New Web Metric Likely to be Inaccurate

Posted on Jul 09, 2007

via [Slashdot

It appears that Nielson/NetRatings is planning on changing up the game by adopting a new metric to gauge website activity. Currently most web traffic is measured by the number of pages viewed on a website. Traditionally it is not considered a highly accurate number, but we can attempt to compensate for deviations such as accidental refreshes, failed navigation attempts, and other actions which do not constitute a direct page view. However, Nielson isn’t exactly clear on the terms of the new metric it will adopt: total minutes.

It appears that Nielson/NetRatings has concerned itself with advertisers entirely. How greatly their new metric will affect the Internet is unknown at this point. Clearly they haven’t though the implications through enough, citing such cliche terms as “Web 2.0” and buzz-technologies such as AJAX in their reasoning for the new metric.

As far as I can see, if this metric does gain traction in the advertising industry, it could spell bad news for large portions of the Internet.

Total minutes as a metric could be considered far more inaccurate than page-views if only because it will be harder to parse the deviations that may inflate the results. For example, some asynchronous requests may take longer than others, resulting in a greater number of minutes spent on a site. Particularly devious site owners could delay the display of their content with Javascript be just milliseconds in order to inflate their results. We can only imagine at this point what could be possible. The article claims the new metric may hurt Google; but all Google would have to do to exploit it is make their page AJAX-powered and they would be immovable from the top of the charts.

Page views may produce inflated results, but it’s far easier to parse those results for standard deviations.

(Note: I have built AJAX-powered web applications in the past. I understand that it does have positive uses, but in my experience it is a rare case that would make me turn to AJAX for a solution. Just for some disclosure — I don’t blindly support AJAX, despite the claims of many of its proponents.)