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Clicks and time they are a'changing

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The yardstick for how the popularity of websites is measured has changed, as analytics firms scramble to reflect how pages are now frequently updated piecemeal and "live" by the host, rather than loaded wholesale by users.

Nielsen Netratings, one of the top firms which make a living by telling advertisers and publishers what web users are up to, said today it will put less emphasis on page views in favour of total time spent on a site.

The new methods are more akin to how TV audiences are estimated; not by if they flick through TV channel, but if they stick around and watch it.

The system takes better account of the popularity of YouTube, Yahoo! Mail, and other Flashtastic and Ajaxmatic services. Ajax is the Javascript technology which makes it possible to update a page's contents without refreshing it. It's often viewed as the main technological bedrock of the more nebulous web 2.0 concept.

Nielsen rival comScore has already tackled the culture shift online in March by emphasising "visits". It says it tracks users' loyalty to web destinations, rather than page views, making it easier for advertisers to assess their value. In Nielsen's first analysis (.PDF) where time spent gets top billing, AOL came out on top largely thanks to the US popularity of its instant messenger.

The usefulness of page views has been waning with the rise of more varied online content. For a basic web function such a search, a comparison between Google search and Yahoo! search the metric used makes negligible difference, with Google coming out on top in page views and time spent by a factor of three.

However, in a MySpace versus YouTube head-to-head, the picture is skewed. Murdoch's social network comes out on top for both page views and total minutes, but the ratio for page views is 10.4 to 1, compared to just 3.6 to one for total minutes.

Total minutes has its own caveats too, such as the ubiquity of tabbed browsing. Having a Facebook tab open all day does not mean advertisers can assume eyeballs are passing over their campaign for a full 12 hours. It also might encourage some more unscrupulous web developers to game the system by slowing down navigation.

We were going to ask El Reg's trafficking department what they thought of the shift, buy they said they were too busy working on the deployment of "Project Honorificabilitudinitatibus".

Investigations suggest it's a script which will replace our base journalese with highfalutin Latinate verse, which forces readers to re-read every sentence at least three times to extract any meaning whatsoever.®

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