Last July, for instance, Nielsen/Net-Ratings decided that time spent on a site was more important than total Web page views, an acknowledgment of changing online habits that include watching video (which can keep readers on a site longer) and Ajax, computer coding that allows a visitor to interact with a Web page—voting, tagging, or moving parts of the page around—without having to reload an entirely new page. At the same time, having a window open on a site for hours doesn’t mean the visitor is “engaged” the whole time—he could have simply gone to get a cup of coffee—which makes “time spent” an incredibly tough metric to measure accurately.

In a few years there could be an entirely new way to describe how news organizations measure their online relevance. If that does turn out to be the case, the Media Ratings Council and the news industry are, once again, going to have more catching up to do. But that’s the nature of an evolving medium whose future is unpredictable. 


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David Cohn is a student at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.