The ad network that keeps changing its stripes: Gator, Claria, and now JellyCloud?

Can a tiger change its stripes? JellyCloud, an ad network company with a controversial past, hopes so.

About eight years ago, it operated under a different name: Gator. The Silicon Valley company attracted lots of users with a useful online vault to save all their personal password/login data in a single place. Its logo was a cute little gator head.

Problem was, it extracted a lot of personal information about you and observed your websurfing habits in order to serve up ads, including annoying popups. That may seem somewhat banal today (who isn’t observing websurfing?), but it did so in a way that rubbed — without much disclosure — and so it was blacklisted as spyware and essentially chased out of town.

Gator went on to change its name to Claria. It tried for a while to remain in the ad business, but two years ago abandoned the effort entirely. It then decided to use its personalization know-how to enter an even more questionable market — the personalized home page business. It raised $40 million to offer its PersonalWeb product, even though at least a dozen other homepage players existed (including Netvibes, Pageflakes and more — most of them struggling). By knowing your traffic patterns, it said it could serve up more interesting information to you on your homepage. But it didn’t really go anywhere quickly.

Now, however, the team is back with the name JellyCloud, and its web site has conveniently dropped all references to its past. It is once again trying to become an ad network. This time, however, it does not want to get involved with observing personal information for ad purposes, something that most recently got NebuAd in trouble.

I talked with the company’s executives, Scott Vandevelde and Scott Eagle, and they said the company is still trying to figure out its model. It’s serving ads based on standard strategies that maximize return for advertisers, such as noting the best times to serve ads, noting location of users to allow geographically targeted campaigns, and so on. It is doing so in a way that is upfront with users, letting them opt in, the executives say. Users will want to use it, they say, because ads will be more relevant for them. in other words, the company is turning a new leaf.

As in the team’s previous incarnation, Scott Vandevelde is chief executive. He explains the strategy:

The JellyCloud Ad Network is similar to Blue Lithium or Ad.com – and our mission is to buy publisher inventory across the web and to optimize advertiser ad placements using publisher data, our own proprietary ad optimization technologies, and advertiser retargeting, etc. In the two quarters since our funding, JellyCloud has joined the major ad exchanges (e.g. RightMedia and Doubleclick) and forged some direct publisher relationships. We have run a few successful advertiser campaigns but it is still early in the process.

The company has about 36 people, based in Redwood City, Calif. Most of the previous executive team was let go. JellyCloud was formed last year, and Claria was subsumed underneath it as a subsidiary, and that unit still supports the PersonalWeb product. PersonalWeb is licensed by Rogers Communications and a few other small players and so makes a small amount of money, but not much.

We wrote about JellyCloud’s most recent funding here, led by U.S. Venture Partners, SoftBank, Sand Hill Capital and Crosslink Capital. It was part of a $11.5 million round the company raised in April. No one seemed to realize that this is the same company, with yet another name (until GeekMBA360 picked up on it, and sent us a tip). Vandevelde and Eagle say they’re not trying to be sneaky; rather, their product just isn’t ready enough for them to seek publicity.

The downside is, they’re late to the game — there are a ton of other ad networks already out there. It will be difficult for them to push the envelope on targetting, since critics are more likely to be hawkish about this company given its past. On the upside, however, the team has a decade of experience behind it — and is still hungry for success. So I wouldn’t count it out yet.


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