Last week, the IAB released their SafeFrame 1.0 specifications. This was a culmination of more than a year and half of work with contribution from 20+ different companies across the online advertising industry.
The best way to understand what this enables, is to start from the publisher's point of view. Publishers today have two choices on how they would like to include advertisements within their pages. They could: 1) render the ad content inline into the publisher page or 2) render the ad in a cross-domain IFRAME. Both of these choices have significant drawbacks.
In the first case, a publisher typically embeds a script ad tag call into the page to render an ad in line with the content. In this case, the ad code runs with the same access and privileges as the rest of the content on the publisher page. This approach is great for delivering ad experiences that need to go beyond their original size or interact with the publisher content, such as rich media expandable, floating, push down, and wall paper ads.
SafeFrame addresses these drawbacks and provides “the best of these two choices”. SafeFrame provides the isolation of the cross domain IFRAME while enabling rich media experiences to be rendered. SafeFrame also allows for information sharing between the publisher page and the ad code.
At the core of SafeFrame is the implementation of managed communication via a set of well-defined APIs between the publisher page and the cross-domain IFRAME of the ad. Using this managed communication and APIs, an ad could ask for a specific set of information or request services needed to render a rich experience. The ad is allowed access to only certain publisher provided information and functionality, as oppose to giving it full access to the publisher page, as is the case when the ad is rendered inline within the publisher page using via the script tag.
In addition to enabling rich media experiences while preserving user privacy, SafeFrame offers a mechanism to support viewable impression under development by 3MS. SafeFrame needs to maintain accurate geometric information of the ad for enabling rich media functionality. This geometric information includes width and height of both the browser window and the SafeFrame boundary in both static and expanded state of the ad. Using the same geometric information for assessing viewability of the ad is simple and obvious. SafeFrame provides a standard based approach to determining ad viewability, which can be implemented consistently across various browser types and versions. With SafeFrame, the same viewability information is available to both the buyer and the seller, which will help increase transparency and reduce discrepancy as the industry moves to impression counting based on viewability.
SafeFrame specification will make a considerable positive impact to the industry. It enables rich media advertisements to be served at more places, including ad networks and exchanges, while advancing consumer privacy and data protection. SafeFrame will also accelerate a standard way to measure ad viewability, improving the "currency" used for buying and selling online display advertising.
The specification is not only significant in terms of what it defines and enables today, but an equally exciting part of the work is the foundation it provides. The underlying managed communication between the publisher page and the ad code would open up coordinated information sharing and the development of many more managed services between the various participants within the ad ecosystem. Some of the immediate candidates include coordination of ad-choices; and extension and standardization of metadata passing between the publisher and the ad code.
IAB's SafeFrame committee's work has been unique in several ways. The committee has delivered a technically advanced working framework which demonstrates that IAB (and the online advertising industry as a whole) can apply common standard based solution to complex challenges faced by the industry. Also, for the first time, IAB has released an open source referenced implementation including tests and examples to go along with the specification. The actual quality working code goes a long way in making adoption of the specification easier for both the publishers and ad vendors.
It has been great working with co-chair Sean Snider from Yahoo!, 40 or so other colleagues from the industry, and the amazing staff at IAB to get SafeFrame version 1.0 of the specification out. I am looking forward to seeing the adoption of the specification and the benefits it will bring to both the buy and the sell sides of the online advertising industry.