Two of the internet’s worst litterbugs, Taboola and Outbrain, Israeli companies now based in New York, are to merge in a deal worth $850 million — well, theoretically a merger but in reality an acquisition by the former that takes its name and will be run by its CEO. The idea is to gain volume and probably go public in a bid to stand up to Google and Facebook’s dominance of online advertising.
In case you wondered, Taboola and Outbrain are responsible for those ads you see at the bottom of web pages along the lines of “around the web” or “you might like”. Clickbait aimed solely at monetizing traffic. They’re known in the biz as chumboxes, a reference to the boxes of low quality fish meat used as bait.
Taboola and Outbrain are a good idea gone bad: they were originally a recommendation system for people to find articles related to their interest, but over time have become a platform for the worst kind of internet content, feeding off other publications to get a few clicks. An entire industry dedicated to supplementing our information diet with junk food.
Sites that use Taboola or Outbrain are now spoiled by dumb, sensationalist headlines, but that generate money, supposedly compensating for the damage to their reputation from being associated with this kind of junk. There is clearly a demand for this subgenre, this tabloid content that has found its place within supposedly serious publications in the hope of catching our attention. But remember: clicking on them simply feeds this pseudo-journalism, legitimizing its use.
Taboola predicts turnover of more than $1 billion this year, while Outbrain provides no information on its numbers, but we can assume it will be close. Between the two they employ about 2,000 employees and some 20,000 media use their services. Competition between the two for new customers had significantly dented their profits, which they are now trying to correct by consolidating.
The merger now puts most of the internet’s garbage in the same bag. Between them, a metaphor of the sad state of a business model, that of internet advertising, which had such huge potential, but instead has descended into the worst kind of mediocrity.
(En español, aquí)