In Atlas, Facebook Buys a Clunker
By Ken Magill
From an end-user perspective, Facebook has some serious work cut out for it on Atlas, according to two experts who have used Atlas and its competitor Dart extensively.
[Full disclosure: One of the experts is my media-buyer wife and the other is a long-time colleague of hers.]
Facebook last week announced it was buying Atlas, a leading third-party ad-serving-and-tracking tool, from Microsoft for an undisclosed sum.
From AP: “In making the deal announced Thursday, Facebook is betting the acquired technology will be more fruitful under new ownership than it was during the past five-and-half years under Microsoft’s control.
“Atlas is part of an online advertising service called aQuantive, which Microsoft Corp. bought for $6.3 billion in 2007. aQuantive didn’t bring in as much online ad revenue as Microsoft envisioned, prompting the software maker to absorb a $6.2 billion charge last year that resulted in its first quarterly loss in its 26-year history as a public company.”
Facebook said it plans to invest in Atlas.
“We plan to improve Atlas' capabilities by investing in scaling its back-end measurement systems and enhancing its current suite of advertiser tools on desktop and mobile,” the company said in a statement. “We will also work to improve the user interface and functionality with the goal of making Atlas the most effective, intuitive, and powerful ad serving, management and measurement platform in the industry.”
That statement accurately reflects Atlas’s needs, according to my wife and her colleague.
“Atlas is the square stone wheel of ad-tracking systems,” said my wife. “The terminology is obtuse. It’s unintuitive. It takes you three times as long to do anything as Dart. It’s everything you would expect from Microsoft.”
She used tracking Google search advertising as an example.
“When you use Dart it’s zip, zupe, zup and it’s done,” she said. And, yes, she really said zip, zupe, zup. “When you try to track Google search using Atlas, it’s this whole convoluted process.”
Added my wife’s media-buyer colleague in an email exchange: “My experience with Atlas Desktop Search was completely unsatisfactory. Online tutorials were unrelated to the desktop product I was using, making learning even the basic functions difficult.”
He added that Atlas’s customer service under Microsoft was terrible.
“Getting any tech assistance at all was like petitioning the government and, when I finally got help, I was dealing with one of the only remaining developers on the desktop project. The developer had very little understanding of advertising/media so communicating my needs was challenging, despite his eagerness to help,” he wrote.
He added that Atlas’s reporting also came up short.
“Ultimately, Atlas was not able to attribute any actions beyond the basic click for my client (a tech provider themselves),” he wrote.
“While I welcome Facebook's plans to improve Atlas, making it intuitive and more powerful, I wonder if Atlas will simply wind up Facebook's ‘in house’ ad serving and tracking platform.”