Hey! John Doe! Is That You There in the Dark? (The TBI Republishing)

On from Regular

NOTE: So, I’m starting republishing some of the most interesting posts I did on The Big Integration, and will try to do so only with those that still make sense today.

If you live in the Web Analytics world, and if you have all your senses and wits, you certainly know about the comScore wave that tsunamied the WA blogosphere. Even some media talked about it, especially after the IAB sent a letter to comScore and Nielsen. I have personally wrote about it, and commented in several blogs, particularly Gary Angel’s. I take the visitor metrics very seriously, as I know you readers (and Forum members) of The Big Integration do. Here, we are interested in integrating Web Analytics with other customer data systems, and we know that in those worlds, well, a person is a person. Sure, in Web Analytics, we do have people too! Clients, customers, buyers, etc. Yes, but we have a LOT of visitors doing things, and we have a heck of a hard time to count them correctly. Yes, count them.

I was talking today with Scott Davis, CEO of Eyeris, and while he explained to me how they could simplify very complex data integration processes with their user-friendly application, he mentioned anonymity as one characteristic of web data, and the level of difficulty that added to it. I must humbly confess that I have been myself toiling with the same idea for some time. That anonymity, which is great as Internet users, has started to bother me a lot as an analyst. What do we have to offer to that world we want to connect with? “Visitors” who are IP addresses, or cookies, in fact a computer at work, at home, anywhere, and who can die and come back to life under a new “identity”.

The Standard Committee of the Web Analytics Association says in Web Analytics Big Three Definitions:


The number of inferred individual people (filtered for spiders and robots), within a designated reporting time frame, with activity consisting of one or more visits to a site. Each individual is counted only once in the unique visitor measure for the reporting period. (…) Authentication, either active or passive, is the most accurate way to track unique visitors. However, because most sites do not require a user login, the most predominant method of identifying unique visitors is via a persistent cookie that stores and returns a unique id value. Because different methods are used to track unique visitors, you should ask your tool provider how they calculate this metric.

The emphasis is mine. Well, a visitor is thus very much how your application counts it. It’s got to do what it can with what it’s got. Cookies, parameters, IP addresses… anything we have to count “1”, with all the frustrating challenge of wanting to put order in a world that is strong because it is not orderly.

I understand that in the customer data world, what we know about a customer is not obviously everything there is to know about that person (thank God!). That an organization will see that customer through the magnifying (i.e. deforming) glass of the nature of their relationship. Still, we are very close to that “1”, to that person.

Are we to say that we should then particularly focus on visitors we can identify? Or who identify themselves, to be more precise? I sometimes think so. Could the Web become this warm place where upon arrival a little voice says: “Hello Jacques Warren. If you’re not Jacques Warren, click here”? Those sites count people: I am pretty sure they don’t bother so much with visitors who don’t even say hi. I know, the entire Web can not be such a place; we’d go crazy (Minority Reportanyone?).

The question remains an open one: how to reconcile web site traffic data, made of visits by visitors, with our customer databases.

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