I admit it: I’m addicted to site stats.
Not the number of visitors. This blog has never been about number of readers. If I cared about mere numbers, I would only write here about free and open source software (FOSS). Judging from the result when I have written about FOSS, I would get a minimum of 1500 visitors per day if I only wrote on that subject. But I can get even much higher numbers for my paid work, and the whole point of this blog is to write about different things than I do professionally.
Instead, what fascinates me is the information that I glean from WordPress and SiteMeter, the two sets of stats that I look at. I’m not at all surprised to see that most visitors come the northern hemisphere, with a scattering from Australia and India. However, who was that one who logged in from Antarctica? Tahiti? Nepal?
Some of those names, too, are evocative: Bellshill in the UK, Red Bud, Sticklerville and Storrs Mansfield in the United States, Tullinge in Sweden, and dozens more besides.
I’m fascinated, too, to see what people are reading on my blog. Somewhat to my chagrin, the most popular entry appears to be “What Makes a Canadian Canadian?” It’s a trivial piece I knocked off several Canada Days ago, and I’m irked that Canadians and foreigners alike seem fascinated by it at the expense of more thoughtful and original pieces. The same goes for “Why I’ve Never Joined Mensa,” an off-the-cuff piece that many Mensa members have taken as a frontal assault and a sign of unresolved conflicts. At times, I’ve been tempted to delete such pieces.
I’m more pleased at the popularity of “The First Nations Art of Birch Bark Biting” which has become a Wikipedia source; it was a good interview on a subject that’s new to most people.
I’m also tickled by the fact that “Napoleon and the invasion of Russia and the challenges of managing large projects,” is widely read, because it’s a tongue in cheek response to all the attempts by business writers to make their subjects glamorous by comparing their readers to heroic figures like samurais and Antarctic explorers. The Napoleon piece is also surprisingly popular at American military academies – so much so that I feel like disavowing all responsibility for how the next generation of officers in the United States turns out.
Then there’s the searches that land readers on my site. Since I’m one of the few bloggers on Northwest Coast art, often the name of an artist suggests my blog. Only two or three each day appear to get to the blog by searching on my name. Other search items are mostly mundane, although I’ve been surprised to see searches like “why do we never see baby crows” turn up frequently, because I never heard that people believed that – where I live, I see baby crows regularly at the right time of year.
However, my greatest interest in stats is trying to guess exactly who some visitors might be. If I get a visitor from Sarasota who uses Linux, then I can be fairly sure that one of several former colleagues from Linux.com have dropped by. Similarly, most visitors from Terrace, B.C. are most likely one of my artist friends.
But who is the visitor from West Hartford Connecticut who looks at “An Encounter with Male Supremacists” several times a day? I suspect a male supremacist, since the frequent visits suggest obsession; it’s not a particularly positive article.
I sometimes think, too, that one of the daily visitors from a fixed Google account must be a former colleague with whom I no longer talk. Without watching too closely, I have noticed that the visits apparently coincide with the colleague’s schedule, changing when I know they have changed time zones, or not appearing at all when they busy at an event. However, I haven’t made a lot of effort to investigate to rule out coincidence, having a long list of more important things to do, starting with — well, with everything, really. Still, I wonder, now and then.
I suppose that stats are meant for site managers who are eager to draw more people to their site, and to cater more precisely to their audience. However, my own stat-browsing has no such serious purpose. For me, the stats are ground for interest and speculation, with the speculation all the more interesting because I almost never get to find out whether my guesses are right.