comScore has done a wonderful job. Of marketing comScore results.
If the Internet abacus company sees its readings suggest a significant conclusion, it releases the information in an interesting and digestible form.
However, I understand that both comScore and its frats-in-stats at Nielsen Online are having their audits audited by the Interactive Advertising Bureau after mlb.com declared that Nielsen Online's score for its site of 6 million was a "conScore." The real figure, according to mlb.com, was actually 19 million. (the results of the audit's audit are due at the end of this year.)
I try to leave discussions of numbers to intelligent people.
But there seems to be a big difference between 6 million and 19 million.
As I was thinking about this, a book wafted beneath my nose that tended to crystallize some human instincts about facts, something that numbers purport to be.
Mr. Manjoo performs an enjoyable analysis of some recent political controversies, such as the allegations that the elections of 2000 and 2004 were stolen by devious and surprisingly organized Republicans. (His conclusions seem to suggest that Mr. Gore was hard done by, Mr. Kerry was not.)
The book is at its strongest in describing just how deeply most human beings want to find information that most closely confirms their own prejudices. And how they shut out information that counters those prejudices.
What prejudices do research companies have? Is it, perhaps, important for them to have their research come up with newsworthy results? Are their methodologies actually primed to achieve that?
There are allegations that comScore's and Nielsen Online's figures tend to discriminate against, for example, foreigners and MacOlytes.
Why would the research companies allow for this sort of speculation?
Why would they allow for the perception that someone on a Mac in Krakow, Poland, is nothing more than a hanging chad?
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau's CEO, Randall Rothenberg, these companies are "still relying on panels, a media-measurement technique invented for the radio industry exactly seven decades ago, to quantify the Internet".
Wait a minute, they're using panels? Does everyone know about this? Do the people who use their numbers know about this?
For so many people in the advertising business and beyond, who have their prejudices too, it is the headline that matters. They present in headlines. They talk about themselves in headlines. They need news.
Being 21st Century humans whose budgets are shrinking, attention spans are short and careers even shorter, they sometimes eschew analysis for today's news currency, the soundbite.
comScore and Nielsen Online are in the business of creating some very soundbiting headlines indeed. (FACEBOOK OVERTAKES MYSPACE!!! OHMIGOD!!! I NEED TO WRITE A SONG ABOUT THIS!!!)
Which leads me to the headline of this post.
I have no reason to believe that the folks at comScore and Nielsen Online are anything other than well-meaning, dedicated but imperfect professionals.
But what if the conclusion of the IAB audit is that the figures from companies such as these have been wildly inaccurate?
What would their PR people do with that?
Would they publicize these findings, as a declaration that they need to work harder, to find better methodologies in order to reveal more accurate truths? (Oh, there are so many inaccurate truths out there..)
Or would they decide that wouldn't be good for business?
I'm just asking.
You see, I only have a MacBook and I'm feeling ignored.