example shown at left, at the bottom of the page where a user asks about losing “the last few pounds,” a Solariat ad unit surfaces six articles it thinks might be relevant to the user. It’s also possible for AdLib to show sponsored content from another site in that unit, though if Solariat can’t find any relevant sponsored content for a specific page, it promises the ad unit will disappear.
The Calorie Count implementation isn’t that stunning; we’re all used to seeing automatically-generated links to related content at the bottom of articles from providers like Sphere/Surphace (owned by AOL) and the New York Times’ Blogrunner. 5min does something similar, with related videos from its distribution network showing up on pages on Answers.com and other sites.
What makes AdLib potentially interesting is the idea that Solariat could understand what a user is asking on a service, like Twitter or Yahoo Answers, and reply in computer-generated colloquial terms with a relevant answer. If done well, users might not mind that it’s sponsored content that’s being offered to them. Compared to hiring posses of social media responders, this automated process could potentially be more real-time and scalable.
Solariat is funded by KPG Ventures, and co-founded by former 24/7 Real Media executive Jack Smith and Jeffrey Davitz, who worked on artificial intelligence at the research outfit SRI and ran the natural language search engine startup CriticalPoint Software. The company has seven employees in New York City and San Mateo, Calif.
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