whatcha gonna do with all those stats

Last night I was out for a meal and drinks with some friends and started explaining how I’d recently installed some code on my blog that allows me to track visitors like I’ve never been able to before. A few days ago I spotted a friend of mine who is an online community consultant visiting because he’s got his own server that he accesses the internet through. Yesterday there was a visit from someone at the Chicago Tribune, another from the Washington Post, several from a university in the north of England, and on most days there are at least a few from the BBC. And last week, my mom or one of her friends (she lives in a small place) visited too.

If you weren’t aware of how powerful this is, let me make it absolutely clear: I can see that, right this very moment, someone at a specific university in Iran is looking at an individual post on my blog, having read three other pages, that they’ve been here 11 minutes, and that they arrived after doing a search for something on google, the query of which I can also see. Due to the fact that the content being looked at could get the person looking at it from Iran in trouble, I’m not going to share the minutae of detail that I can see with you. Nor will I tell you what operating system they are using, what browser, or what size screen they have. Yep, I’ve got access to that information too.

I use a free service from statcounter.com and have posted a badge on my blog so that visitors can see that I do have access to this info but it can also be done invisibly, without visitors even being alerted to it. I’m guessing that most visitors to websites don’t realise that such a highly insightful – and personal – trail of information is left behind when they browse. Kinda spooky really.


  1. Hi David. Just from statcounter. I grabbed a screenshot of your visit – you use bloglines, have cable broadband (telewest/blueyonder), live in an area of London that starts with a consonant in the first ten letters of the alphabet, stayed for 1 minute and 9 seconds, browse with firefox, 1280×1024 screen, etc.
    Happy to send you the screen shot if you’d like – I know where to find you although that one detail (your email) I didn’t actually get from statcounter. ;-)

  2. It’s astonishing how much information you’re able to access about visitors to your site, and I agree that it’s quite unnerving. I’ve not used Statcounter before, and I don’t think Google Analytics (which is what I use) gives anywhere near as much specific information on individual visitors. I think your post throws up some interesting questions.
    You mention that you’ve put the Statcounter badge on your site so visitors know that you have access to this info, but do you think most visitors would know exactly what information Statcounter is collecting about them? Even if someone spots the badge and then clicks through to the Statcounter website to find out what it’s all about, I’d be surprised if they understood the level of detail that’s captured. You’ve been very transparent in writing this post and explaining the details – maybe you could add a link to this post from the Blog Stats section of your sidebar?
    Another question – which you raise in the title of your post – is how useful all of those stats are to you. They certainly make interesting browsing, but do you actually need that level of detail? Do you feel comfortable having access to all of that personal information? I think these are interesting areas to explore, and I’d be interested to hear more from you about this.

  3. Joanna, you are right – I could have grabbed all this info without telling anyone and, even though I haven’t intended to, have essentially done that despite carring a little logo for statcounter on my blog. Who would have noticed? Who would have known?
    I do feel uneasy, if I’m honest about it, at the level and personalisation of detail I have access to. I also realise that for some visitors, such information about their visits could and may very well be a matter of life and death.
    That said, so long as other people can’t see it, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to know where visitors are, what pages they’ve come from, etc.
    I would never make it public though. I don’t want to, and won’t, people anyone at danger for the sake of a little transparency and interesting info.That would be, I think, fundamentally different from using information to make content more relavent and useful, which is the point of looking, at least for me, at stats at all.

  4. On another point with stats. I too use Statcounter, invisibly. I ahve also used Site Meter, Typepad’s own stats, Extreme Tracker and Geo tracker (or something similarly namerd). I also get data from Google Adsense and I’ve ocassionally looked at Alexa data. I assumed they would all give much the same figures, but they don’t. You get quite varied answers and I’ve never really understood why – not that I’ve dug deep into all this. So which one is the most accurate? I’ve no idea and I’m not *that* bothered. However, Statcounter is definitely my favourite though, not least because of its invisibility option.

  5. I’m using statcounter over a year, and i can say that most of the information that this service is getting can be used very efficient.
    For instance you can see what people are searching when they come to your post, or you can see the screen resolution so you can adjust the template to be suitable for most of the visitors. and so on
    But I too have discovered that some of the stats are not accurate. If you ask some person who is more into this stat programming and tracking things, you’ll understand that if someone doesn’t stay for more than (x) seconds on your blog, the counter is counting 0seconds, and little tricks like that.
    Any way, I’ve installed several different services like this one but never changed statcounter.
    And honestly I don’t feel very proud when ill sneak into someone’s life

  6. I use Google Analytics and am pretty happy with the core stats that they provide. You’ve raised a good point though: What about the stats you don’t want to collect?
    Because these services (Statcounter et al) are provided free you have little control over what stats are collected from your site. At the end of the day the service provider ‘owns’ all the stats collected and they want a complete set of stats for their own reasons, be they good or bad.
    Taking back control of your stats would require using a non-free statistics package such as Mint [http://www.haveamint.com]. This means you can choose the level of stats you wish to gather and ‘own’ the data too. There is a higher technical ability required to implement a solution like Mint, but weighed against the ownership and control over the data collected, I think it is worth the effort and cost.
    Touching on another point raised, most sites don’t give any clues that they’re tracking your visit. Again there is a technical solution to this if you’re willing and able to put in the effort – you’ll need to be using Firefox and understand how to use the Greasemonkey extension. If that hasn’t gone over your head or got you thinking about a trip to the zoo – then check out Statistics Detector [http://www.joostdevalk.nl/blog/free-competitor-statistics/] which provides a visual indicator on every website that is tracking your visit with a statistics tool, it even tells you which tool they are using.

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