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Letter to the editor: We don’t say “hits” anymore

Despite the hassles associated with air travel, I must admit that there is one part I do relish: disconnecting from all things digital while in flight. Where I once wore my 24/7 accessibility like a Girl Scout badge, I now long for the few hours where I am both unreachable and unable to reach out. These days, I look forward to carefully reading full-length articles in a print edition of the New York Times en route to my final destination.

This past Thursday, however, the New York Times betrayed me. The overall content was just fine, but I couldn’t help but note the number of awkward, if not erroneous, attempts to cite Web metrics invading my decidedly old-school reading. In “Young Video Makers Try to Alter Islam’s Face,” the author points out that one video “has shot to the top of searches for “Muslim” on YouTube, having attracted more than two million hits since it was posted on September 28. By way of perspective, the most popular video ever on YouTube, “Evolution of Dance,” has attracted more than 84 million hits, but traffic in that stratospheric range is usually garnered by music videos. Ms. Khan said student filmmakers rated 10,000 hits as a sign that a film had moved beyond friends and family.

So what irks me here? For starters, can we stop using the word “hits” when discussing anything Web-related? Secondly, the confusing side note offered on Evolution of Dance highlights that there is no clear reference point for popularity.

References to search volume are no better. In that very same paper, the article “Steampunk Moves Between 2 Worlds” not only allows a quote that misrepresents Google Trends metrics, but mistakenly associates search volume with the quantity of results that returned for a query. 

“‘There seems to be this sort of perfect storm of interest in steampunk right now,’ Mr. von Slatt said. ‘If you go to Google Trends and track the number of times it is mentioned, the curve is almost algorithmic from a year and a half ago.’ (At the time of this writing, Google cites 1.9 million references.)”

The astute search engine marketer will also note that number of results returned does not necessarily correlate to popularity. Even if it did, 1.9 million is a small number of results in Google compared to that for other genres of music.

So what should be done to remedy the situation? I propose a two-prong strategy. First, trade organizations such as the IAB and SEMPO should reach out to senior editorial staff with clear and consistent metrics definitions. This, of course, implies that working definitions are updated on a regular basis to account for changes in technology. And, senior editorial staff should develop a task force to stay on top of the ever changing Web and the metrics that result as well as educate all writers on proper usage.

This might seem a gargantuan task, but the Times need look no further than page G2 for a good candidate to chair up the effort. Michelle Slatalla, author of the fabulously entertaining Cyberfamilias article, “Today, I Think I’ll Be Hippohead,” lives in a self-described Silicon Valley town “where half the population is building Web sites while the other half is beta testing them.”

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