Don't ever let anyone try to convince you that it's easy to measure
activity on the web. They do, of course. All the time. But as last
week's JICNET announcement showed, these are murky waters. Clear as
soup, in fact - alphabet soup. If acronyms trouble you, look away
JICNET is not to be confused with JICWEB, the joint industry committee
recently in the news for having successfully contributed to the
establishment of definitions in a whole range of metrics - metrics which
have now been officially adopted by the International Federation of
Audit Bureaux of Circulations. The members of JICWEB include the
Internet Advertising Bureau, the IPA, ISBA, the Newspaper Publishers'
Association, the Newspaper Society and the Periodical Publishers
JICNET is slightly simpler in its constitution, being backed by merely
two of the above - the IPA and ISBA - but it has similarly ambitious
goals, albeit in a slightly different neck of the internet woods.
There are basically three ways of looking at research into consumer
activity on the web - site-centric, advertiser-centric or
With the first -the ABCe figures - you may well know who does what when
they reach a site but you tend not to know where they've come from and
where they go when they leave. That's what agencies do in
advertiser-centric research when they monitor the behaviour of those who
respond to banner ads and this sort of information is priceless in
building up an understanding of consumer behaviour.
However, both these methods are snapshots - they're absolutely accurate
but ultimately limited because they track behaviour for very brief
slices of time. You can't shadow your customers (or potential customers)
For any sort of a glimpse of the bigger picture, you have to take a
small slice of the entire user universe and look at what they do all (or
most) of the time. You have, in short, to set up a panel survey much as
you'd find in old-fashioned media such as television (the Barb audience
panel) or press (the National Readership Survey).
This being the web, however, there are three such panels run
respectively by MMXI Europe, Nielsen Netratings and Netvalue. They each
offer something slightly different. Netratings offers the greatest
detail and ability to analyse the figures.
The issue is that JICWEB wants this area to be more like Barb in TV.
In short: one panel overseen by an industry committee. A good idea? Some
don't think so.
Wayne Arnold, the managing director of Profero, says that there are
potential problems in trying to impose order when the industry may not
be ready for it. And there's a certain irony here, he suggests: "In our
attempts to prove to people that we're a mature medium, there's a danger
that initially you will confuse people. I think it's significant that
the industry is trying to go out there with one single voice - but I
also think you have to be realistic about what you can achieve. We are
really only at the first stage. That doesn't mean that these initiatives
aren't significant - what you have to remember is that this is an
industry that has basically come from nowhere in two-and-a-half years.
We're now making slow and steady steps."
Andrew Walmsley, the chief operating officer of i-Level, agrees that
there is a danger of acronym-induced confusion. He says: "Obviously, the
goal is transparency and reliability in the industry. None of the
available measures in isolation will provide you with everything you
need. There are always gaps. But it's important that people don't see
JICWEB and JICNET as being in competition."
What do the three existing panel studies think of all of this? Surely
the analogies with Barb are potentially alarming - or, at the very
least, represent as much of a threat as an opportunity. With Barb, a
committee draws up a technical specification and then research companies
are invited to pitch for the business. MMXI, Nielsen Netratings and
Netvalue have been making noises about finding ways of co-operating more
closely with each other and with the advertising industry. Privately,
they are happy with the status quo.
Tellingly, media owners appear to be similarly inclined. Caroline Pathy,
the ad sales director of Freeserve, worries about the tendency of the
industry to generate infinite numbers of committees: "It's important
that we get clarity with regards to all the various metrics and look at
this going forward and we are part of the IAB's work on global
standards. Shouldn't the IPA and the IAB talk about this? The fear is
that you create yet another level of committees talking about the same
things. Does that add clarity? And the other point is that imposing one
measure doesn't always add clarity. It's not always as simple as
Pathy implies that this is an issue that will be driven forward by media
owners, which is not only appropriate but inevitable. "A year ago, media
owners, agencies and advertisers didn't have media research people in
this area. Now they do. That is significant. We conduct proprietary
research too. I have to say I am not in favour of a Barb-type approach.
I like the competitive situation where we have three different sources.
We need different measures to understand the various parts of our
business. You can't take a simplistic approach to this," she concludes.