Web analytics company Parse.ly is launching an internet "interest" tool it says offers a transparent view of online behavior previously only available to insiders at companies such as Facebook and Google, the company said on Monday.
Known as Currents, the platform uses natural language processing to measure internet-wide attention across five dimensions: story clusters, topics, categories, traffic source, and geography, the company said.
Those categories offer insight into how audiences spend their time online, which is "more predictive of audience behavior than demographics, social signals, search queries, or other widely adopted models of audience measurement."
Data used by Currents comes from the Parse.ly web analytics tool, which the company said is used by 400 organizations to measure traffic on their own websites. The Wall Street Journal, Time Inc., Bloomberg, Condé Nast, Hearst, HelloFresh, and Ben & Jerry’s are among the companies that use the tool.
Parse.ly cofounder and CTO Andrew Montalenti said the installed base of Parse.ly’s analytics is largely on English-language websites in North America and acknowledged that limits the tool’s reach, but he said the company is planning to expand internationally.
"We’re not quite at Google Analytics’ reach, but we are definitely getting there," he said, noting that Parse.ly has "3,000 high-traffic sites measured by us that are run by media companies."
Montalenti said Currents gathers data from those sites and uses it to provide real-time information about how audiences allocate their attention online.
"The idea is that when a publication integrates Parse.ly analytics on its site, we have tech that figures out which unique visitors came to site, how much time on pages, and whether it came from Google, Twitter, and other sources," he explained. "Basically the clickstream data or analytics data and that’s all data that Parse.ly has experience with and has on first-party basis. Then we built [Currents] in a way to protect the user’s privacy and to anonymize of all that information."
Montalenti said Currents is valuable to communications pros because it reveals the true attention a topic or event is getting on the internet and not estimates based on media mentions and data supplied by publishers.
"This is a move towards transparency, kind of, whether that’s for good or for ill," Montalenti said. "I think it’s good because a lot of what happens on internet seems very opaque."
Montalenti added that some PR measurement claims he’s seen are based on questionable assumptions. For example, if a media outlet reports it has a wide amount of viewers, and the story being tracked is mentioned in that outlet, the tool will claim that the specific story reached all those viewers.
"Since you got a mention in that publication, it assumes you got all that publication’s attention," Montalenti said. "You know and we know these metrics aren’t real, and we were very curious to get the real metrics."