Calacanis Takes on comScore — and Fred Wilson

Think web metrics and traffic stats aren’t a contentious topic? Think again. Entrepreneur Jason Calacanis has started a crusade (or at least what he seems to hope will become a crusade) against web measurement firm comScore, whose traffic numbers have been criticized by many as inaccurate, and in the process he has managed to draw fire from the normally even-tempered venture capitalist Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.

What raised Calacanis’s ire was an announcement by comScore that the company is changing its measurement methods to try and produce better numbers, but that anyone who wants to get updated statistics has to pay the company $10,000 a year. Those who don’t pay will still be measured in the old-fashioned way, and as a result will likely continue to have much lower numbers than they would with the new system (Peter Kafka does a good job of outlining the changes in a post at Media Memo).

In his email newsletter, Calacanis called for a boycott of comScore, and also advised investors not to buy the company’s stock:

“Comscore is the technology industry’s biggest bully, and today I’m calling for an industry-wide boycott of their services. I’m asking journalist and bloggers to stop covering their stats, I’m asking advertisers to not use their services, and finally, I’m asking startup companies to not support their new and widely reported on “$10,000 to get your stats correct” extortion ring.”

Calacanis went on to detail a battle with comScore that goes back almost five years, involving the stats for his former Weblogs Inc. group of blogs (now owned by AOL). And then he called out Fred Wilson specifically for his support of comScore’s $10,000 “shake down,” saying the Union Square VC is “outspoken and an advocate of startups –- except with comScore. He’s turned a blind eye while letting his huge venture return in comScore color his objectivity.”

Wilson, for his part, lashed out at Calacanis in the comments on the Mahalo founder’s Posterous blog, saying:

“Jason…you don’t know what you are talking about. comscore (SCOR) is a public company. you can go look at their financials. they aren’t exactly printing money. it’s hard to measure the internet and they spend well over $100mm per year doing just that. they aren’t ‘shaking down’ anyone. their move to a hybrid model is a reaction to many of the criticisms that people have had of their panel model over the years. but it isn’t cheap to manage that data either. someone has to pay for this. or of course we could all just let Google do it for free. We know how that will play out.”

comScore’s chief marketing officer, Linda Abraham, also comments on Calacanis’s post, and takes issue with a number of his points about the service, including the company’s measurement methods (Abraham has also written a post for the comScore blog about the changes). She notes that comScore is actually more friendly to many web startups than Google, because it doesn’t do advertising.

“We make no apologies for charging for access to our reporting system. That is the only revenue source we have to cover our costs. In doing so, we make a ‘mafia like’ pre-tax margin of less than 9% . Google and Quantcast offer metrics for ‘free’ because they have an advertising supported model. They use the data they collect from users or publishers to sell targeted advertising. We chose not to have a business model based on selling advertising, because we do not want to compete with our clients who make a living selling advertising, and who need a neutral third party to provide audience data that is free from conflicts of interest.”

Calacanis’s crusade-mongering seems to have gained at least one supporter: Gil Penchina, a former eBay executive now at Wikia — the for-profit sister company of Wikipedia — offers a vote of support for the boycott in the comments on Calacanis’s blog, saying “We have been offered a 3 month trial – and I’m going to turn it down. I agree – we’ll be using quantcast going forward.”

Whether anyone else decides to join Calacanis’s anti-comScore bandwagon remains to be seen.

Post image and thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user fPat