The Cookie Conundrum
July 9, 2015 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Writing at FiveThirtyEight.com, Sam Dean argues that until very recently, there has been no way to meaningfully measure web traffic. For advertisers and site owners, "just having a number that everyone can point to as an acceptable proxy of reality is more important than how accurate that number may be."

Advertisers dreamed of reaching “one to one,” a state of omniscience in which they could precisely target not only specific demographics but individual consumers with a particular ad. The Internet promised to make that dream come true. Twenty years later, we take it as a given that we’re living in that dream. We are tracked, through our phones and our laptops, by a long list of companies, and assume that they probably know everything we do.

But the assumption has preceded the reality.
Of course, FiveThirtyEight has had troubles of its own with regard to measurements of web traffic since leaving The New York Times.
posted by kewb (10 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
"just having a number that everyone can point to as an acceptable proxy of reality is more important than how accurate that number may be."



Note- this is also the case for television advertising, magazine advertising, radio advertising, out-of-home...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:04 AM on July 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


yeah my brother is in marketing and this sounds right in line with what he's told me about the entire field - X cars drive on a highway = X impressions for a billboard etc.
posted by rebent at 6:23 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Note- this is also the case for television advertising, magazine advertising, radio advertising, out-of-home...

Also standardized testing.
posted by absalom at 7:00 AM on July 9, 2015


This is the best article on how hard it is to measure web traffic that I've read in years. But what it's missing is Google's removal of marketers'/site owners' ability to know which site users arrived from. That, too, majorly affected the ability to tie traffic to users, either specifically or by trend.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:15 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


At some point measurement becomes a goal in and of itself, dwarfing the actual content. See also pages that have 40, 50, even 80 separate tracking scripts, beacons, ad networks, etc.

Page weight keeps getting bigger every year and this crap is why.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:25 AM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


The tragedy isn't that web stats are a hopeless metric for anything other than load balancing, nor that this is the case for practically every impact metric ever invented for everything from clay tablets through to Vulcan mind-melds. It's that the entire industry got addicted to them, to the point that it doesn't matter what you say about having any other reason for following any other strategy. It's the equivalent of the old Hollywood joke: "Yes, I know I'm lying to you, but hear me out".
posted by Devonian at 9:40 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are so many places where people decide the thing they want to measure is too hard or too expensive, so they just measure something else instead and pretend it's what they want to know.
posted by straight at 10:39 AM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


okay, that's going to require an additional chapter in the next edition of my all-time favorite non-fiction book "How to Lie With Statistics"
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:42 AM on July 9, 2015


Don't worry, everybody! The 538 article also says:
We’re on the cusp of the HD era, about to enter the sci-fi surveillance world we thought we’d been living in all along.
Yaaaaaaay:
Apple and Google are in a position to break the cookie regime, too, with the possibility of persistent logins across browsers, devices, days and years, but Facebook is out front. In the current version of the future, knowing how many real people went to a given site will likely also mean knowing which real people went to a given site. No proxy, no guessing, just you.
So doubleplusgood!
An association of online advertisers has declared 2015 the official “Year of Transition” as publishers and marketers try to figure this all out, but they will figure it out soon. The technology is in place to watch users as we assumed we’d been being watched all along. Chartbeat, for instance, runs lightweight JavaScript programs on its clients’ websites to record, every 15 seconds, where our cursor is on the screen, how often we scroll down the page and a host of other “engagement” metrics.
posted by Little Dawn at 1:44 PM on July 9, 2015


Chartbeat, for instance, runs lightweight JavaScript programs on its clients’ websites to record, every 15 seconds, where our cursor is on the screen, how often we scroll down the page and a host of other “engagement” metrics.

I'm not sure how effective watching my cursor is since most of the time, I've got it on some part of the page I don't care about so I can read the parts that I do.
posted by dances with hamsters at 6:12 AM on July 10, 2015


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