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Can You Trust The New York Times' Traffic Stats?

After testing in Canada last week, today the New York Times completed its paywall for readers in the rest of the world. With the massive popularity of the Times, observers will be watching its traffic figures closely to see how many readers the paper retains. But is there a reliable measure for internet traffic?

Not yet, says a report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University's journalism school. "Media measurement has never been an exact science," the report's authors write, "But even by its imperfect standards, Internet audience estimates vary to an astonishing degree, depending on who does the counting and what methodology is applied." Even websites' own internal estimates often differ from other measures like Nielsen netRatings and comScore. In turn, say the authors, the uncertainty over traffic statistics affects both editorial decisions and online ad spending. Though a dominant measurement standard may emerge in the future, the authors conclude that "the abundance of information and the diversity of advertising models strongly suggest that measuring and comparing online media will remain a complex endeavor involving many data sources."