Web monitors: They're everywhere Various companies do various things, and results can be confusing

July 08, 1996|By SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Sometimes it seems as if there are almost as many people trying to count Web users as there are Web users themselves.

In a race to become the "Nielsens of the Web," new companies are springing up almost every week to monitor Web usage.

So far, none has set an industry standard, but I/PRO of San Francisco is the acknowledged leader.

I/PRO works mainly for Web site operators and monitors their computer servers to count how many people visit their site each hour, day or month.

A competitor with a different approach is PC-Meter of Port Washington, N.Y., which works mainly for ad agencies and is following a Nielsen-like model of audience measurement through random sampling.

PC-Meter has installed software in 4,000 home computers and uses these to estimate Web usage and the demographics of Web surfers.

Many smaller firms are doing their own surveys and analyses of who's doing what online.

The result is a lack of consensus about whose numbers mean what. Many Web site operators are skeptical of the numbers published by tracking firms.

"Is it a good idea to follow what these tracking firms are doing? Absolutely. Are they foolproof? No way," said Karen Edwards, director of brand management for Yahoo! "Nobody has the perfect solution on how to track this stuff."

The old standard unit of measurement was a "hit." Every time a Web file was sent to a user counted as one hit.

But sometimes it takes many hits to download one Web page, especially if the page is loaded with graphics. As a result, there was no sure way to correlate the number of hits with the number of viewers.

Today, Web advertisers are demanding to know how many times a Web page containing their ad is accessed. This more precise unit of measurement is known as a "page view," "impression" or "visit."

Most Web sites track their own visits by poring over their server's log files. Some farm out this task to companies such as I/PRO and Net Count of Los Angeles. I/PRO charges $1,000 per month to track a Web site.

Many advertisers won't rely on numbers from the Web site operators and demand independent reports from outside firms, the same way television and radio advertisers rely on Nielsen and Arbitron ratings.

I/PRO also offers this service. It audits Web sites -- including ones it's already tracking -- for $2,000 per report.

One criticism of I/PRO is that it tries to play both sides of the fence -- tracking data for Web sites and then verifying its own data for advertisers.

"We don't believe that it's reasonable for the same company to do the counting and the auditing," said Yvette Herrera, spokeswoman for NetCount, which only does tracking. "We believe auditing has to be done by an outside company."

I/PRO founder Ariel Poler dismisses such objections. "Separating the [two functions] to follow the model of traditional media is artificial," he said.

"The truth is nobody knows how it should be done here because it's evolving."

Poler founded I/PRO after he graduated from Stanford Business School in 1994. Since then, the company has received about $15 million in venture capital from Sutter Hill Ventures, Trident Capita, Softbank, Hearst Corp. and Dun & Bradstreet Enterprises.

I/PRO is growing at breakneck speed.

In the past three months, the firm has grown from 30 employees to 105.

Poler hopes to take the company public in the next six to nine months.

Although advertisers would like the Internet to become as much a mass medium as is television, that's not likely to happen until PCs, modems and software become cheaper and easier to use.

In the meantime, advertisers want to know as much as they can about current users, including their age, gender and income.

The snag is that online users are reluctant to give out information about themselves to Web sites.

I/PRO enticed about 500,000 Web surfers to sign the online equivalent of a guest registry -- identifying themselves and their demographic characteristics -- with discounts and giveaways.

That's a direct hit against competitor PC-Meter, whose niche is providing advertisers with demographic profiles based on its sampling of Web users.

Many are skeptical of PC-Meter's numbers because they are based on such a small universe of PC owners. It has no Macintosh users in its sampling.

PC-Meter was spun off last year from NPD, one of the country's largest market research firms. It has been issuing monthly reports about popular Web sites for six months.

The company aims to beef up its data by adding 6,000 more home users and some business users in the fall.

Myriad smaller companies also track and evaluate Web sites.

A Palo Alto, Calif., start-up, Web 21, uses a combination of techniques similar to I /PRO's and PC-Meter's. It will not disclose its exact methodology.

Focalink of Palo Alto aims to provide advertisers with demographic profiles of people who visit various Web sites.

The Audit Bureau of Circulation -- which tracks newspaper and magazine circulation -- is developing a Web tracking service.

For now, Web advertisers must piece together snippets of information about their viewers from a variety of sources.

"Any kind of solution that will identify all Web users is still a long way off," said James Kennedy, new media analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York. "Technology-wise, it would be quite simple. It's just a matter of privacy."

Pub Date: 7/08/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.