Black + white = grey

Which of these things are not like the others?

a.    Black vs. white
b.    Mass vs. niche
c.    News vs. advertising
d.    Site-centric vs. person-centric
Census server vs. audience panel data
e.    None of the above (all are alike)

The answer is (d).  Really?

When I plunged into the huge world that is web analytics, I decided to focus on site/server-centric or census analytics, or the data you get from software like Google Analytics or Omniture.

After all, site-centric data gives you what people actually did. The comScore or Nielsen data comes from panels of people reporting what they said they did.

It makes sense that there are two different types of data, because there are two different needs:  Advertising needs overall site data that gives some demographic information and allows competitive comparisons, but the newsroom needs data that tracks traffic for every story in every section (otherwise known as “excruciating detail”).

Here’s the smug little chart I’ve been using in presentations.  (It got a nice comment from someone on Slideshare:  “The best way I’ve seen yet to describe the fundamentals of web data structures!”)

Census v panel

Things might not be so left-side vs. right-side now.  comScore and other panel vendors claim they’re now combining the best of both.  Josh Chasin of comScore asserts in Online Metrics Insider that its hybrid methodology is “helping to resolve what once seemed to be irreconcilable differences between two ways of counting….But this convergence doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for two distinct metrics disciplines….The function and purpose of these two data streams remains separate, and both are essential….panel data can make census server data better, and…server data can make panel data better.

I think I’ll still focus on census server data.  It’s too overwhelming to go deep into the panel side when there’s still so much to learn from the census side.

However, I’ll start following the evolution of hybrid measurement systems.  More data often just leads to more “so what” reports.  But we might be on our way to a better understanding of our audiences, which both the newsroom and the business sides desperately need.


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