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10th February 1997
Lies, damned lies and "hits"
I know I've covered this topic before - but one recent outrageous claim and news about a good "first move" by one of the industry's largest players has meant that it's time to revisit.

It's only natural that people who run Web sites with a view to attracting advertising revenues will want to present the figures regarding the site's popularity in the most favourable light. The problem is that it's very easy to "bamboozle" people with huge numbers that an be very misleading.

For instance, take a look at page 55 of this week's NBR. According to what's published there, NBR's web site is "New Zealand's most frequently visited Web site".

To be fair to NBR, it seems that Microsoft are the ones making this claim - but how on earth do they know how NBR stacks up when compared to other New Zealand sites?

Follow this link for Microsoft's point of view

The way I see it there are only two possible answers to explain such a statement from Microsoft:

  1. They have some form of covert reporting code built into Windows and MSIE that reports your every move back to Redmond.

  2. They are just making it up to promote their own position as the supplier of server-software to NBR.

Either way this reflects very badly on Microsoft and shows that either they aren't telling us the whole truth about what's happening behind the scenes when you use their products (very unlikely), or that they think the average Net user is so stupid that they'll swallow unsubstantiated garbage like this without a second thought.

Let's investigate the validity of this bold claim.

Maybe it's based on the "massive 2.17 million hits" (claimed by NBR on the same page) that the site received between November 8th and January 31. Well let's see...

Entering the NBR site through the "front door" at www.nbr.co.nz produces 6 HTTP requests (or "hits). Clicking through to the main page on Saturday produced another 33 "hits" due to the numerous graphics and frame-panels which had to be loaded. So... that's around 40 hits minimum just to get a visitor to the main menu.

Let's take that 2 million hits and divide it by the number of days over the period in question to get an average of 24,000 "hits" per day. Now, even if we assume that each visitor did nothing other than stop at the main page - we only get 600 visitors per day.

Now if we suppose that the "average" visitor is going to pull up a few pages of the truly excellent information from within the cavernous bowels of the NBR site the "massive 2.17 million hits" produces an even smaller number of daily visitors - possibly as few as 400 per day.

Well, I've got to say that if 400 individual visits per day makes for "NZ's most frequently visited web site" then the whole industry here is in big trouble! It will probably also come as a big surprise to other popular NZ web sites such as The Press and the sites of the larger ISPs such as Xtra and ClearNet who almost certainly exceed this figure, probably by an order of magnitude or more.

Indeed - if I had spent $250K to built a web site the size of NBR and it only received 400-600 visitors per day I'd be pretty worried! And remember - the claim on page 55 wasn't that NBR was the site scoring the most hits - it says that it was "the most frequently visited.

Now of course nobody can blame NBR for wanting to advertise a seemingly huge number of hits or quote such a wonderful claim from Microsoft - but it would have been far more sensible not to become party to such misleading hyperbole.

$250K to reach 600 people a day?
Guilty as charged
But wait... didn't I recently make claims about one of my own sites, receiving 20,000 hits per day recently? Yes, I sure did (mea culpa). I did not however suggest that the site was anything other than "pretty high up" on the list of NZ's most popular sites - simply because I don't know for sure what everyone else is getting.

Now that site is is getting over 50K hits per day (yes folks, that's 1.5 million hits per month - a figure which continues to grow at around 50% per week), but regardless of what I think might be the case, I can't definitively say that it is NZ's most heavily hit site - because I don't know what others are doing.

According to my calculations, it is already reaching over 30K people per day (95% of who are outside of NZ) which means it's a pretty hot piece of advertising real-estate - but why should any advertiser be expected to accept my (or NBR's, IDGs, Xtra's or whoever's) claims of hits or readership?

Surely the time has come for sites which wish to lay claim to the advertiser's dollar, to submit their logs to an independent Web-site auditing service. This seems to be the only way to end the sometimes outrageous and unsubstantiated claims made by some sites.

Given the ease with which we can track the individual numbers of users visiting a site (through the use of cookies, asking users to log-in, etc), perhaps we can also get some really meaningful figures such as "readership" instead of comparatively meaningless numbers such as "hits".

Well, surprise, surprise - Xtra appear to be first off the block in having their logs audited by AGB McNair. According to recent reports, Xtra plans to have their January figures audited and available to advertisers very shortly - should make interesting reading and provide an excellent benchmark by which other sites can compare themselves.

Most advertisers demand audited circulation and readership figures for any print-media publications they advertise in and I believe they will soon do the same with their Web advertising. Until the industry makes the first move by providing the audited figures as part of the rate card, I doubt too many advertisers will take the Net as a serious place to promote their products or services.

audit me!
Bad boys, bad boys, what ya gonna do?
Spawn of the devil!
All the international Net News sites were running hot last week with stories about ActiveX being used by the Chaos Computer Club, a band of hackers in Hamburg, to transfer money between bank accounts without the need for a user's PIN.

The ActiveX control they developed only affects anyone with a copy of the Intuit Quicken software suitably configured to support direct-bank account access. Never the less, the people at Sun are probably jumping for joy over this hiccup in Microsoft's challenge to Java.

And... in another scary tale, McAfee have reportedly discovered the very first Linux-specific computer virus. Given that Linux has become a very popular alternative to Windows amongst the computer intelligentsia, this is indeed a worrying find.

Is Russell Brown going soft on Xtra?
I've had a number of emails from Aardvark readers who have noticed that Russell Brown, the popular industry writer and commentator, has gone soft on Xtra.

For quite some time Russell was renowned for his high-powered assaults on the ivory towers of Xtra, indeed it's rumoured that at last year's PC World Awards, Xtra had taken out a contract on Russell and that he was keeping a low profile for fear of being battered to death with a barrage of puff pastries.

Readers have asked whether Chris Tyler had kidnapped Russell's first-born and was holding him/her hostage, or whether a few of the boys from I.T. had been sent around to make him an offer he couldn't refuse.

Well sleep soundly folks, a few weeks ago I asked Russell and he denied all this. It seems he's come around to the point of view that maybe Xtra isn't simply the evil empire and that perhaps they do have something positive to contribute to the industry - although I got the impression that this was still very much a "wait and see" attitude.

As a result, I don't think I've seen him write a single bad word about Xtra this year so far, not that there's been much to report, Xtra are slowly getting their act together. In fact, he didn't even report the mail outage of last week so I guess they're still getting the benefit of the doubt.

no horse's head in Russell's bed

I Can't Believe It's True!
Given the recent spats over copyright of intellectual property on the Web I find it incredibly hard to believe that anyone would open themselves to such a potential risk...

Sue me, sue me!

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A letter from Anson Parker about last week's "I Can't Believe It's True"

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