Anyone who works in the world of the Chinese Internet knows that it's plagued by more than just bad designers of the maximalist school (where did I hear it once refered to as the "Las Vegas school of Web design?), and by more than overzealous censors who make us bother with proxies.
A third pox on the Sinic Web is the lack of reliable metrics, and of a neutral regulatory body that can keep everyone more or less honest. It doesn't just hurt advertisers, who can't get a good sense for effectiveness of online ads. It's kept the economics of the Chinese Internet in a state of arrested development. It's created an online landscape plagued by forced pop-ups (they drive page-views, after all) and all sorts of malware created by Internet entrepreneurs to impress gullible Sandhill Road venture capitalists. In fact, the lack of trustworthy numbers perpetuates the pack-the-page full, make-everything-blink look of Chinese Web sites: in this world without reliable metrics, the portals can't be blamed for selling online advertising by time and page placement rather than on a CPM or CPC basis, and for crowding their most popular pages with ads.
Help is on its way, I'm told. The director of the Internet Society of China, Hu Yanping, pictured above, stopped by the office briefly today to talk to me about an upcoming conference on Internet video and advertising, and to enlist Ogilvy's support in an initiative now underway to create a sort of Chinese IAB. Glad to see they're involving the agencies on this. The Internet Society's efforts should dovetail well with Amcham's Online Audit Initiative, headed up by Tom Melcher, Anne Stevenson-Yang, and Matt Roberts. (Anne in particular has worked hard to write an excellent white paper for the Amcham Media & Entertainment Forum, of which this is initiative is a part).
No one expects things to improve overnight, but it's encouraging to see that Hu's group is working with Nielsen/NetRatings and with the IAB to establish industry standards where none really exist. I expect Hu will come speak to the Amcham group about what they're trying to do and how they're going about it. He's said he's very interested in their perspectives. The one Online Audit Initiative meeting I attended was well-attended, which I took to be an encouraging sign.