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RealTime IT News

Hot Air Rises

I'm not sure how I feel about the proposed $400 million stock-swap deal between Media Metrix and Jupiter Communications , but I do know how I feel about both Web firms. Both start-ups are a couple of nothing burgers. For the sake of fairness, let's just take 'em in alphabetical order.

There's hardly a prospectus or sound bite on the information superhighway that doesn't quote the ubiquitous so-called media research firm Jupiter Communications. You just can't seem to shake this magic cyber-eightball who mysteriously manages to spit out a new study for every flavor of the month.

B2B? No problem. Why, just yesterday, the company announced that the domestic business-to-business market is expected to balloon to more than $6 trillion in online trade by 2005. Says who?

Waving its proverbial pom-poms since the mid-90s, Jupiter has gained a reputation as one of the Net's most zealous cheerleaders. The company has built a mountain of credibility, despite so little accountability when it comes to its research. Jupiter's own skipper boasts a tour of duty as a freelance writer for Cosmo magazine and little else. Ditto for many of the firm's army of analysts.

But, it's a two way street. Analysts and journalists simply love to sprinkle some of Jupiter's quotables to top off their next column. The same goes for the companies who stand to benefit from a favorable research report or glowing forecast. More than 600 clients have hopped on Jupiter's bandwagon, and it's predictably hard to find one with a harsh word for the firm.

One rival with an axe to grind, although ironically cut from the same cloth, is Julio Gomez. After jumping ship from Forrester Research a few years ago, the Gomez Advisors CEO opined that Jupiter's best asset wasn't compiling and analyzing industry data but rather "finding a parade and getting out in front of it."

Touche.

Media Metrix has made a name for itself publishing those make-believe traffic yardsticks for the Internet's most visible Web properties, quoted by companies and analysts ad nauseam. But if the average Jane takes a peek under the hood at the methodology behind the numbers, it's an archaic guessing game at best.

Despite all the raw data zipping around the Web in bits and bytes, Media Metrix uses old-fashioned direct mailings and cold calls to lump together 50,000 home and at-work volunteers who'll install tracking software on their PCs. Based on a crude sampling of U.S.-only Web users, Media Metrix preaches its renowned Top 50 lists like gospel.

Webmasters from Yahoo! to AltaVista are crying foul. And there's a silent majority too afraid to speak up over Media Metrix's oft puzzling rankings. If you have a bone to pick, you'd better bury it, because the Web's Nielson ratings firm knows how to hold a grudge.

With both companies built largely on a pocket of hot air, it's only fitting the two should walk down the aisle together. But on the bright side, the duo competes in a crowded field of me-too rivals, so a consolidated effort is likely to prove beneficial for the newlyweds. Just don't light a match around these two.

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.com.

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