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Nets Debate: How Many on the Web?

10/25/1998 7:00 PM Eastern

Richy Glassberg and James Kinsella firmly believe that they
know the answer to one of the most vexing questions of the Internet age: how to best
measure Web traffic.

They also embodied one reason for the frustration: Each has
a different solution, and each is convinced that his way is the best way.

Glassberg, senior vice president of Turner Interactive
Marketing and Sales, preached the gospel of page views as an industry standard -- each
time a page at a site is fully downloaded to the user's computer counts as one page
view.

Kinsella, general manager of MSNBC on the Internet, swore
by unique users -- visitors using the same Web browser from the same computer are counted
only once during a measuring period. He said counting unique users offers the best way to
track advertisers' top needs: reach and frequency.

"We need to be able to count the individuals coming to
the site and how many times they're coming back," he explained. "No medium
can say with the kind of certainty that we can, 'I'm going to serve up those ads
three times to those 5 million people.'"

He added, "The advertisers are saying that
they're simply trying to get a CPM [cost per thousand homes] ... We're arguing
that we can provide the number of people who saw this thing and the number of times they
saw this thing."

Kinsella wasn't advocating unique visitors as the only
measure. "I'm not saying that page views are categorically unhelpful: I'm
just saying that they're part of the equation," he said.

But Glassberg shuddered at the thought that unique users
would become the standard measure. He quickly ran through some of the problems with
counting unique users: company fire walls, multiple users of the same computer, users with
multiple access points and America Online Inc.'s practice of caching Web sites for
its subscribers.

"Those are major, major flaws, which I don't
believe page use has," Glassberg insisted. "Page views are the only measurable
number that is consistent. Our site only has one ad on a page at a time, [which]
correlates to ad impressions. We know conservatively that the page views that are counted
are actual page views."

Turner, led by Web anchor CNN.com, doesn't release
unique users, saying that it has no reliable way to measure the exact number. Meanwhile,
MSNBC.com can track page views, but it declines to give out the numbers. The results make
comparisons risky and confusing.

For instance, during the 24 hours surrounding President
Clinton's grand jury testimony and televised apology, CNN.com reported 20.4 million
page views, while msnbc.com touted more than 1.1 million unique visitors.

Rich LeFurgy is the executive director of the Internet
Advertising Bureau, an industry trade association that includes achieving measurement
standards as one of its missions. Most cable companies with a Web presence, if not all,
belong to the IAB.

"We're still in the development phase of what
measurement is all about," LeFurgy said.

He agreed with Glassberg, who is very active within the
IAB, about the problems in counting unique visitors and the value of page views.

"There's a big black hole in terms of actual
usage. We don't really know how many unique users are behind the browsers and, No. 2,
how many are behind the fire walls," LeFurgy said.

Caching also means that page views are being underreported
in some cases.

Web-site operators aren't the only ones trying to
track Web traffic: Audience-measurement companies are fighting to create the standard in
that arena, making it necessary for major Web sites to subscribe to multiple arbiters of
Web use.

"[Measurement] is one of the top concerns of marketers
who have either been on the Web or who have not yet ventured onto the Web as of yet,"
LeFurgy said, "We're getting close. I think that from an audience-measure
standpoint -- where we are looking at just general reach numbers, akin to Nielsen [Media
Research] ratings -- we have made a lot of progress, and we will make a lot of
progress."

The recent merger of Media Metrix and Relevant Knowledge
took a giant step toward clearing up the confusion, he added, "not because
there's one less set of numbers, but because we're going to have a much deeper
panel of users on which to base the research. I'm hoping that it will be more
reliable and that it will allow us to drill down deeper."

Meanwhile, people like Todd Walruth, senior vice president
in charge of weather.com for The Weather Channel, are buried in studies and reports.

"We try to subscribe to as many as possible –
really, all of the major ones -- Relevant Knowledge, Media Metrix. Now they're
combined, so maybe we'll save some money using @Plan, Ipro -- Nielsen has a new
service that we'll also be subscribing to," he said.

Walruth uses a mixture of Internet tools for "sanity
checks." Weather.com is testing a new product, "Aria by Andromedia," which,
so far, is the only tool it has found that can handle the volume of traffic that the site
generates.

"For people buying from a nontraditional standpoint,
[the Internet] is much more accountable and the Holy Grail," Walruth said. "In
the short term, it's less measurable than people think. You have spiders and robots
climbing around the Internet that generate traffic, but they aren't users. Caching is
a huge issue."

Like Kinsella, Walruth counts unique users -- "Unique
users is huge because that's your operating base," he said -- but he also sees a
value in page views. Weather.com clocked 152 million page views in September, and it
ranges between 3 million and 15 million on a given day.

The various software programs used by most commercial Web
sites are sophisticated enough to count only fully downloaded pages. Of course, this only
means that an ad has been downloaded: It doesn't guarantee that it has been seen or
acted upon.

That's where click-throughs come in. An impression is
a downloaded advertisement on a page view; a click-through means that the user has clicked
on an advertiser's banner.

"Really, click-throughs are the key measure,"
Walruth added." Even if someone said they're doing a branding campaign, they
still want performance. Click-throughs are the essential measure of ad performance."

And proving performance is what selling advertising is all
about.

"We need standardization of words and terms, and of
how you count things and how you display things," Glassberg said. "Agencies need
those fundamental building blocks to do a buy. I'm sure that's one of the things
holding them back: They can't quantify."

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