The move would immediately give I/Pro audits an additional stamp of credibility and elevate the visibility of the Audit Bureau, which has been working to get its own Web site auditing business off the ground.
One executive with knowledge of the situation characterized it as a done deal, although both Mark Ashida, president-CEO of I/Pro, and Mike Lavery, Audit Bureau president and managing director, cautioned that no announcement was imminent and conversations continue with a variety of companies in the Web measurement field.
The subject could come up for discussion this week at the Audit Bureau's annual conference and board meeting.
Exactly how the Audit Bureau and I/Pro would work together couldn't be determined, although Mr. Ashida vehemently denied I/Pro would exit the audit business entirely.
"We're not giving up our auditing business," Mr. Ashida said. "Whatever we're doing in the industry is from a position of power. Anybody who joins with us gets the top sites on the Internet."
I/Pro is, however, overhauling its current auditing product, I/Audit.
"We are looking at a lot of different options," said Steve Klein, VP-marketing. Outsourcing auditing "is a possibility," he said.
I/Pro currently provides audits for 17 of the top 20 ad-supported Web sites, including Netscape and Yahoo!, Mr. Ashida said. The Audit Bureau has almost as large a stable of sites, but none are in the top tier.
"They're our major competitor," Mr. Lavery said. "We'd love to have their clients become our clients."
The question of who should audit Web site activity hasn't been an easy one to answer. The traditional print auditing organizations, ABC and BPA International, say that they should play the same role on the Web, given their time-tested methodology. They also believe it is a conflict of interest for a company like I/Pro to offer both a traffic counting service and an auditing service.
I/Pro, for its part, believes that "not having the same group count and audit would be like having a teacher grade a subject they don't understand," Mr. Klein said.
I/Pro's current audit process requires sites to send traffic information, or log files, to I/Pro to be analyzed on a monthly basis. The company checks the files for discrepancies and certifies their reliability. But ad-supported sites, including CNN's, have publicly criticized I/Pro for failing to deliver reports in a timely manner.
I/Pro is looking for ways to bring down the internal cost of performing audits as well, said Mr. Ashida.
The company may include some of the features of its I/Audit reports in a new product unveiled two weeks ago called Netline. That service is targeted mainly to marketers with Web sites, although certain features will appeal to ad-supported sites as well.
I/Pro offers its counting and auditing products in conjunction with Nielsen Media Research; that would not change under any relationship with an auditing body.
"We're not opposed to an industry organization becoming involved," said Dave Harkness, Nielsen senior VP-product planning and development. "There's a potential role for an organization to say, `Yes indeed, this company is adhering to our accepted principles."'