Ajax and Nielsen Ratings

I was very interested to read that Nielsen/NetRatings will change the way that they rank websites – mainly in reaction to the adoption of Ajax technology. Rather than ranking pages based on clicks or views, they will now rank pages based on amount of time spent on the page.

Of course, this is because of Ajax – referred to in the article as a “software trick”. As this technology is becoming more popular, the page views are naturally reducing, as this is one of the key concepts of Ajax. Pages can refresh and update data without requiring a new page view request.

This is really quite interesting to me, because we have long fought with this concept as we try to report on time spent on the Internet in our product. How do you know if someone has their eyeballs on a page, or if they browsed to a page and then became distracted, or even left the room completely, but left their browser sitting open? Ad revenue will now be based on this concept of time spent, rather than page views, and (in my opinion) may be much less accurate. When you factor in the tabbed browsing capability, this has the potential for being very inaccurate, and a poor measure of true website popularity.

The article reports that this benefits AOL, since now all time spent on their Instant Messing is counted as part of this new metric. Thus, AOL ranks first with 25 billion minutes for May. Of course, this also means that Yahoo! ranks above Google, since they have different strategy with regard to web search – Yahoo! wants to provide you with data to read on their sites, where Google wants to link you over to your data as fast as possible.

When trying to determine popularity of web sites, and how much to charge for ads on those sites, I suppose it is necessary to find a better metric than page views. I am just not sure that time spent is the right one either.

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