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Hit Counter 2.0, Or “Web 2.0 Metrics”

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Way back in the early days of the Web (you know, before AdSense, blog spam, web mail, and dynamic HTML) were these things called hit counters.

The Wikipedia article says a few things that I’ll just quote outright.

On Popularity:

At one time it was common to see a hit counter on every page, but this is no longer the case for several reasons:

  • They have been replaced (or augmented) by more complicated web analytics methodologies that give the webmaster a better overall picture of site traffic besides a simple, perpetually increasing number.
  • As style elements, they are no longer associated with the impression of professional web design–some people consider web counters to be a “gimmicky” feature and they are thus typically found on personal pages created by individuals.
  • The number of visitors to a site may be a trade secret
  • Too small a number might indicate the page’s lack of popularity. Removing the counter thus levels the playing field.

On Trust:

Web counters are not necessarily trustworthy. A webmaster could start the counter at a high number to give the impression that the site is more popular than it actually is.

Heh. You think?

Web 2.0 Metrics

I present this little walk down memory lane because it’s related to something I’ve been wondering about. How the hell do we count stuff in a zero page refresh Web 2.0 buzzword compliant world?

Evan Williams recently declared Pageviews are Obsolete. Among his reasons are Ajax and RSS.

But Ajax is only part of the reason pageviews are obsolete. Another one is RSS. About half the readers of this blog do so via RSS. I can know how many subscribers I have to my feed, thanks to Feedburner. And I can know how many times my feed is downloaded, if I wanted to dig into my server logs. But I don’t get to count pageviews for every view in Google Reader or Bloglines or LiveJournal or anywhere else I’m syndicated.

Ah, a sticky problem. One that should demand the attention of metrics companies like comScore and Nielsen NetRatings.

Over at Techdirt, they’re asking Where Are The Web 2.0 Audits?

Want to start a business that is desperately needed? Get into the Web 2.0 auditing business (or perhaps that’s Auditing 2.0). Just as with the last bubble, it’s reached the point that you can’t trust any of the numbers that are being floated concerning today’s popular sites. Of course, we’ve covered repeatedly how questionable the valuations being tossed around are, but to support those bogus numbers, it seems that there are all sorts of other bogus numbers being thrown around as well.

Want an “old company” example of where this could get interesting? Yahoo! Mail. It has certainly accounted for billions and billions of “pageviews” over the years. But the fancy new version that’s been rolling out is a lot more like a desktop mail reader than what most users are used to.

What’s the right way to count the activity that Wall Street and advertisers care about?

  • messages viewed
  • ads requested
  • active users
  • time on site
  • clicks

What subset of the possible metrics is both meaningful and not specific to a web mail application? That is, which metrics are broadly applicable to sites that employ similar technology for very different activities?

What about comparing sites that compete for users (and advertising dollars) but use radically different presentation technologies?

Beats me. But if you’re starting to think this might be a little complicated, I’ll leave you with a final quote from Ev’s article:

In summary, there’s no easy solution. There’s a big opportunity (though very tough job) for someone to come up with a meaningful metric that weighs a bunch of factors. But no matter what, there will come a time when no one who wants to be taken seriously will talk about their web traffic in terms of “pageviews” any more than one would brag about their “hits” today.

Thoughts?

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Jeremy Zawodny is the author of the popular Jeremy Zawodny’s blog. Jeremy is part of the Yahoo search team and frequently posts in the Yahoo! Search blog as well.

Visit Jeremy’s blog: Jeremy Zawodny’s blog.

Hit Counter 2.0, Or “Web 2.0 Metrics”
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