Confessions of a Stats Geek

I never would have thought I’d write a post with this title. In my scholarship, I tend to veer toward qualitative cultural analysis. I avoid numbers whenever possible. Though I’m a big fan of maps, I detest charts– they take forever to make and half your readers won’t even give them a glance.

That said, I’m addicted to reading my web statistics, monitoring my online presence. I’m obsessive about it. Every night, I check my flickr stats, go to Google Analytics to track how this page is doing, and since joining Yelp last month, I’ve begun checking that almost daily, to see how many page views my profile’s gotten, and how my reviews have been rated. Once a week, on Sunday evening, I go to last.fm to find out what music I’ve been listening to, and see what people with similar musical tastes might have uncovered that I haven’t. I’m awash in statistics.

It’s not that I do much with them. I mean, I’d definitely argue that these stats, along with frequent self-googling, keep me aware of who’s seeing me online, and how. But that, to be completely honest, is a second-order perk.

The main reason I do it is… I don’t know. It’s visceral, it’s almost a form of introspection. (Although it’s outwardly-focused introspection…) The net, now that we’re in the “Web 2.0” days, is an intensely performative medium. From the initial hypertextual concept of infinitely linked texts, we’ve moved on, to an internet that’s all about the (multiple, contingent, intertextual) construction of the self. And stats let us know how we’re constructing ourselves, to a certain extent. They’re a mirror to our online identities, that allow us to do a bit of reader-response criticism on ourselves…

Because as much as we all know that it’s “just the internet” and that “on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog,” as much as it’s widely reiterated that online virtual personae are separate from actual identity, that’s only half the truth. In a world where people spend as much time as many of us do in refining and crafting our identities online, these things get fuzzy. You invest your selfhood into these projects. The work of molding a performative identity can never be alienated labor. Which we all know– that’s why everyone gets into a tizzy when, say, LiveJournal changes hands again or Rupert Murdoch buys MySpace. Because when users switch from “people using a service” to “people creating content,” there’s an investment made, and a bit of your identity is intermingled with that of the platform you use.

When I migrated this blog from Typepad to my own WordPress blog last month, I was changing camps– making an identity shift. And part of that identity shift involved having to find a way to track my stats. The stats provided by Typepad were quite good. Those provided by Google Analytics, however, are far richer.

…This entire post has been a protracted lead-up to this: given that it’s been a month since I’ve migrated my blog, I decided to share some figures, here. Let’s look at who’s been reading, and how.

  • So far, my numbers are down, but barely. My average number of pageviews per day has gone down from 7.5 to 6.7. I’m frankly surprised that the damage hasn’t been worse, although since moving, I’ve been doing more things consciously to boost my google juice, like using trackback urls, pinging sites like Technocrati, and (simplest of all) posting more frequently.
  • Here in the states, the majority of people who visit my sites seem to be in Northern Virginia, Southern California, and Texas. Besides Texas and one hit each from New Mexico and Kansas, I haven’t had a single person visit my site from the area West of the Mississippi and east of the Pacific Coast States. Maybe I need to post more things of interest to the Plains States and Rocky Mountain Region.
  • While the vast majority of people viewing my site are in the US, (with Aglophone nations like the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada filling in a large number of the other unique users) I’ve also, somewhat surprisingly, had hits from: Switzerland, the Netherlands, India, Romania, the Czech Republic, Spain, South Korea, and Malaysia.
  • 70% of you are NOT using Internet Explorer. Good on ya! And most of you use Firefox. This makes me happy.
  • Far and away, my most popular post this month has been my review of Tom Smith’s site, “Let’s Play Ukulele.” At this rate, it’ll quickly out pace my all-time most-viewed post, a mini-essay on the china and china cabinet in John Lewis Krimmel’s “The Quilting Frolic”. This has gotten me thinking. I’m shocked that an ukulele post generated such interest– although the post also related to my notions of the potential uses of Web 2.0 technology for digital pedagogy, let’s face it… Digital Pedagogy and Cultural History are pretty limited-interest topics. I wonder if expanding the scope of this blog would encourage readership by making a bigger umbrella, or discourage readers by being a bit scattershot. If everyone and their mother is now engaging in Friday Cat Blogging, I figure a semi-weekly ukulele post might not hurt me. And plus, it’d be fun, and my roommates are getting sick of hearing me talk about ukes.

Well, this may be just of interest to me, but it gave me some things to think about.

Now if someone could just explain my flickr stats to me: I understand why this picture of Barak Obama is my most popular:

Barack Obama Speaks @ GMU

But why on earth is this picture (of my roommate’s friend Ron, when we went on a ski trip) my second-most popular?

Ron Standing

Aparently a lot of people click on it when they do a Yahoo Image search for “jeans and blazer”…