AOL's Userplane makes cash for publishers

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AOL property Userplane recently introduced an ad revenue-sharing program for the enterprise version of its Web application Userplane Webmessenger, an IM and chat tool featuring both live text and streaming audio/video.

The program, which has been in testing and available since September 2006 among 1,000 integrated clients, offers marketers text-based ads at the bottom of the application window. It is part of a larger strategy to provide publishers with applications that increase interaction and potential ad revenue on their Web sites.

"The questions we asked was, 'How do we give Webmasters and Web publishers more tools to generate more revenue?'" said Mike Jones, CEO of Userplane, Santa Monica, CA.

Previously, Userplane did not support IM and chat advertising for large, usage-based-licensing customers. This feature was only available without a revenue share for Instant Install clients, smaller communities using Userplane tools for free in a cut-and-paste program.

The ads are sold through both AOL and Userplane ad networks. Publishers can choose and block categories, similar to an ad network set up. Advertisers get targeting tied directly to the profiling data collected from the application.

Mr. Jones said that companies could expect two times the ad revenue from applications because they were a richer, more integrated experience for the consumer.

In fact, beta tester and free dating service PlentyofFish (www.plentyoffish.com) saw revenue share in two months that nearly absorbed the monthly licensing fee. The one-man company estimates that within the next six months its Userplane ad revenue percentage will exceed licensing costs by about 10 percent, making the company as much as $20,000 a month.

"The advertising model has allowed me to take on Match.com - which has a 200 person staff - from my living room," said Markus Frind, CEO of PlentyofFish.com, Vancouver, British Columbia.

PlentyofFish has been completely ad-supported since its launch in 2003. The site has more than 1 million daily unique users. The site generates more than 100,000 IM sessions and millions of text and audio/video messages daily.

Mr. Frind estimates that 6 to 7 percent of the ads on his site are served through Userplane's instant messenger service while 80 to 85 percent are through Google AdSense.

Userplane expects to launch a beta test of an ad-revenue share program for Instant Install clients in the next two months. About 14,000 to 15,000 Web publishers use Instant Install.

Userplane expanded its platform's capabilities Jan. 25 by offering online two-player games within the IM window. Currently four games are available: puzzle game Fruit Mixup, Seabattle, Trivia and Truth, a question-and-answer game designed to help two people get to know each other. The games are available on the free, ad-supported Userplane Webmessenger, whereas within larger online communities availability of the feature is under the discretion of site administrators.

Online personals provider Spark Networks recently enabled the gaming feature for its online communities including JDate, AmericanSingles and CollegeLuv.

"We're going to grow through our partnership with AOL and provide applications that appeal to every genre of Web site," Mr. Jones said.

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