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TBTF for 1995-06-25: Keeping Web numbers honest

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 25 Jun 1995 17:30:06 -0400

>>From Edupage:

The MIT Press's first WWW book, "City of Bits: Space, Place, and the
Infobahn," is about a new type of "city," constructed of interconnected
virtual spaces on the network. The URL is
<http://www-mitpress.mit.edu/City_of_Bits/>, and the online version
functions as a companion to its printed counterpart. Reader comments or
queries are embedded in the text to become part of an on-going dialogue in
which author and reader will interact. ("City of Bits," MIT Press, 1995)

[This is a rich site for students of the online life. The graphics, while
pretty to look at, are gratuitous, so best turn off graphics loading if
you're viewing at 14.4K.]

The U.S. Postal Service is working with software firm Premenos Corp. to
develop public key cryptography for verifying the identity of e-mail senders
and the integrity of electronically transmitted documents. Meanwhile,
Verisign Inc. is developing a rival system that not only checks the digital
signature, but also scrambles the content of the message. A number of
companies, including Visa International, Mitsubishi and Ameritech, have
invested in Verisign's technology, and Apple Computer and Netscape
Communications have signed on as customers. (Wall Street Journal 1995-06-22 B7)

[They'd better hurry. We haven't heard the last from the NSA/FBI alliance
that has been working, to good effect, to contain the spread of strong

Up until now, the number of "hits" has been the primary benchmark for
judging the popularity of a Web site. But, "a hit is a very deceiving
number," says HotWired's advertising director. The truth is that hits count
files, not people, and when a human browser clicks from icon to icon to view
different parts of a Web site, each click is counted as a hit.[*] HotWired
says on a good day, it gets about 600,000 hits, but that represents only
about 6,000 people -- maybe fewer if the same people are visiting more than
once a day. Advertisers are starting to catch on, and are demanding much
more detailed audience information than they were six months ago. Although
some start-up companies are working to fill that need, the technology used
by the new tracking systems is too rudimentary. The log files show that
someone from CompuServe has tapped in, but can't identify which of
CompuServe's millions of subscribers it is. For now, advertisers are
relying on gut instinct and common sense about which Web sites have "Net
credibility." (Wall Street Journal 1995-06-21 B1)

[*It's even worse than this indicates. A single click can and does record
multiple hits as each of the graphics files, icons, etc. on a page are
accessed. Some browsers' caching features further obscure the statistics,
as the Web server won't record a hit for a page or graphic retrieved from
cache. Netscape uses a cache, for example, but its effect on the statistics
can't readily be assessed, because each user can set the cache's size and
otherwise affect its behavior.

HotWired's guesstimate of a 100-to-1 ratio of hits to visitors sounds high.
At Atria's site we see a ratio consistently under 20-to-1; in a recent week
it was 16.1, with a daily spread of 15.6 - 16.7. It's hard to believe that
HotWired's visitors spend an average of six times longer at their site than
Atria's visitors do at ours.]

TBTF alerts you 3 times a week to bellwethers in computer and communications
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email me at either address below.
Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.