I have no idea whether the minutes of the Wye Business Association are must-read stuff in the village these days, but if you find your head in the latest edition you will see something there which requires clarification. It is, I hasten to add, nothing to do with the minutes themselves, but a statement contained therein, one emanating from our borough councillor and WBA leading light Ian Cooling.
It comes after someone suggested we be approached to run a free ad for the Wye Business Association Exhibition on September 16 (i.e. a week tomorrow) as we did for the farmers market when it needed a new manager. To quote from the minutes, ‘Chris Pound thought this was a good idea as save-wye are getting 600-800 hits per day. Ian Cooling pointed out that some of those are search engines but he would take up the suggestion and email the WBA press release to save-wye.’
I was unaware that web site statistics were among our local councillor’s skills, nor do I recall having discussed this subject with him. This statement is now on the record for an important village body. It is also utterly erroneous. So please indulge me for a moment while I try to put things absolutely straight. This may appear a small point but I’m afraid journalists (even former ones) are sticklers for accuracy so it’s important anyone who wants to understand our statistics has the opportunity.
First things first. We’re not a local newspaper, just a voluntary website covering Wye Park. The activities of WBA aren’t really in our remit although we think this is a very worthwhile local organisation and hope as many of you as possible will head off to the exhibition a week tomorrow, perhaps after a visit to the market. It is in the Wolfson Lecture Room (there will be signs from the market), from nine a.m. to two p.m. You will also find your local MP Damian Green there, for the opening at the very least, and the room has apparently been kindly donated by Imperial. save-wye wishes the exhibition well, though we won’t have an official presence for the very simple reason we’re not a business. Now that’s out of the way let me turn to the subject of the site statistics which you see in the sidebar here and try to clarify what exactly they mean.
Are we, as Ian Cooling suggests, boosting the figures by counting search engines and the many other robots and spiders that crawl the internet these days, thereby handing out misleading statistics for visits that don’t entail any human interactivity? Absolutely not. This is, with the system we have in place, simply impossible. The statistics you see come from a piece of commercial software called Mint, bought for $30 and installed by me. The web-conscious among you can read all about it on the product website if you’re interested.
From Mint’s own website: local councillors please take note
Clear so far? I hope so, because here it gets a little muddy. Initially we used free statistics software to log access to save-wye. Unfortunately this wasn’t terribly accurate because this is a very unusual website. Most places on the web are seeking to get as many people as possible through the door then happily watch them stay for a couple of minutes before disappearing. They are about mass audiences and fast throughput.
We, on the other hand, are just two blokes with computers recounting what we hope are interesting stories about a potential development in a small corner of south east England. If you want to know about Wye Park we’d like to think we’re essential reading. If you want to pass a jolly minute or two on the web I suspect you may be better served elsewhere.
Instead of millions of readers staying for a short period of time, we have had a total audience of something like thirty thousand individuals over the nine months we have been in existence and now maintain a core audience of under a thousand regulars, some of whom who visit frequently and often stay for some time. Standard statistics software of the kind we used originally didn’t really reflect the odd kind of site we are.
Let me try to demonstrate this with some statistics from Mint detailing recent visits from one address within Kent County Council (please click on the graphic for a readable view). This screenshot shows you that someone in KCC — probably the same person — has become a regular visitor of late. This person visited four times during the present day, nine times the day before, seven the day before that and so on… a total of ninety separate visits over a period of a week or so.
Our original software counted unique daily visits. So on this basis, it would have counted just one visit for each day — just as it would if someone had turned up once and read nothing but the front page. We get a lot of people who come back several times each day. Standard statistics software usually counts that as a single daily visit.
After some thought I decided a more accurate reflection of the site’s popularity would be to base the statistics on usage, not a unique daily visit that was the same whether a person turned up once and read one page or visited five times and read a hundred.
That is what you see now. If you click on the picture to the right you get an overview of the site on a typical, relatively quiet weekday afternoon. We’ve had twenty visitors in the space of an hour, you can see from this how many pages each of them has viewed over time (not just on this visit) and by hitting those little triangles on the edge we can tell which articles are most popular (for the record, as I write, our top three pages of all time are Here’s your chance to make a difference, Where are the councillors when you need them? and Secret no more: the nightmare vision for Wye.)
The numbers you see in our sidebar are a reflection of the amount of overall traffic save-wye it is getting. The statistic ‘visits so far today’ is based on the number of articles people have read during that time. It reflects individual visits not individual visitors, because if we tried to produce a figure based on the latter it would be highly misleading, and fail to reflect return visitors coming back the same day. So if a thousand people come and read one article you would get a visits so far figure of one thousand. If ten people come and read a hundred articles each you would get it too. The truth generally falls somewhere between the two, at the higher end of the scale. We have readers who come here once a week, lots who turn up daily, and a hardened few who seem so addicted that frankly you ought to be working on your social skills (only a joke really, we love you, honest).
The figure for visits since Jan 2006 is, I admit, inaccurate. We only started using Mint full time in May. So what we did was take the running total from the old software and make that the starting point for the new system. The result is this underestimates the historical site usage by an unknown amount, probably quite considerably using our present way of counting.
In short, we carry statistics to show that people do come here and to give a public indication of busy times and slack times. Whatever those who wish to denigrate this site may claim, we don’t try to load or boost the figures in any way. We don’t see the point and it would be hypocritical given that we’re arguing for more openness and honesty not less. Our record for a single day is the 2,000 plus visits we had when we published the leaked plans for Wye Park. Our slack days are weekends when, quite rightly, you’ve all mostly got better things to do and the total visits may be 350 or so.
Since we are not a business trying to sell any of you advertising I don’t intend to spend time or money providing better statistics than this. They are very accurate general indications of the site’s level of usage and they do not include robots, spammers or anything other than genuine human visits, and then not all of them. Only a remarkably amateurish website would do the latter and, while we may be run on an amateur basis, I would hope the system here is as professional as our limited time and resources can make it.
As to whether save-wye is reaching its audience I can only tell you that the second most frequent visitor to the site — behind one individual user whose identity remains a mystery to us — works in the estates department of Imperial College. In the past month a single computer there — which is far from the only contact we get from Imperial — has made more than seven hundred visits alone. Draw your own conclusions, please…
And if anyone, including any councillors, would like any more information please feel free to ask. We will answer all questions as best as we’re able, and you won’t even need to fill in a Freedom of Information request first.