NEW YORK: A dramatic reversal of fortunes has taken place within the febrile hothouse of the worldwide web, thanks to the introduction in May of new site evaluation criteria by web research specialist Nielsen/NetRatings.

Its new methodology ranks a site by the time users spend within its pages - as opposed to the number of site pages viewed.

On this criterion, AOL leapfrogs Google to become America's number one site with 25 billion minutes. Under the old method the Time Warner unit would be ranked sixth.

Crows AOL spokeswoman Amy Call: "AOL has worked very hard to increase user engagement. This new rating is validation."

Under the new criteria, Yahoo is runner-up with MSN/Windows Live in third position, while Google languishes at number five.

The change in audience measurement methodology was sparked by the fast-growing use of online video and the streaming of sports scores and stock quotes.

These, believes Nielsen/NetRatings, make the number of page views increasingly irrelevant as a site's popularity metric.

Google, meantime, loftily dismissed its relegation, saying it declined to comment on third-party research.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff