Stats Geekery Addendum

In October, I posted an entry about the readership stats for Whatever and noted at the time that it’s often difficult to get a true bead on how many people are reading what I’m writing here, in part because of the variance in reporting between stats programs, and then also because the stats programs may or may not report syndicated views (i.e., people reading and sharing via RSS), but even when they do those reports don’t show up as part of the “official” site statistics.

To bring home the latter point, the picture above shows you the WordPress stat suite tracking for the “Interview with the Nativity Innkeeper” piece, tracking the readers of the piece from yesterday through about 10:30 am today — more specifically, people who visited the entry page itself (rather than reading it off the front page of Whatever, as regular visitors were likely to have done), and those looking at it via RSS feed. The light blue bits are the people who are looking at it directly on the site page for it; the dark blue bits are the people reading it via RSS.

What do we see? In this case, the RSS readership is swamping the direct-to-page visitors; since the piece went up yesterday (and not counting those who read it directly off the front page) the stats suite has reported about 51,000 readers, nearly 84% of whom are reading it away from the site. This percentage is higher than usual for my posts, but in a general sense there’s always a substantial number of RSS/offsite readers, none of whom are part of the “official” site numbers.

I bring this up partly because I nerd out about how people get hold of my stuff, but partly to make the point that online readership numbers are highly fungible. If I were trying to sell advertising on the site, I could say that this entry has had 8,000 readers or so; the RSS readers would be, in a sense, dark matter, or the equivalent of people who watch shows on DVRs — watching but not useful to advertisers. Unless, of course, I put ads on my RSS feed, which is a thing I’ve seen people do. I think this stuff is fascinating.

Bear in mind that I have no plans for adding advertising to the site (save for another possible sponsored piece of fiction, a la “An Election“), so for me this is largely noodling over numbers. However you’re reading the writing on Whatever, I’m glad you do so.

27 Comments on “Stats Geekery Addendum”

  1. And, of course, you get double hits on pages like that (and this one!) where readers (such as myself) read it in the RSS feed (all hail google reader) and then open the website to either make a comment or copy the URL to post to Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/CompuServ.

  2. Ah, I think I understand now. I noticed a while back that Whatever flies in the face of conventional Web wisdom that says “if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.”

    Apparently we’re paying for Whatever by being the drug snorted up the nose of a stats addict.

    Works for me!

  3. It is worth noting that I read this post via my Google Reader feed (read RSS). I moved from bookmarking sites and visiting directly to the RSS feed model roughly five years ago and have not looked back due to the sheer simplicity of keeping up with hundreds of sites at any given time.

    Being a blogger myself I recognize the challenge RSS poses to ones understanding of their readership but this is not too difficult to overcome. I am able to capture the stats for this channel by using the FD Feedburner Plugin for WordPress which drives all RSS through Feedburner which is now a part of Google, depositing my RSS statistics conveniently in my Google Analytics account along with the direct traffic details. This method has allowed me to see that, as a rough estimate, readership for my blog via RSS triples that of the direct route.

  4. I forgot to add, the one thing that does bother me about the RSS route – and in particular Google’s Reader implementation – is that there is no way to capture the activity (commenting, likes, etc.) associated with it. I have a habit of sharing and commenting on items in Reader as I did with this post but unless you are following me on Reader you would never know it.

    By the way, if you wish to do so here is the link…

  5. I read the piece via RSS, thought it was funny, clicked through to the main site, then linked to it via Facebook, where at least two people followed and read it, and one of those linked to it on her own Facebook profile…

    The Internet is neat.

  6. I’m about 50/50 for reading RSS vs on the site. I use the RSS feed to filter all the sites I like to read. If something is passing in interest, I’ll just read it in the RSS reader or skip over it. If something looks really interesting, or I just don’t have time to read it right now, I’ll open it in a tab to read.

    Does that mean sites get a double hit for both the RSS and direct site reading?

  7. Hi,

    I always read from the feed until I want to read the comments (o comment myself like right now).
    And I’m reading your blog from Barcelona, Catalunya (South Europe).

    See you!

  8. The thing about RSS is that a view isn’t necessarily a “read”. Depending on the feed, I may be reading every single thing that shows up in the feed or I might just be hitting “next” after a 2 second skim.

  9. Heh. I read all your entries in email first and then head right over for the party. As for RSS, man, what a pain. I’ve configured my tumblr account to display RSS there but it only does it on full moon eclipses on the solstice or some such.

  10. Scalzi, I honestly only came to your site once: to grab the rss feed. That said, I think if you are looking to leverage all those RSS readers like me, please feel free to include a small banner ad at the top of each RSS feed post. A number of other blogs and websites I read do that, and I think it’s fine. I’m happy that the people I read online are able find a bit of monetary support from their websites, including from people like me who can’t be bothered to type in into our web browsers. :)

  11. Cool!

    Hey, what can I say, I’m simple and pretty easy to please…did I just admit to being “simple”.


