Watching the watchers

Every so often, a symbolic event tells us how much our world has changed. When government offices in Alaska started installing air conditioners for the first time last year, for example, some took it as a milestone representing the advance of global warming.

Nielsen/NetRating's announcement last week that it was going to stop using page views as a measure of Web site popularity may not rank up there with signs of global warming or the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, but it does mark a significant change in the Web.

What it signifies is that Web 2.0 technologies have reached a level of implementation that makes page views no longer a reliable measure. That's because technologies such as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language), Flash and other Web 2.0 interactive technologies allow users to move through the Web and consume content ' in many cases without leaving a single Web page.

But what should replace page views as a measurement? That's where it gets interesting. Nielsen/ NetRatings announced it would immediately start using total time spent by users on a site as its primary measure. The company said in its statement that some sites, such as YouTube, are currently underrated because users may spend a lot of time on the site watching a video even though they don't refresh pages very often. 'The time-spent ratio is an important comparison of audience engagement,' the company said in a statement.

We have to wonder, though, whether the measurement of time spent on a Web site measures anything at all. Anyone who has monitored Web statistics knows that when they see a Web site visit lasting several hours, someone must have left the site on their computer while they went off to lunch'or even home for the night.

Seems to us that those who measure visits to Web 2.0 sites had better require some sort of evidence of human presence before ranking those sites and influencing their ability to pull in advertising dollars.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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