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Rumor Mill: The incredible shrinking metrics system

After its stock has failed to produce for investors, Jupiter Media Metrix is rumored to be the target of a takeover attempt. The rumored buyer? Competitor Nielsen/NetRatings.

My recent monthlong stay in New York took its toll on both morale and productivity at the Rumor Mill. Fortunately, I have a family and staff accustomed to crisis management. In an attempt to save the family business from total ruin, my 12-year-old son Vermel and faithful secretary Trixie Pixel have succeeded in handcuffing me to my ergonomic keyboard and forcing me to write. Thus I greet you after an unscheduled absence.

My predicament is hardly unique. Take Jupiter Media Metrix, for example. After its stock has failed to produce for investors, the company is rumored to be the target of a takeover attempt. The rumored buyer? Competitor Nielsen/NetRatings.

With Jupiter's stock dipping below 50 cents per share, the company is downright affordable at an estimated $17 million.

Rumors of a possible sale are swirling, among other places, around investment banks. One Skinsider said $80 million has been floated recently as a possible price tag. But it's unclear why the company would command such a premium.

In August, Jupiter strengthened anti-takeover provisions--what's known as a "poison pill"--that may make it more expensive for an acquisition undertaken without the cooperation of the company's management. The provision essentially would help flood the market with additional shares of Jupiter stock in the event a third party acquired more than 15 percent of outstanding shares, making an acquisition more expensive.

At the time, Jupiter's share price was slipping below $1--a nice price for a potential takeover.

Jupiter's troubles are no secret. This week the company laid off one-third of its staff, going from 650 to 450 employees, and Skinsiders say that's just the beginning. Already the staff is cut to the bone.

"They're already lean," said one source. "I just don't know where they're going to be pulling more people."

Jupiter would not comment on the takeover rumors. But Jupiter's Susan Hickey, director of investor relations, insisted the cuts would not unduly affect the company's research business.

"We have 50 research analysts and a research staff of more than 100," she said. "There were really not material changes there."

The marriage of Nielsen/NetRatings and Jupiter would complete a shakeout among Net measurement and analysis companies that has been going on for years. First Media Metrix and RelevantKnowledge merged; then NetRatings and Nielsen; then Media Metrix and Jupiter Communications.

The rumored union, at the very least, would bring peace to the patent front, where Jupiter has been suing its rumored suitor for alleged infringement.

NetRatings said it couldn't comment on rumors.

Getting to the root of Net security
Also tightlipped this week are AOL Time Warner, Cisco, VeriSign and U.S. House of Representative staffers about Wednesday's closed-door meeting on the security of the Internet.

The meeting, called by ranking members of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, is said to be one of several similar huddles called in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

One source familiar with Wednesday's meeting said Reps. Tauzin, Upton, Markey and Dingell called the meeting to address the vulnerability of the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS). Of particular concern, this source said, is the spotty security protecting some of the key 13 root servers.

Recent reports have portrayed the servers, which direct Web traffic to and from various domains around the world, as veritable sitting ducks, lying about on professors' desks in insecure academic buildings.

"What most people don't understand is that while VeriSign and Cisco and AOL are very good at what they do, the root system operators are largely a group of academics," said one person familiar with the House powwow.

ICANN itself, which oversees the Internet's domain name system, last week pledged to focus on the security of the naming and addressing system at its November meeting in Marina Del Rey, Calif.

But others who have played key roles in shaping the Internet's security and infrastructure say the root server question is, in itself, academic.

"That's a totally irrelevant issue," said one source. "There's a Root Server System Advisory Committee that's populated by the people who both run the servers as well as some very senior technical people. They have given reports to the ICANN board for going on three years, and this is an issue that's definitely under control. The root server system is designed to be very largely distributed and to run well when some are inaccessible."

Almost 100,000 computers share in the domain name resolution responsibility, providing for a "highly nested system designed to be extremely robust in the face of all kinds of attacks," said our source.

The subcommittee meeting's agenda was likely more broad than the mere root server issue, the source added.

"The security aspects of the Internet are quite complicated," the source said. "Congress is not particularly up to speed on any of it, so conversations will be largely exploratory, with the House asking, 'What is your threat analysis, and where can our legislation be helpful?'" There's no legislation that can help me, just a pair of handcuffs and your rumors.