  12. Am sure you are aware .. but this story, nor your update Re:, are no longer showing on the main page.


    Guess since you aren’t planning on adverts, that it wouldn’t matter if we read from the homepage or not .. but you should make a request to us regulars to go in & view each article for a week .. I’m the type of geek that would like to see what an overall week looks like.

    Thanks for the great articles & have a safe Holiday & a Happy New Year!

  13. Someone needs to make a lot of money by creating a decent analytics tool. The current fake ones that amass numbers that have no real significance because:
    a. It counts every view no matter how long. If I’m on here for 2 seconds – I didn’t read.
    b. It doesn’t account for double dipping RSS and website views.
    c. It doesn’t weight readership. For example commenters, lurkers, scanners, repeat viewers.
    d. It doesn’t show whether anyone even opened the RSS feed. I read everything Scalzi writes on my RSS, but I have over 200 feeds in my RSS. I assure you I don’t read them all. But I imagine their existence in my reader counts.
    e. It doesn’t count people who are conversing in comments or just watching the comment conversation. If I find the conversation interesting enough, I might return 4 or 5 times. How does that count? If you consider unique visitors (assuming same IP address) then it counts as once. But is that really fair? If this site had ads, wouldn’t I be far more likely to absorb the significance of an ad because it crossed my path 4 or 5 times in 12 hours? It needs to track how many times individuals visit a page.

    If I were an advertiser I would think twice about web stats.

  14. Hi,

    As a (usually) front-page-only visitor via browser, I don’t seem to fall into either of your recorded categories, but I’m sure that kind of stat is more or less readily available from your server.

    Since each day’s articles are shown in full on the front page, that’s usually as far as I go unless I want to view comments (or leave one myself).

  15. I was also going to point out that this post and the pointer to the filmcritic article have both dropped off the front page, though they were there earlier. The innkeeper did this yesterday, coming back after a few hours. You might want to look into that.

  16. There will always be people you can’t count … me, I don’t have an RSS reader or iGoogle page or any other useful place to aggregate all the sites I’d love to visit every day (it’s on my “to do” list, seriously, but things keep coming up!).

    What I do is click “Subscribe by email to this site”. I open the email when I have time – and the entire article is there, with links & images intact ’cause I loves me some HTML mail, especially in Gmail.

    I never come to the site itself unless I want to comment, or share the link on Facebook. I suppose I could just right-click the link and choose “copy link location” instead of “open in new tab”, but what fun is that? (seriously, I just forget. It’s early. Leave me alone.)

    Not all blogs do that, but fortunately, WordPress ones do. Thanks!

  17. If we only read the front page, are we counted anywhere? I read comments, but not always, so I only click to the entry page if I want to read comments.

    I should stick my toe in the RSS Feed pool, but I like to read comments so I don’t do RSS.

  18. RSS is great… I get to make my own daily magazine out of articles that show up in my Google Reader.

  19. Um. Fungible? As in ‘replaceable’? I’m confused.

    Anyway: I use Google’s RSS reader, but I have a tendency to click through the entries because I want to read the comments.

  20. Ah.. the beauty of RSS. Whatever also has feeds for all the comments. And also feeds for comments on specific articles. And feeds for categories. And feeds for different authors…. need I go on.? :)

    I like the comments feed, because I can easily sort them in my reader and see what’s getting the most comments or I can easily follow conversations.

  21. Something else that’s cool about RSS is if the blog owner offers the direct feeds (like John does).
    Every once in a blue moon… an interesting article/story will turn up in your feeder. When you go to the site it isn’t there.
    But shows up a few days later. Sneak peak! This happens a lot with my local paper. They publish a news article before publishing time and if your reader happens to scrape it before they realize their mistake, you get the preview!

    Don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen here, though.

  22. Like #22, I don’t think you used the word fungible correctly here.

    On the stats, I never saw a reason to add whatever to my RSS reader… I know you update almost every day, so it’s worth my time to come look and see. :) I actually never even bookmarked the site because the first suggestion firefox gives me for http://w is

  23. Somehow, the version of the RSS feed that I have in my Google Reader only shows me the first few lines of each post. Did I use the wrong URL? Also, the link to feed seems to have disappeared from the front page…either that, or there’s some sort of mind-control device built into my new glasses that keeps me from seeing the little RSS icon…

  24. i always thought fungible meant compressable. like adding people to a fungible project will make the peoject get done faster. but two women cannot delivwr a baby in 4.5 months. so pregnancy isnt fungible.

    or so I thought. then i had one of those “you keep using that word” conversations with someone, looked it up, and couldnt find any definitions that looked like “compressable”.

    no clue where that meaning came from.

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