Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bursting Bubbles on Site Meter Counts 

OK, I just couldn't keep it in, but I have to admit that the visiter stats on the left side are bogus. That's right, that 6700+ number is a fraud. And most of the counters you see on other blogs probably so too.

When I was away from the blog for a couple of months I noticed that I was still getting around 25 hits per week. I wondered "are there really that many bored folks that have nothing better to do than to keep checking back on my silly site? Why don't they just subscribe to the RSS feed and wait until I update?" Well, while I was occasionally getting a new visitor from some of the folks I've been linked from, it still didn't make sense.

Well, when I looked a bit closer at individual hits I noticed most shared an interesting similarity: a visit duration of zero seconds. Now, does it make sense for all these folks to be opening my blog just to jump out after loading? No, it doesn't. What does make sense, though, is to conjecture that my blog is being automatically pre-loading and cached. Many browsers, programs and ISPs do this as a way to "accelerate" page loads. The way it works is that while you are reading a web page and your browser is idle, in the background it visits to the various links on the page being read and retrieves the files needed, especially graphics, so that it's ready to give you that quick load sensation just in case you decide to go there. In other words, the majority of the "hits" I receive do not represent a person reading my musings but rather a machine just pulling the data and putting it on the shelf, where more often than not it just sits until the man behind the curtain wanders off to another room, leaving my bits to gather digital dust.

Bottom line: hit counters are nice bling-bling, but often don't mean what they seem to say.

Update: Thanks to my man Bubblehead for reminding me to RTFM. "Duration" is defined as time between two page loads on the same site, so someone who follows a link to the site but doesn't poke around registers "0:00" duration regardless of how much they actually read. I still believe, though, that there is a certain amount of 'bot traffic and pre-loading that cannot be accurately determined.

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