Via InsideRIA I found a blog post by Robert Hoekman Jr talking about some of the common myths of analytics today. It's a pretty good look at what people really want to accomplish when it comes to "success" on the web. If you're a news site then page views is a perfectly fine metric by which to judge whether or not you're doing a good job. But if you're building a web application, as Robert notes, that's not always the best measuring stick:
If your site is a web application, the number of page views might be completely irrelevant because 50% of the actions on the site are performed on a single screen. In that case, information on individual files and data requests and click patterns will be more meaningful.
So what are the legions of statistic minded technologists to do now that RIA technologies have taken away the page view as a metric, how do we measure success on the web? Steve Rubel wrote the most poignant post about how we need to move beyond the page view ad figure out something else. He nails it at the end of his post:
As the page view platform crumbles, there's going to be a shake out. Everyone is going to scramble to find a metric that helps them compete for ad dollars. Enjoy the show.
I'm not sure there is one "right answer" for metrics in the RIA world. I feel like the economics of the problem require that there be one: everyone has to be able to compete on the same playing field as everyone else. You have to be able to equally compare two properties. But in the end I think it comes down to a mix of users and time spent on a site. Both have their drawbacks. Users aren't always "active" and time spent on a site means that people probably aren't clicking on ads.
In the end, I think one of the more interesting aspects of the online ad business is that no one has ANY clue how to really figure out analytics for the ever-growing number of RIAs out there. Frankly, what we need, is a way to track how valuable an individual user is to advertisers. What are they doing while on your site. Are they consuming the ads? Are they clicking through? Some kind of standardized way to track that would blow the world wide open.