Feeds

Yahoo! economist rebuilds ad empire with 'Magic Formula'

Why Carol Bartz wears math when it's chilly

New hybrid storage solutions

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz owns a sweatshirt emblazoned with Preston McAfee's math. McAfee is an economist, but he's the sort of economist who's actually useful. In the early-90s, he helped build the simultaneous ascending auction, a mathematical contraption that governments across the globe have since used to license over $100 million in wireless spectrum. And nowadays, as the man who oversees the microeconomics and social sciences research group at Yahoo!, he builds things that are so useful, they wind up on the boss's chest.

"I'm a member of a group of people — you might even call it a movement — who do economics as an engineering discipline," McAfee tells The Reg. "If you look at the humor of economics, it's all about how useless economists are. What economists have traditionally done for the world is block stupid ideas. Economists go to Washington just so they can stop Washington from doing the silly things it would otherwise do. That may serve a greater purpose, but it's still a negative thing to do.

"Economics as engineering discipline is all about building things with economics that are positive — as opposed to stopping things, things that won't work."

McAfee is a disciple of Nobel Prize–winning economist Roger Myerson, whose "mechanism design theory" has been used to build everything from efficient trading systems to reliable voting procedures. "In the same way a physicist develops a theory and an engineer builds something that actually uses that theory, we're the kind of people who use scientific principles to actually make markets or interactions among people work better, work more smoothly," McAfee says.

It's no surprise that he — and so many like-minded souls — wound up at Yahoo!, whose online ad empire is a global market unto itself. The company's Right Media exchange — a display advertising marketplace that matches advertisers with publishers and ad networks — is by one measure the largest exchange in the world, running over nine billion auctions each day. The US-Euro foreign exchange market generates more dollars. And Google AdWords may as well. But there are other things to consider.

"It's not an accident that I and many other [economic engineers] are here," McAfee says. "Yahoo! is more open."

Bartz refers to the McAfee creation on her sweatshirt as The Magic Formula. This epic piece of math — which is also worn by McAfee and his children on occasion — made its debut earlier this year. In short, it's a formula designed to keep Yahoo!'s largest advertisers as happy as possible. It lets each of those guaranteed-contract advertisers pick and choose — in remarkably precise fashion — how their ads are targeted, even though there are more than three trillion possible targets.

Preston McAfee Magic Formula

The formula

"What this formula does is simplify the problem of how do we figure out what inventory goes to what advertiser, when advertisers have all these conflicting needs and desires," McAfee explains.

Yes, Yahoo! has advertisers who only want to reach women between the ages of twenty and thirty. But it also has advertisers who only want to advertise in cities where the sun is shining. There are brokerage houses who only want to advertise when the stock market is up. And, yes, there are those interested in serving ads according to your online behavior. Among Yahoo!'s two hundred largest advertisers, McAfee says, there are three trillion possible categories. And his formula handles them all.

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Why Oracle CEO Larry Ellison had to go ... Except he hasn't
Silicon Valley's veteran seadog in piratical Putin impression
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.