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Roger McNamee is more blunt. "I understand why Nielsen is
so bad," he says. "But why isn't there anything better? There's a
huge market opportunity for any venture capitalist who is willing
to fund a system that audits actual tra c."
"What we need is a third-party Omniture," says Spanfeller,
referring to the website analytics software that many publishers
(including Technology Review) use to log their own tra c.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Recently, I visited Quantcast, a San Francisco--based startup that is
hoping to provide just such a service. Founded in 2005 and funded
with $26 million, mainly from Polaris Ventures and Founders
Fund, the company wants its service, which launched in 2006, to
overthrow traditional panel-based Web audience measurement.
Konrad Feldman, the company's youthful, redheaded, British-
born chief executive and cofounder, met me at the company's head-
quarters overlooking the Yerba Buena Gardens and the Moscone
Center. In a large conference room with a cement floor, decorated
according to the precepts of venture-capitalist high minimalism,
he asked whether Technology Review was "quantified"---that is,
whether its online visitors were tracked by the startup's software tags.
After we confirmed that our site had been quantified for some time,
he opened his laptop and searched for our URL at Quantcast.com.
An elegant dashboard of audience information was swiftly
served: TechnologyReview.com, it said, had 342,000 "global people"
and 205,000 "U.S. people." These numbers, which measured
monthly visitors to our site, were not so low as those reported by
traditional third-party audience measurement firms, but they
seemed suspicious: throughout 2008, Omniture reported around
650,000 unique visitors to TechnologyReview.com every month.
But we also learned that 32 percent of TechnologyReview.com's
readers earned more than $100,000 a year and that 24 percent
had postgraduate degrees, which seemed about right. (A peek at
Forbes.com, which is not quantified but whose numbers the
startup had extrapolated, showed that the business site had 4.9 mil-
lion "U.S. people," who were richer than TechnologyReview.com's
readers, although not as highly educated. Because Forbes was
not quantified, Quantcast didn't supply Forbes.com's total world-
Quantcast's service, like that of existing audience measurement
firms, begins with panels---or, more precisely, panel-like data in the
form of "reference samples," provided to the company by third
parties such as market research firms, Internet service providers,
and toolbar companies, among other sources. These statistical
methods create a basic model of U.S. Web tra c. But when pub-
lishers install Quantcast's tags on their servers, Quantcast gets
more details; the startup adjusts for spiders and bots, people with
multiple computers, and cookie flushers. The two methodologies
are combined using something Quantcast calls its "mass infer-
ence algorithm," created with the aid of two Stanford University
mathematicians and refined by the seven mathematically minded
PhDs who work at the company. This algorithmic analysis of panel
research and server-based measurement is unique in Web audi-
ence measurement (although Nielsen more coarsely combines
the two methodologies with a service called VideoCensus, which
tracks online video viewing). The resulting audience information,
says Feldman, is much more reliable than anything o ered by
ComScore or Nielsen.
"Publishers and advertisers have used panel-based research for
nearly 75 years," says Feldman. "So there's obviously an established
way of doing things. But equally, there's a pretty clear recognition
in the marketplace that something has got to change."
Because Quantcast's audience information is free (where
ComScore's and Nielsen's measurements are not), the company
hopes to make money by charging publishers who enroll in Media
Planner, a service launched last May that helps media planners
spend their clients' cash. Although Media Planner is wholly free
for now, Quantcast wants to expand the service so that it can finely
describe demographic subsets within websites' audiences, a utility
for which the company believes the sites themselves will pay.
Feldman explains this tricky idea: "You have a sales force at
TechnologyReview.com, and they can't possibly speak to everyone
who might value your audience. But if you can expose that audi-
ence to buyers, then you can create a way whereby buyers can
discover the parts of your audience they find particularly valuable."
Feldman says that Media Planner allows media buyers to find
appropriate audiences, "but it's the publishers that should pay, as
they're the ones getting higher rates for their audience segments."
More ambitiously, Feldman hopes Quantcast's audience data, in
combination with ad impressions, will create a new currency for
advertisers, advertising agencies, and publishers that will make
display ads more e ective and therefore more valuable.
Feldman and his cofounder, Paul Sutter, the company's presi-
dent, do not approach the problem of audience measurement
as veterans of media. Feldman, a computer scientist, was the
cofounder of Searchspace (now Fortent), which developed soft-
ware to help financial-services firms detect money laundering and
the financing of terrorists. Sutter founded the network optimiza-
tion company Orbital Data (later acquired by Citrix) as an expert
on high-performance computer architectures, a background that
has proved useful as Quantcast processes the thousands of tera-
bytes of data it has collected.
When the founders first conceived the company, Sutter says,
"we just asked the most simple, kindergarten questions, and it soon
became clear that the language that media buyers and planners
were speaking was nothing like the language of Internet advertis-
ing, with its cost-per-clicks and so forth. Media planners liked to
talk about audiences, demographics, and lifestyles. So the answer
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