Measure this

The means of measurement used by advertisers for every other medium — newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, and no online — will not — will never — work in the world of citizens and distributed media. That is why we must create our own measurement standards.

To get apples-to-apples numbers for those other, older, major media, advertisers rely on allegedly representative samples.

But you can never get a sample big enough to deal with the mass of niches.

Hell, the samples aren’t big enough to deal with local online newspaper sites. The Online Publishers Association just released a study that found various means of measuring those sites disagree drastically:

Differences arose between the two primary methodologies, surveys and panels….

The paper analyzes data from five services. Firms conducting panel research include comScore Media Metrix and Nielsen//NetRatings-MegaView Local. Firms measuring local audience through a combination of online, phone and postal mail surveys include Nielsen//NetRatings @Plan (online); Scarborough Research (phone and mail); and The Media Audit (phone).

When data from the two forms of collection were analyzed, survey-based methodologies, on average, reported 70 percent higher visitor numbers than panel-based research.

An example cited in the study looked at the number of visitors to Visitor data differed by one million between two services.

When I was at Advance, we found that these sampling methodologies would find no audience in some markets that we knew from our server stats were actually much bigger than other markets they did measure. They simply didn’t have enough people in Alabama.

Well, they’ll never get enough knitters to measure the knitting bloggers. They can measure a few of the biggest bloggers. But that’s not what this medium is all about. It is about, as someone said at my Web 2.0 ad panel, the “big butt” attached to the fabled long tail of passionate niches that add up to a mass far bigger than the biggest bloggers. So we need to be able to add them up.

This is why it is doubly important for us in this world to create and use our own means of measurement. I’m talking with some folks who are better at getting things done than I am — and working with Burst Media‘s coincidentally named Jarvis Coffin to set up a trade group — to work on open-source collection and reporting.

This isn’t just about collecting and verifying audience and pageview numbers — and demographics and behavior — though all that is important.

This is also about collecting data that can be collected only in this medium of the people and gives us unique value: authority, influence, conversation-starting, relationships, loyalty, engagement.

And this is about additional data that cuts across sites — from the likes of Technorati, Icerocket, Blogpulse — and how all this data will be munged together by various parties doing their own analytics.

So, in the end, when an advertiser wants to reach top food influencers they’ll be able to do so through influential food bloggers … and those bloggers will be able to recognize their value as well.

But it won’t happen through the survey or panel research that have become advertisers’ crutch.