My 8-year-old daughter is studying the Oregon territory and she refreshed my memory (thanks, Wikipedia) that the U.S. and Great Britain were involved in a land grab during the 1840s. The U.S. ultimately prevailed and a treaty was signed establishing the 49th parallel, the line that runs between the states of Washington and Minnesota on the U.S. side, and British Columbia north of the boundary.

Determining the 49th parallel in the media world is happening right now. The territory in question is the very fertile territory known as engagement. We are witnessing a land grab to define and determine how we will measure and monetize audience engagement with Web media. And there are all sorts of parties putting forward ideas of how to redraw the lines on Web analytics so this idea of engagement is more relevant to current Web media experience.

Like most people in this business, I have become obsessed with this discussion surrounding the idea of engaged audiences, particularly as this discussion centers on Web analytics. (I’m not sure I speak from personal “blogging” experience about engaged audiences when my last post to this page was in January. Mitt Romney looked like our next president when I last blogged in this space). Regardless, I’ve been paying attention to the people who have been trying to define this idea of engagement.

Forrester, who has been all over engagement for more than a year, is the latest with a set of metrics. Forrester Research’s last month at their annual Research Marketing Forum in L.A., which are based on the concepts developed by analyst Brian Haven in an August 2007 Forrester Research report on the same topic, lay out the ideas of Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy and Influence. Haven’s full report on these metrics, “Measure of Engagement,” which is co-authored by Suresh Vittal, will be published this month.

Will Haven’s metrics stand the test of time. I think Haven’s metrics ( I look forward to the full report) are an advancement in our quest to understand what sometimes seems like the unknowable: what does she think, what is she going to do?

We have ways of of trying to evaluate something like engagement in the print world. As Josh Chasin, chief research officer at comScore, admitted in a column he wrote about engagement, he doesn’t really know what engagement means. I can detect enough sarcasm to hear what he’s really saying: he believes we don’t know what engagement means.

Chasin knows that print and, now, online media, are evaluated based on reach and frequency, which might sound like engagement, but it’s not. He’s right. We ask how many issues out of 4 do you read?, and how much time do you spend with our magazine? Do you take specific actions as a result of reading my magazine? How many people other than you read this issue?

While I always thought those standard measurements were a little too crude to evaluate the experience a reader has with a magazine, and they never claimed to be engagement, they are pretty darn close to Haven’s 4 “Is.”

Much closer, in fact, than the idea of trying to use the same reach and frequency measures online, in a medium where the media itself isn’t a reach and frequency medium anymore.

But Haven’s metrics fall short of being useful for all purposes. While the end goal for most participants in this conversation may be an easier way for advertising agencies to come up with sound ways to direct their client’s spend of dollars, that’s not the defined goal for all observers of this discussion.

At Hammock, we’ve noticed how the metrics used to evaluate advertising-centric measurements aren’t intrinsically useful discussions for some clients. If selling Web advertising online is even one of the top five things under discussion with an association client when we talk about the Web site, it’s rare. The purpose of the site is to create a greater sense of value of membership to the visitor. The purpose of the site may be to spur a call to action. The purpose of the site might be a serve as launchpad for a set of helpful links. It might be a place where members can find helpful tools and advice, it might be a place to renew, or register for a products for which members qualify for a discount. It might even be a place to, yes, engage members, because all associations need ways to ensure that there is some way they can continue to drive home what is valuable in their proposition.

I agree with Chasin about the value of measuring “against a clearly defined set of goals.” Chasin points us to Eric Peterson, author of Web Analytics Demystified. Peterson has a series of quantitative and qualitative ways to analyze engagement. It comes down to an idea that what you measure is tied to an idea of what you want the experience of the visitor to be.

Setting goals that can be measured makes sense to me. If generating advertising is the goal, then I await the best sets of metrics for that purpose. If it’s not the goal, I think it’s on us to develop better ways to measure what we know is engagement.