Microsoft Corp. will pursue a mix of quantitative and qualitative measurements for advertisers on the Microsoft Network.
"Software solutions are good-we encourage them," said Steve Goldberg, manager of advertising development for MSN. "But we also recognize there's other elements to a good [advertising] program."
Besides offering traditional survey information to its advertisers, Microsoft is instituting a "make-good" policy similar to traditional media.
CompuServe uses a proprietary database software program to measure traffic, something Keith Arnold, manager of interactive marketing and merchandising, calls "the rubber hose on the road."
Because each subscriber has a unique password and screen name, online services can track users as they visit various areas, recording how long they spent online, what sites they spent time in and how long they spent there.
CompuServe samples various areas of its service on a regular basis to gauge its users' interests.
The company also conducts what it calls "advanced polling," offering an incentive for subscribers to answer questions like "What are your new car purchasing plans?" for a car marketer.
Respondents are offered a $2 usage credit in exchange for their opinions.
"One thing we've learned, and we've tried a lot, is people love to get free time on CompuServe," Mr. Arnold said.
CD-ROMs are starting to measure user activity as well, either via online links or old-fashioned fax or mail-in surveys. Unlike online services, which can track usage invisibly, this medium is limited to gathering information only when users respond.
David Goldberg, CEO of the Launch CD-ROM magazine, said he offers free CDs or Launch hats to consumers who send in surveys via mail, fax or e-mail. The surveys are a combination of demographic information and a tracking file of users' activities recorded in a database program, which operates invisibly on the CD-ROM.
Mr. Goldberg admitted he didn't receive as many tracking reports as he wanted from the first issue of Launch-less than 1% of the subscriber base-but he believes he has solved the problem by increasing promotion of the incentive offer in the current issue of the CD-ROM.
Kiosks present a different type of data collection problem. Advertisers can collect data by downloading information to a disc, printing a paper report or setting up a phone link to an off-site corporate database.
"From the moment they come up and touch the screen, we know where they go," said Dan Schwass, partner in Multimedia Resources, a Portland, Ore., producer of kiosk applications.
Membership cards have become a dependable method for matching demographic information with kiosk users as well, Mr. Schwass said. The magnetic strip of the membership card automatically loads a consumer's personal information into a kiosk each time the customer wants to access the machine, eliminating the need for intrusive surveys and expensive incentive giveaways.
However, membership cards in any marketing application work only when there are enough members to make it worthwhile.
As a result, advertisers on kiosks, CD-ROMs and online services are still left with the challenge of coaxing personal information from the sometimes technophobic public, the same route many Web sites are taking.
In this realm, traditional incentives such as coupons, samples, gifts or credits work well. But the methodology is still hampered by the fact that only those consumers interested in the incentives will respond.
Volunteer surveys are intrinsically spurious sources for data since the composition of the survey group is unpredictable, said Judy Black, senior partner-director of interactive development at Bozell, New York.
In lieu of a dependable, automated single source for advertising measurement, Ms. Black said marketers must use traditional research methods to cross-check any interactive audience information.