Pudding Media is a company that continues to court controversy. Their proposition is pretty simple — they want to provide contextually targeted advertisements during telephone calls, much the same way that Google does during web searches, and while using email. According to founder Ariel Maislos, they can increase the effectiveness of these advertisements by an order of magnitude with this simple step. Their objective is to enable heavily subsidized conversations. The controversy? Their system picks keywords out of the speech stream in order to do so. It listens in on the conversation.
This week Pudding announced an agreement with Meebo to voice enable the Meebo client, and to add their unique advertising capability. Under the terms of the agreement, Pudding will supply a flash based VoIP client to Meebo, as well as run the voice service on their behalf. This agreement is a little unusual in that ordinarily Pudding wouldn't provide the voice services directly, but Maislos sees this as the beginning of a partner program where they can start to bring in other voice service providers who also want to deliver subsidized communications.
The Meebo client will enable a VoIP call to occur, and then during the call Pudding will cycle relevant text advertisements on screen as the participants speak. It's also an option to insert targeted audio advertising before or after the conversation, but not during the conversation. Pudding views mid-call audio advertisements as simply too intrusive.
More than one person I spoke with had the misconception that Pudding would be interrupting the call. Once it was explained, they were more receptive to Pudding's concept. After all, who hasn't seen advertising on web pages before? Judging from the reaction of some of the vendors I spoke with at VON, Pudding's message of supplementing diminishing voice revenues with advertising dollars is being well received.
My prediction? The controversy around contextually targeted advertising during telephone calls will pass as vendors adopt the technology… and consumers will use it. The lure of cheap or free is simply too great.