Mining The Mind

The Web has spawned many companies divining consumer preferences from "cookie" trails surfers leave online. Now a Blue Bell (Pa.) market researcher claims it can cut out the middleman--and read Web consumers' minds.

Well, sort of. Capita Research Group Inc. has developed headgear that measures brainwaves to tell what's attention-getting and what's not. Based on technology NASA invented to gauge pilot alertness, Capita's gizmo looks like a set of headphones and is used in focus groups. Most early clients, such as MTV, use it to judge whether viewers are paying attention to TV shows (and commercials), something A.C. Neilsen can't measure. But Capita Chief Executive David Hunter says the fastest growth will come from Web companies desperate to figure out what surfers think works online. The early results: Even sites without sound or great visuals harness more brainwaves than the boob tube. It doesn't take a mind reader to know the next challenge: turning that into sales.