Who Are Those Netizens?

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Sometimes less is more, and such is the case with rating Web traffic now that the preeminent online rater Media Metrix has merged with its smaller competitor, RelevantKnowledge. Besides lessening industry anxiety over whose numbers are right, the October 1998 merger-which combined Media Metrix's panel of 30,000 users with RelevantKnowledge's research software, LifeGraphics, and its user panel of 10,000-is yielding more stable and representative research on just who Web surfers are.

Essentially, LifeGraphics cross-tabs actual Web traffic ratings data with lifestyle information about typical cyber surfers. "It's like combining Nielsen ratings with consumer information from MRI or Simmons," says Ted Hawthorne, research director at New York City-based Media Metrix, who comes from the RelevantKnowledge side of the family. Rather than regularly polling each Web traffic panel member about their spending habits, which could be cumbersome and unwieldy, LifeGraphics uses data from Claritas, a marketing and demographic mapping company, which combines consumer addresses with economic, lifestyle, and purchasing behavior data. The data is culled from the Census Bureau, automobile registrations, magazine subscription lists, and consumer product-usage surveys, among other sources.

Zip2, a Web-based Yellow Pages service, is pleased with the enhanced research power now available from Media Metrix. "The [LifeGraphics] software gives us a better idea of who our users are," says John Canfield, senior manager, market research for Zip2. It also allows him to learn more about the customers of potential advertisers. Armed with an in-depth profile of both, Canfield can present compelling demographic evidence that Zip2's customers and an advertiser's customers make a good fit. And given the heft of Media Metrix's user panel, says Canfield, even an analysis of a site with a more modest amount of Web traffic than, say, Yahoo, is going to yield fairly stable information.

Of course, Media Metrix isn't the only ratings outfit around. Its most potent competitor may be Nielsen Media Research (which merged with NetRatings shortly after Media Metrix's merger), once its new Web division is up to speed. Currently, the only other company that offers lifestyle information on Web users is one called @plan, which polls users by phone, relying on their memory of which sites they recently visited. "That doesn't work for us," says Canfield, whose customers are merely using Zip2 to get somewhere else, and probably won't remember having passed through the site.

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