Over on the Learning Circuits Blog, David Lee just posted Blogging by The Numbers about attempts to draw some meaningful data out of this Blogger hosted blog (since Blogger provides no data, he is using the add-ons from SiteMeter and Bravenet. He then asks:
* Are there metrics you see as key when looking at a blog?
* Do you know of any benchmarking sources for blog metrics?
* Do you track metrics for your blog? If so, care to swap info with LCB?
To be honest, “metrics” mean nothing to me when looking at a blog… I have my own, instinctual metrics of looking at the value of the content, the tone of the writer, the frequency and usefulness of what is written, a sense of whether other people read this blogger. When technorati works, one could say it provides some sort of metric culled from the linking patterns elsewhere.
I’m not convinced that distilling numbers, no matter how prettily graphed, really gets too much. The most interesting thing about this kind of space (which David and I talked about earlier today on a Skype session), is that unlike the old models of Instructional Design, where you start with figuring our Who Your Audience Is– on the web, the audience is for the most part, completely invisible. They do not let you know they have entered, exited, or what they did there. They do not come in through the front door. This is the challenge, and some of the fun, at least to me, of creating web content, is that you rake a lot of guesses at hitting the sweet spot.
Even the more visceral measure of looking at what posts generated heated comments, might be misleading, as you do not really get feedback except from the most motivated (lots of lurkers), and since many systems do not support Track/pingback, you do not know if someone else has written about your blog entries elsewhere.
I’ve spent hours (well maybe that is an exaggeration, 10s of minutes) laboring over some posts that I think will strike a chord, and bring in a gizllion comments/back links… and it hits dead silence. Other times, you can dash of something weakly thought out, full of typos, and about something silly or irrelevant, and you get all kinds of response. You just do not know for sure what happens when you toss a post out into blogspace.
As far as this blog, I have in place the WordPress ShortStat plugin (actually it was modified and shared by D’Arcy Norman to give some stats on RSS feed accesses alone). To be sure, I am not even sure of the exact meaning of all the numbers, and maybe look at it once a month:
Since setting it up in the beginning of September 2005, the blog has been “hit” by over 5000 unique people? machines? and almost 700 today. Ewww, that is creepy. Don’t y’all have some real work to do? And in the month, the RSS feeds have ben requested by almost 1700 uniques, or about 300 some perday. Most people are hitting the feeds, but a few individual posts get a good chunk, like the CNN vs education one or the question of asking when your “Blog Ha!” moment was (no surprise, these are frequent spam targets). Those two have a good number of inbound links. The search strings are always curious, with people looking for “delicious tagging”, “feeddigest”, but also more curiously, “bored as hell”, “old phone”, and “hard wire ipod to car stereo”. These can also be seen as my own weak organizational scheme as they are things written about months ago, so folks are trying to find them by search.
Another barely looked at metric are the results of the WordPress Popularity Contest plugin, which creates a numerical ranking based on weighted totals from permalink views, category views, home views, feed views, comments, pingbacks, and trackbacks:
Overall the most “popular” here is the Distributed Conversations post and the Tree people followup, again the Education/CNN post, and really curious, Signpost of the Impeding Demise of Civilization, Culture, Society As We Think We Know It, less than 40 words written in about 90 seconds.
Again, I think it is a god number of external links in from other blogs that are more highly read then my own. In fact, I think the bulk of my traffic is directly related to getting a mention from Stephen Downes.
WordPress packs a lot of data in its database, and these and more nifty plug-ins let you get at it in interesting ways.
In the end, I am very skeptical of numbers really telling me absolute truths about blog activity and do not really focus on that at all. It would be different if my livlihood were directly related to getting people to see my blog, but that is rather far from my reasons for spending all this time at it (Come to think of it, what are my reasons??)