This brewing consensus is heated by the adoption of a new Web development technique called AJAX. This approach allows Web sites to bring forth newly requested content to the reader without reloading the page. It's a pretty cool-looking user experience and if adopted on a wide scale, could trigger the start of the second implosion of the dot-com publishing economy.
The irony is that AJAX improves the user experience but at the expense, potentially, of your publishing business. Switching to this format ultimately eliminates page views from occurring. This creates two major issues. The first is the negative impact on your page rankings within search results. According to one reader who experienced this first hand, the effect was immediate. The "cons" explained in the Wikipedia entry on AJAX further warn of this occurrence.
More structurally devastating is that the page view currently serves as the foundation for CPM-based selling. Take it away as the standard metric in which online advertising is priced and sold, and we will spend years debating its replacement -- and it would be unlikely we gain as much universal acceptance as the page view has now. So while in this self-imposed limbo, the floodgates can open further for more performance-based ad agreements that would drown smaller publishers before it all gets sorted out.
So why are "we" picking on this accepted metric? Users aren't protesting the current format of obtaining content, are they? Page refreshes are not the prettiest picture, but the action is consistent with what other mediums ask of their audience to endure. I am all for improving the user experience, and can point to fourteen other things publishers can do to help make that happen before turning their revenue spreadsheets upside down to do so.
Page view-based pricing is why online advertising spending is pacing like a world-class thoroughbred. If spending were based on monthly uniques instead -- a natural substitute (assuming we get consensus on whose numbers to use) -- spending would decrease, because the CPM per unique visitors would not drive as much revenue as the aggregate of the collective pages they turn.
Additionally, the page view is an easily defined and easily counted metric that reflects user engagement (most of the time) and is sustainable across a large subsection of publishers online. It has been an accepted expression of value with buyers and it is not perfect. Neither are the Nielsen Ratings nor ABC audits -- yet both build the table buyers and sellers sit at to discuss how much the attention accrued in each of these mediums costs. Why trade in a metric that took years to establish for one to be named later, to drive the purchase and sale of consumer attention online? This sounds fishy -- so who benefits?
The big fellas who have amassed the largest number of uniques will win out. Only the big guys have enough unique visitors to sell this way and not lose their shirts. Yahoo, at a reported 100 million uniques (Q1 earnings conference), looks like a magazine on steroids, making more mature content brands like Newsweek -- which is considered a mass reach vehicle in print -- appear paltry online, with a reported 8.5 million uniques.
Switching to AJAX is like operating on a patient diagnosed with a mild headache -- and then the doctor dies. All is fair in love and online publishing I suppose, which is why I advise publishers not named in the top ten against the switch to AJAX. Doing so may kill them.