Yes, we know where you click now

A new technology aimed at monitoring the way we surf is set to bring TV-style rating wars to the internet

Web surfers who value their privacy will have to contend with a new measurement system launched in the UK last week that aims to make internet use as easy to track as TV viewing.

The groundbreaking system, which not only monitors which sites people are going to and how often, also tracks who is visiting and how they've got there. The company behind it claims it will be able to measure over 90 per cent of the world's internet audience in more than 30 countries by the end of next year.

The system has been developed by ACNielsen, which is 80 per cent owned by research giant ACNielsen and 20 per cent owned by NetRatings, a Silicon Valley start-up. NetRatings has developed an application, known as Insight, which allows the detailed tracking the new system guarantees.

Insight can be run on an everyday PC and tracks every click made by the user to gather a diverse selection of information which is then relayed back to the system's control centre in California via the net. As well as monitoring which sites are visited, it also gathers information on which advertising (if any) has been viewed, and whether the surfer conducted a commercial transaction via the web. "It's a very powerful piece of proprietary technology which we believe will make us the world leader in on-line traffic measurement," says Bill Pulver, president of ACNielsen

The approach is similar to the panel-based research used by TV audience measurement systems around the world - such as Barb in the UK - although on a much larger scale. A selection of internet users has been recruited to mirror the profile of the total number of surfers in each country. Each panelist is asked to install the Insight software on their computer, and the program tracks their surfing in real time.

"A number of (other) measurement techniques have been developed," Pulver admits. Some are "site-centric" - logging hits, but these are unable to distinguish between people visiting a site for the first time and those who return many times. Other systems, meanwhile, have been unable to incorporate demographic details. But, Pulver adds: "It is possible for different visitors to a single internet site to view different banner ads depending on whether they have visited that site before. Until now it has not been possible for measurement systems to distinguish between these."

The relevance of Insight is that currently, the vast majority of websites fall into one of two models - advertising and promotional, or e-commerce. Advertising is already a major business with online advertising spend expected to total $24bn by 2003, one estimate suggests. E-commerce, meanwhile, is set for massive growth - estimates for its value in two years' time range from a modest trillion dollars to between two and three trillion.

"Both [advertising and e-commerce] require an understanding of demographics, and tracking of often-common elements - including number of views, and number of transactions," Pulver explains. "The only way to track both is from the panel perspective." As a result, he is confident Insight will become the industry standard for measuring internet use.

ACNielsen was launched last year in the US where 50,000 internet surfers are now monitored daily, round-the-clock. The UK panel involves 9,000 people. The aim is to grow the survey worldwide from the current level of 90,000 people in seven countries to 250,000 people in more than 30 countries by the end of 2001. If it can meet this target, ACNielsen will be able to provide information covering 90 per cent of world internet use, Pulver claims. Worldwide, this will cost the company some $50m in investment over two years.

Latest figures taken from Insight data from the US and preliminary data gleaned by ACNeilsen in the UK during February show some intriguing differences and similarities between the two markets. In the US, 130 million people are now on the net; the UK figure is 16.5 million. In the US, the average surfing session lasts 30 minutes - the same as in the UK, but American surfers are likely to have more sessions a month - 18 compared with the UK's 12.

The busiest times for net use in the US (where ACNielsen monitors both home surfing and office-based internet use) is 7pm midweek - typically, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Lunchtimes are also busy. Luckily for those who value their privacy, the system is not yet able to distinguish between individuals' net use for professional and personal use - at least, not yet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own