Measuring blogs, part 1

I was doing some thinking about measuring blog usage today—not how many blogs there are, but how far blog content reaches. Such measurement isn’t a priority for most blog publishers, but what about traditional media companies that have to decide whether to make the RSS plunge as a business investment? So I came up with a few observations:

  1. Reach is a traditional media measurement that calculates how much of the potential viewership (I would use the word “audience,” but we all know that’s a screwed up metaphor for online activity) can see a particular piece of content. This is a hard measure to get, since the content is exposed not only on one’s website but in an XML file that can be exposed in lots of different readers, and when the headline can be posted on lots of different sites. Other traditional media metrics based on exposure, including unique users and cost per impression, also go right out the window.
  2. Likewise, coming to a decent clickthrough measurement is difficult, since clickthrough is defined as clicks per people that viewed the link (see above).

So what does that leave us with? What about treating RSS like newsletters? Subscriber count is hard to gather since there’s no “formal” subscriber process to get an RSS file. Likewise download count for the RSS file: while the latter is feasible, platforms like Manila don’t render a static XML file that can be tracked in a traditional web hit log, and counters like SiteMeter only track files that can embed their counting code (which leaves out RSS). And it’s hardly a meaningful or reliable measure of exposure without unique users, or knowing whether the downloaded file actually contains new content.

So what’s a media company to do? Other than take it on faith, I mean. Maybe starting with Technorati? Or Google’s PageRank?

Too many questions, not enough good answers.