Posted June 12, 2009 5:07 pm by with 0 comments

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Nielsen retooled its online audience measurement system to try to more accurately measure and reflect web usage at large by including RSS measures. However, something went terribly wrong, and Nielsen overreported the audience reach for several sites that seriously don’t want to see any further “correction”:

an anomaly in the RSS feeds a single user had set up to receive news updates from three publishers – Foxnews.com, NYTimes.com, and USAToday.com – caused their estimates to be grossly inflated, and has triggered a deeper probe by clients into the technology and methods Nielsen uses to measure online audiences.

Mm. Robust it was not, eh? Nielsen has revised the audience measures for the affected sites downward (just what news sites need these days), and are gearing up the planned newer system to prevent future errors like this.

As MediaPost points out, few were excited about (or even interested in) Nielsen’s new system, so the news of the failure of their old system may actually bode well for the media measurement company.

The new system will use a sample that’s ten time larger than the current sample. With the larger sample, it will also be able to measure traffic for more sites.

Some sites, such at the New York Times, however, say that Nielsen consistently indicates their numbers are lower than those found by three other independent sites and the Times itself—which just illustrates that unlike with television, Nielsen is far from the only game in town when it comes to audience measurement online.

However, the Nielsen brand still carries a lot of weight. But even if their new measurement system is better, will it be enough to give them real relevance online, and elevate them above the other online measurement options?