WHEN Atlas, the youngest Slovak Internet server, claimed to have the most visited web sites in the country in March 2001, other servers moved in to attack.
While the resulting battle over web auditing standards may have done little to settle the dispute, the use of new standards at least took some of the guess-work out of the Slovak market.
Auditing firm Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) was called in to adjudicate, and in 24 hours had published a new Slovak top 10 web table. Atlas was nowhere to be seen.
"There's constant conflict over Internet audits, and it's caused mainly by the fact there are no set rules for monitoring the traffic of various servers," says Tomáš Bella, an IT journalist for the daily paper Sme.
Internet audits are crucial to web firms because they help advertising agencies make decisions about where to place advertisements. However, the variety of methods used for monitoring site traffic make auditing inherently unreliable and non-transparent.
"The different methods used in judging site visits makes it difficult to get a unified picture of the results," says Miroslav Hrivňák, media director at the Juraj Vaculík Creative Studio advertising agency.
Bella explained that the issue was far more complicated than verifying distribution figures provided by traditional media.
"When auditing the sales of a printed paper, you just count the number of sold copies. But when doing Internet audits you can check web site visits using three different criteria - page views, user visits or unique IP addresses.
"Then you have variations between servers. Those that provide space for creating new web-sites score 10 times higher than other kinds of servers if you're measuring by the number of IP addresses. On the other hand, servers providing e-mail and chat services generate an enormous number of page views, thanks to the automatic refresh icon."
Taylor Nelson Sofres, an independent marketing agency with headquarters in London, has been providing auditing services in Slovakia since December 1999. Its director in Slovakia, Ivan Šimek, says that "the problem of comparing Internet audit results still lies in the fact that the Internet is a young medium developing at a fast speed."
There are three different techniques used around the world for monitoring site traffic, and each has its own rules.
TNS uses two of those techniques; an off-line audit, known as iAudit, and on-line monitoring by the iDot method. The difference is that while the former visits a client's service once a month, the latter checks up every other day. A third method, Panel Based Measurement, is based on creating a database of users and installing software into their computers to signal what pages are being read.
Bella adds that the older iAudit method counts page views and unique IP addresses, while the newer iDot counts unique users. Both Bella and Šimek agree that iDot is the best solution so far, not only for the Slovak market.
Hrivňák also believed that iDot presented a more realistic picture: "It offers you a better magnifying glass if you want to make a real examination.