Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tax the Rich? iPerish the Thought! (and Geek Wednesday)

Let us now praise the ingenuity of the plutocratic oligarch. The marketing acumen of the reigning specimens of this phylum are well known, and you might say that imitators are coming out in "Roves".

Why tax the rich when you can raise sufficient funds to keep the government running by burdening the middle class? Our mayor here in New York has decided that a smooth choreography of city services can raise wampum as fast as you can plow a street and ticket the subsequently trapped vehicles. Another of our urban defenders of the ultra-wealthy is proposing a summonsing blitzkrieg on iPod owners who attempt to cross city streets.

These men are, like the lamps unto their feet in Washington, pioneering the use of manipulation and deceit in freeing the oppressed 1% of wage earners from the burden of taxation as they empty the wallets of the 99% who would only piss away their money on iTunes gift certificates, anyway. We salute you, noble stalwarts of fundraising innovation, defenders of the Corporate Person!

Geek Wednesday

My blog is worth $7,903.56.
How much is your blog worth?

Perhaps inspired by this entrepreneurial aristocracy, I have been wondering if I could sell my blog and make a little cash. It's been around two and a half years, which is fairly long in the tooth for a blog; has lots of original content that someone might like to own; and it's loaded with photography of the prettiest cat in Brooklyn.

So I found a site run by a Technorati geek who used their API to program a blog worth calculator. What drives it is as mysterious to me as a smudge on the forehead one day out of the year (I think that's today, anyway). But there it is: the monetary value of Daily rEv: nearly 8 grand. Damn, I could get a Mac Pro cheese grater tower with multiple hard drives in RAID array, 8GB of RAM, and a 30" display for that! But I'm not budging until the price goes over ten G's.

But it would appear that web properties are not as lucrative as they once might have been. The owner of a free music site is seeking to cash it out, but is finding prospective buyers rather thin.

However, there is still the occasional diamond in the rough of the web that can attract the wealthy like shit draws flies. One such property is the StumbleUpon Firefox extension, which one commentator observes could be appealing to Amazon. It really is an ingenious piece of design and geekery, and yet another reason to go with Firefox as your default web browser. Every time I go and click the "Stumble" button, I find two or three cool things within five minutes. Here's a sample tour:

  • An article about a boss who lets his employees set their hours, determine their salaries and choose their bosses. Oh, and he's making lots of money with a very happy staff.

  • A search applet that limits results to Creative Commons products that you can use for free.

  • Instructions on how to hack a CoinStar machine.

  • A place to find your Myers-Briggs type, if you care.

  • Or maybe you could just try and become a 'Net video icon. Pretty sad, though, when you think of it: a phenomenon that began as a portal for scientists to share information has turned into a TV-wannabee.

    Hardware Update:

  • The rumor mill's ablaze with news of impending new notebooks and sub-notebooks from Apple. But the WWDC, where such announcements are often made, is a long way off.

  • Some Google geeks have done a study of hard drive failures, and come to some surprising conclusions. (Paper lasts longer than bytes).

  • If you're shopping for a laptop, C-Net has a comprehensive review you'll want to check out first.

    Now for our feature of the week, something we've been promising for a while: How to read web stats.

    If you have a blog, website, or even an online photo album that has a hit counter, you've stuck a toe or two into the waters of web metrics. If your site has its own host, then most likely you're given a metrics or analytics applet to inspect at your leisure, to gauge your site's traffic and its sources.

    But what does it all mean? That's where the water gets fairly muddy, even for corporate types who think they know what they're looking at. Here's a rundown of the most common terms you'll find in the world of web metrics—their meaning, and their relative value.

    Hits Don't Mean Shit: The most abused and distorted web statistic out there, a hit is a count of the number of elements or measurable items on a given web page, multiplied by the number of visitors hitting that page. For example, DR's home page has roughly 30 separate "hittable" elements: items that have to register in order for the page to complete its loading to your browser. These include graphics; javascript forms and applets; html elements; media files; and background items. So if 5 people visit this page today, my metrics program will tell me that I've had 30 X 5 = 150 hits! Wow, cool! I had 150 hits in a day! You'd be amazed at how this statistic is used in corporate settings to buttress the lamest arguments and the airiest project plans you could imagine.

