This week’s news that Myspace has overtaken Yahoo! in terms of page views seems to have kicked off a much-needed debate about how sites’ popularity is measured.

Research, released by comScore on Tuesday, found the social networking site had 0.6bn more page views than Yahoo! in November – a boost to Fox Interactive Media in its battle with the web giant for ad dollars.

But what’s not known is how badly Yahoo!’s figures have been affected by its recent shift to an AJAX-based page model – a move which will have understated its users’ activities.

As Scott Fulton wrote in BetaNews:

“Web analytics software used by comScore and other services treat ‘page views’ as complete refreshes of an entire page.
“But websites that use more modern approaches to layout have recently adopted AJAX to enable browsers to refresh select portions of the page when necessary, reducing bandwidth and improving layout.

“Experts in the field of web design have been arguing since last spring that deploying AJAX reduces the efficiency of analytics software.”

We’ve covered this topic a bit recently, and one such expert, Eric T. Peterson, spoke to us in October about the long list of challenges that ‘Web 2.0 features’ are creating for measurement firms.

Eric summed them up nicely:

“A lot of what is really important is happening either a) off the ‘website’ proper, such as RSS or b) below the level of the ‘page view’.

“The former creates a challenge because, well, it’s hard to measure stuff that is out of your control. The latter because so many of the web analytics applications out there treat the page view as canonical.”

Still, it seems unlikely that any concrete moves away from the page view as a reporting standard take place in the short term.

The US’ Interactive Advertising Bureau, BetaNews says, has called for analytics firms to rethink their reporting methods to account for partial refreshes, or to introduce new methods of analysing impressions. But on this side of the pond, not a lot seems to be happening.

As Edelman’s Steve Rubel wrote in a post entitled ‘The imminent demise of the page view’, this can only benefit sites that are slow to adopt Web 2.0 features:

“This is a dirty little secret in the advertising business that no one wants to talk about.

“Media companies love to promote how many page views their properties get. They’ve used the data to build equity.

“They will fight tooth and nail to protect it, perhaps by not embracing interactive technologies as quickly as they should. But that’s not going to stop the revolution from coming.”

And Steve’s right on the money.