Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics: ComScore's Facebook Audience Claims Are Wrong By A Factor Of 17,000!
Audience measurement may be an imprecise art, but the figures that the top research companies provide to business can swing the expenditures of many billions of dollars. Television ratings, for example, are responsible not only for the survival or cancellation of every show on the air but also the determination of how much a station or network can charge for its commercial time. It is therefore imperative that audience measurement be as precise as possible.
When ComScore, one of the leading online research firms, issued a report on how much time web surfers spend on Facebook & Google, the figures hit me between the eyes like a freight train. They weren't just wrong... they were impossibly wrong.
The ComScore Statistics Aren't Just Wrong... They're Impossible
ComScore Inc. is a leading internet marketing research service company with a long standing reputation for in-depth statistical analysis of online behaviors. Countless companies base much of their online activities based on the reports generated by the company, which employs over 700 people from its base in Reston, VA. The company and its executives have won several prestigious industry awards. It is ranked among the Global Top 25 market research firms and the World Economic Forum named it one of 47 innovative companies. Its current market cap is close to $600 million.
With such an exalted status, it would seem almost impossible that they would be fabricating figures out of thin air, but it seems that is exactly what ComScore Inc is doing.
The company recently made worldwide headlines by releasing a report that American web navigators are spending more time on Facebook than on all of Google's sites put together. The ComScore report stated that in August, 2010 41.1 million minutes were spent on Facebook, while Google was able to capture only 39.8 million minutes of web surfers' attention. This report was carried on all major media, including CNN.
ComScore's Claims Are 17,000 Times Short Of Reality
Seems very impressive at first... until we pull out the old calculator and crunch a few figures.
OK... 41.1 million minutes... That's 685,000 hours. No matter how you crunch it, that's a lot of hours... but let's dig a bit deeper. Facebook, on their statistics page, claims "People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook"
Yikes. That's a bit of a difference. We're not talking about the difference between 41 million and 700 million which would be a time claim 17 times smaller than that made by Facebook itself, but a claim that it's 17,000 times smaller!
The Equivalent Of Only 5,800 Americans Watching The SuperBowl
Let's place this in perspective. If the same sort of discrepancy had creeped into top ComScore competitor AC Nielsen's television ratings, then instead of 98.7 million people reported watching the last SuperBowl, the total would have been 5,800. It doesn't take a PhD in statistics to figure out that there are some American neighborhoods where more than 5,800 people watched the SuperBowl, let alone in the whole country!
If ComScore Is Right, Each Facebook User Is Online Half A Second Per Day
Could it be a case of Facebook exaggerating? Unlikely as 685,000 hours spread among Facebook's 167 million US users would mean that each one is accessing Facebook for 14.8 seconds per month, or less than half a second per day. That's not exactly enough time to even load a single page, let alone plant an entire field full of crops in their irrationally popular Farmville game which just by itself claims 100 million users.
ComScore Caught In A Stupid Lie That Wouldn't Fool Anyone With A 99 Cent Calculator
So what happened? ComScore lied. A bald-faced, ridiculous, stupid lie which would have been caught by any high school dropout with a 99 cent calculator. They fabricated the statistics to get publicity, and they did so in such a ridiculously amateurish fashion that they have now effectively demolished the elevated status and credibility of the entire $600 million company. After this debacle, they shouldn't be trusted to take attendance at the local elementary school.
This is not ComScore's first rodeo. They have been linked on at least two occasions with allegations of distributing spyware and rerouting user traffic through proxy servers. Not exactly confidence-inspiring from a Global Top 25 research firm!
High-Priced Journalists Parroting Press Releases Are A Disgrace
Don't any of these high priced journalists mindlessly reporting this dreck know how to use a calculator? Or do they just parrot any press release that lands on their desks? Is it possible that they misinterpreted the figures? That's not how it seems on the major media reports I've been looking at. They're very clear: "U.S. Web Users spend..."
Which one is worse... if ComScore lied, or if the major media doesn't know the difference between millions and billions?
Heads Have To Roll: Either At ComScore Or At Major Media
ComScore: If it's proven the figures come from you, admit that you were wrong by a factor of close to 17,000 or justify your figures now. Don't try to spin out of these moronic lies! You're caught red handed, now retract immediately and justify how your entire 700 employees could be so stupid! Either that or if it is the journalists who can't read, then the major media should be handing out a whole whack of termination slips to their reporters tomorrow morning.
Heads have to roll on this!
Later development: Facebook's claims of 700 billion minutes seem to be worldwide, so if we cut it down by 30% which is the stated number of US users we're still looking at 210 billion minutes vs. 41 million: over 5,100 times. Under no conceivable formula can the 41 million for all US users be anywhere near correct by several orders of magnitude.
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