    For example, our currents stats here for February reveal that we've had just under 1,500 unique visitors (see below) to DR, and nearly 44,000 hits. Now if I'm really trying to sell this blog (hey, it could happen), which number do you think I'd be tempted to dangle in front of prospective buyers? Yep, 44,000 hits. Would it be accurate, or even ethical, to do so? Come on now, this is business, and I'm still unemployed!

    A True Geek Thinks Unique: The most valuable, accurate, and reliable stat in a web metrics or analytics report is "Unique Visitors" (also known as "unique clickers" in email analytics programs). As mentioned above, DR currently has 1,500 unique visitors this month, which projects to around 2,400 by EOM (which for us is great!). That's the number of individuals who have visited the site's home page. It can't tell you who has read the content, clicked the links or ads (that's covered by other programs that are owned by the respective sites and ad brokers), or what value they've gotten from seeing your stuff. But at least it tells you how many different people have actually seen your work.

    A Room with A Page View: Page views are another animal altogether. This stat tells you the number of total visits to all pages on your site for the given period. A single visitor might open a dozen different pages on your site, and be responsible for 12 page views, not to mention a couple hundred hits—all by himself! Right now, DR has over 17,000 page views for the current month, which reveals that many visitors are looking around a bit.

    But page views are less meaningful to a blog than to a large site with many components (though curiously, ad brokers always ask for page view stats). When I look at the stats for DR, I pay attention to unique visitors first, page views after that, and then I look at the Referrals section, which tells me where traffic is coming from, which search engines people are using to find us, and what browsers they're using to access our content. Another good place to look is under "top referrals" or "top pages"—here you can find out what avenues folks are approaching your site by. For example, roughly 60% of our readers visit us via the atom or RSS route: in other words, they're using newsfeed-type RSS readers to check us out. Those are most likely our most consistent set of visitors, since that's how feeds are used: it's an application or page that you open on a daily basis to check out your favorite content sources.

    There are other stats in a typical metrics report that will clamor for your attention, but they are less important. Total pages (the number of pages on your site that are hit, and how often); total visitors (includes repeat visitors, so that you can guess roughly how often your unique visitors are returning during a given period); error pages (reveals how many pages or page elements failed to load—404—on your site); and tracking stats (shows IP addresses for top visitors).

    One thing you want to do with your web stats is to filter out false positives: for example, I tell my metrics program to ignore all hits from my IP address and the preview and publish pages in Blogger. This way, I'm not getting big numbers that don't mean anything except that I've visited myself a lot! Also, most metrics applications have built-in filters for robots and crawlers: either the kind that come from search engines like Google and Yahoo as they trawl the web, or ubiquitous spammers and spyware robots familiar to all of us from our daily inboxes.

    As with any science, the principle to guide yourself by is an integration of the statistical with the experiential: let your nose tell you what the numbers mean, rather than allowing the stats to lead you by the nose. For a blog like this one, I could easily live with only knowing what the figures are for unique visitors: the rest of the knowledge I get on how we're doing comes from the comments, the trackbacks and links we receive around the web, and the activity that our pages (and now our ads) generally attract.

    A web property is like a book, a piece of music, or any other creative product: it can't be all things to all people. You try to fill a niche, develop a unique voice, and appeal to enough people to have some influence on your subject. For us here, it's not about showing goofy videos or cool pictures: it's about offering perspective on corporate government, fundamentalist ideology, and how these two have become so insidiously intertwined in our era of fear-and-smear, deniability, and warfare-based groupthink; and then revealing at least a glimpse of how each unique visitor to this planetary web can free him and her self from the trap of corporate fundamentalism.

    We'll be back at it tomorrow, unless I get an offer I can't refuse...

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