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 eRatings.com, 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 eRatings.com.

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 eRatings.com 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 eRatings.com 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 eRatings.com 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 eRatings.com 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
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'