Sunday, December 30, 2012

My own funny numbers

After the past two days spent lambasting our friends on the radical right for their use of funny numbers, I have one more bunch of funny numbers to expose: My own.

Like nearly every site on the web, I collect aggregate data about visitors to this blog. I don’t collect any personal information whatsoever, of course, just how people got here, what they read, how long they were here, those sorts of things.

The idea is this data it helps me to know what “works” and what doesn’t. I don’t let that information dictate what I write about, but it does show me what my strongest subjects are, if by “strongest” I mean “most viewed”. When I’m undecided about what to write about, I’ll sometimes go with my “strengths” and prioritise posts on those subjects. Not always, but sometimes.

Blogger has pretty much always counted the number of pageviews (that is, the number of times a page is accessed) from visitors of the blogs it hosts, and as Blogger has become more tightly integrated with Google, that information has become easier to see—and use. I recently enabled the widget that shows the total number of pageviews. I did so in the interest of being transparent, and so new readers will know I have some accumulated activity on this blog.

However, I had some reservations about posting this information, as shown by this Facebook exchange between Roger Green and me back when I hit 150,000 pageviews:
Roger: Yeah, but 143,000 of them are me.
Me: No, Roger, you moved the decimal point. You're 14,300 of them. 99% of the rest are spambots.
And that’s actually the core of the issue: Spambots account for a lot of those page views. Accidental and brief visits, like people who arrive from a Google search, also account for a large number of pageviews for many sites. This is why people talk about “visitors” rather than “readers”: Many pageviews are not from people who actually read anything.

So, to sort of balance things, I also enabled public stats on the StatCounter widget that’s been on this blog since not long after I started it. Its pageview counts have always lagged behind the “official” count, partly because I started it counting later, and also because it seems to track data more cautiously.

I figure that the real number of visitors lies somewhere between the two totals, but I don’t know where. I also don’t have any good data about how many visitors are readers. The point for me is that it tells me I have at least SOME real readers, and what they appear to like best.

But that’s not the truth I wanted to expose. Actually, the real reason the widgets are there is that I like watching the big numbers get bigger. Even though I know that many of them aren’t “real” pageviews, and even though the legitimate pageviews of big sites dwarf my dubious numbers, I still like seeing them. Very funny numbers, indeed.


Roger Owen Green said...

At some point, I stopped looking. I used to obsess about it, and now I almost don't care.

Arthur Schenck said...

I've never really cared about totals as such, just certain details, like what pages are popular (as I said in the post), where people come from, search phrases that got them here, those kinds of things. It's just curiosity for me.

I know some podcasters, however, who obsessively check their download numbers, but that's something I almost never do.