The Times’ real complaint is against Comscore and other providers of the numbers Forbes.com — like every big web site — uses. These numbers are gathered from small samples — a la Nielsen TV ratings — and they are relative bullshit but they’re what advertisers go by. Their veracity is ever less reliable the more the media world spreads. When there were only three networks, a small sample was probably a fairly reliable indicator if not measurement of viewership. But with millions of sites, the odds that a small sample will go to them in the same proportion as the rest of the world falls to nada. (This, by the way, is why blogs are doomed in a Comscore/Nielsen world; there’s no way that they can be measured. And that, again, is why we have to do a better job with our own measurement.)
This argument over ratings numbers is less important online because advertisers need not care how big the site is, only how often the ads they pay for get served — something the web can measure and verify and TV can’t. I served on the horrible Audit Burea of Circulations committee that dealt with these issues years ago (“What is a pageview?”). As it turned out, advertisers didn’t care about audits of how big sites were. They needed audits of their own ads. So whether Forbes has X million users or half that, it doesn’t matter to the advertiser so long as his ads get served to the right number of people.
One more note: I think I found one odd reason why Forbes.com keeps growing. For unknown reasons. GoogleNews favors Forbes.com way over other sites. Look at this analysis of citations on GoogleNews — compiled for more than a year since GoogleNews had a neonazi site and wouldn’t reveal its own sourcdes — and note how high Forbes.com is. The Forbes.com guys didn’t even know this until I ran into them on a panel and told them.
: Rafat Ali weighs in.