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Phorm woos browsers with personalised web

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Phorm is aiming to strengthen ties with publishers by allowing them to track and target their visitors' interests as they browse the web.

The web monitoring firm today unveiled "Webwise Discover" in London with the tagline "don't search, just browse". It made the announcement ahead of releasing its annual financial report.

Phorm also hopes that Webwise Discover will encourage ISP subscribers to opt in to have their browsing monitored for advertising targeting. Both systems use the same cookie containing a profile of browsing interests, which excludes sensitive categories.

The new service uses the browsing profile to identify relevant material in publishers' archives and present it in a special widget on the page. Phorm plans further personalisation products based on the same principle.

For example, after browsing travel agent sites for city breaks in Paris, a visitor to a newspaper website might be presented with a list of French holiday articles.

Phorm plans to offer the system to publishers as free embeddable code, claiming it will increase their page views and so revenues. It does not stand to make any money from Webwise Discover, but will use it to build relationships and encourage publishers to join its behaviourally targeted advertising network, OIX.

"We just wanted to do something cool," said Phorm's technology chief Marc Burgess.

"We wanted people to say 'yes, they've done something right for a change'."

CEO Kent Ertugrul compared the system to Google's raft of unprofitable web services, which it uses to drive traffic through its text ads system.

Phorm is hosting a group of 50 major websites at an event this evening to plug the product. Publishers won't have to be a member of OIX to use Webwise Discover. Phorm declined to name any who had committed to use the service if and when it goes live in the UK.

No UK ISP has deployed the necessary monitoring technology however, so Webwise Discover is available only on a trial basis in South Korea, where Phorm is currently in testing with Korea Telecom.

Ertugrul insisted that despite controversy and delays surround Phorm's relationships with ISPs in the UK, Webwise Discover had received a warm welcome from British publishers. "This is real... what we don't do is hype things," he said.

BT, which is furthest along the route to deployment of Phorm's system, has not committed to a schedule despite having conducted three trials. The Register understands delays were caused when BT asked Phorm to develop a network-level opt-out, based on its own layer 7 switch, dubbed PL7.

Discussing the delays, Burgess said: "You cannot understand how frustrating it is."

Ertugrul said Phorm's seven years so far without revenues was "actually a good thing" because of the complexity of its products.

Several journalists at the event were confused as to why Phorm had chosen to announce a product that is only available on a limited basis in South Korea at a major event in London. According to its financial calendar, its 2008 report is due in "May/June".

Phorm has a presentation on Webwise Discover on its website. ®

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