December 10, 2010

Bulk view

Understanding analytics for personal blogs

Dan Zarrella’s talk on the science of blogging (#blogsci; my sketchnotes) was an interesting data-backed analysis of what kinds of behaviour were correlated with views, comments, Facebook shares, and Twitter retweets. It inspired me to take a look at my Google Analytics. Here are some highlights, what I think about them, and what you might look at when you’re reviewing your own statistics.

Browser Visits Percentage Worldwide usage share (Nov 2010)
1. Firefox 5,812 44% 23%
2. Chrome 3,396 26% 9%
3. Safari 1,620 12% 6%
4. Internet Explorer 1,414 11% 58%

Browsers and operating systems can give you a clue about what people are like. For the top four browsers people use, non-mainstream browsers are twice as popular as they would be considering the whole Internet. We’re definitely geeky over here.  I used to see a lot of browsing from Emacs w3m, which is why I looked into source-ordered stylesheets and I minimized the need for Javascript. Looks like people have shifted (or have changed their user agents).

49% of visits came from people on Microsoft Windows, 24% from Linux, and 19% from Macs. Hi to the iPhone, iPad, Android, iPod, SunOS (really? cool!), Blackberry, *BSD, UNIX, and Symbian, and Playstation users, too!

Take a look at your visitor statistics to see what people are using. Then you can decide if the average screen resolution will let you play with a wider layout, if you can take advantage of Flash, and so on.

Looking at your most popular pages can tell you what people want to read about. The most popular pages in November were my blog homepage, a blog post from 2008 on outlining your notes with Org, my Emacs-related posts, and a post on recording ledger entries with org-capture. Orgmode.org is the top referring site, beating Twitter, Facebook, EmacsWiki, and Drupal.org. Emacs rules. ;)

Use your popular pages list to learn more about what you’re currently doing well, and do even better at it. If you’re surprised by the results because your favourite pages aren’t on it, look for ways to make it easier for people to find and link to your content.

Your traffic sources tell you if you should focus on links, searches, or direct traffic. On my blog people come in fairly evenly from referring sites, search engines, and direct traffic (28-31% each). Aside from my name, other keyword searches tend to be fairly technical: error messages I’ve written about, and Emacs and Drupal-related questions. Some people come looking for visual notes, though, so that’s fun. =) Other people might get different results.

If you see more searches, you might consider writing more about that topic and working on being easier to link to. If you don’t see a lot of direct traffic to your blog homepage, think about whether your domain is easy to spell. I registered LivingAnAwesomeLife.com and sashachua.com to make it easier for people to get to me, as my name is hard to spell. Domain names are not free, but I think of it as an investment in potential conversations.

Do people return regularly? 40% of visitors in the last month have been to this site before, and they spend twice as long on the site than new visitors do (3 minutes instead of 1.5 minutes). I think that’s encouraging. 112 people have been to this site more than 200 times. (Hi mom!) 20% of visits were after another visit on the same day, so I might look into increasing my posting frequency from once a day to twice a day.

Do you have regular readers, or do people leave and never come back? Think about whether you meet the promise your site makes. All the search engine optimization tricks in the world don’t matter if people come, get disappointed, and leave. Do people come more often than you post? Consider posting more often, so there’s something fresh for people when they come.

Even if you’re writing a personal blog and not doing it as a business, you can learn interesting things from your statistics. Don’t let the numbers stop you from writing about whatever you’re interested in, though. Get that knowledge out of your head and into a form you can work with. And if you’re just starting out and your numbers are small, don’t worry. Everyone starts somewhere. =) Being boring, making missteps, and experimenting with doing  better are all part of the process. Add analytics to your blog, and then start using the data to help you experiment!

What if sharing knowledge could make a difference between life and death?

Are there types of organizations where knowledge sharing is a matter of life and death, and what can we learn from them?

Travis Cord and Harold Jarche write about the social components of military training. Travis shares:

The formal pilot training course consists mainly of an instructor and student flying a specific lesson which the student learned as much as he could in the 1 hour flight.  It is expected that you take the lessons you learned in the air and share it with all your classmates, because there is no way to learn everything in the 1 hour flight.  It was never a good thing if one student knew a critical piece of information and the rest of the class didn’t.  The saying was always “Cooperate and graduate”.

This kind of knowledge sharing is critical in the field, too. It may be a struggle to get people in conservative organizations to share, but there are clear situations where sharing helps others and helps you.

Medicine is similar. Sharing knowledge and effective practices can save lives. In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande writes :

… the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people—consistently, correctly, safely.

He describes how distilling shared knowledge into checklists (that include quick conversations between the surgeon, nurses, and anaesthetists!) can prevent missed steps and coordination errors that might have fatal results.

You might think that if you share what you know through a presentation or blog post, you still won’t save a life or make a big difference.

I think of it this way: sharing can help me make a bigger difference than I can on my own. Sharing also helps me helps other people make a bigger difference than they can on their own. Who knows, maybe through the magic of compounding knowledge, I can fit two or more “lives” into this one life that I have. Not as dramatic as saving a life, but it can still help build a better world.

So my question is: what if sharing knowledge could make a difference between a bigger life and a smaller life? My answer is yes, so I do.