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Friday, July 6, 2007

Who Invented AdSense?

Valleywag’s Owen Thomas is currently claiming that Google’s Susan Wojcicki is lying about having started AdSense, referring to an article by USA Today. “AdSense was not a prototype that Wojcicki developed ... Why would Wojcicki make such a bald-faced, easily detected lie?”, Owen asks. Actually, Valleywag gets it wrong: the author of the USA Today article mixes things up a bit and forgets to mention that the technology Susan says Google came up with wasn’t called AdSense at the time – something which Susan doesn’t claim either, judging from the USA Today quotes. Here’s the chronology:

  1. Google launched search-targeted contextual ads, called AdWords. Not directly connected to AdSense, but worth mentioning, and USA Today falsely dates this to 2002. (Announcement: October 23, 2000)
  2. Applied Semantics announces their service called AdSense. (Announcement: October 21, 2002, with launch in November)
  3. At around the same time, Google launched their contextual targeting ads into an early test phase for some limited sites. This of course means it had already been thought of and in building state (at least) earlier that year. (“Fourth quarter” 2003 2002,
  4. Google goes fully live with their contextual ads technology. (Announcement: March 4, 2003)
  5. Shortly later, Google acquires Applied Semantics, and their contextual ads product AdSense, to (according to Google) complement their “content targeted advertising programs.” (Announcement: April 23, 2003)
  6. Google then renamed their context ads program to AdSense (and probably incorporated a little, or a lot, of the Applied Semantics technology into their existing ads system). (Announcement: June 18, 2003.)

To wrap up: yes, the idea was apparently in the air around 2002, perhaps Applied Semantics came up with it first, perhaps Google, perhaps someone entirely different. (Ex-Googler Paul Buchheit in the book Founders at Work claims the idea was talked about at Google for a long time, before he actually wrote a throwaway prototype in a single day, which got things moving.) And probably, Google at the time tried to sell their product as if it was the only of its kind around; e.g. Susan told CNet in 2003, “Small sites ... didn’t have a way to reach advertisers." And if Google did copy the idea – which I don’t know, and they weren’t available for a statement yesterday – then Susan’s statements like “People were saying, ’This is a sports site, so we’ll serve a sports ad.’ And we were saying, ’No. We can actually look at the page in real time and figure out what this page is about.’” would be somewhat misleading... but Valleywag doesn’t show any proof Google copied the concept and only points to the USA Today article.

What Valleywag does say is that Susan in the USA Today article claims to have invented “AdSense,” even when in it she only says she introduced the then still novel idea of webpage-contextual ads to Google – it’s the USA Today author who refers to it as AdSense continuously instead of saying e.g. “the product that was later called AdSense.”

[With info from Danny Sullivan, AGoodMan and Figaro, who commented at Valleywag. Photo of Susan by Google.]

Update: Valleywag now changed their article – without clarifying the edit in the post. (More in the comments.)


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