Statistics, Blogs, and the Long Tail

As seen earlier on the Collegian: Web Wire blog…

Earlier this month our wonderful systems manager, Rick Simpson, began providing us with daily statistics information about our site. In the past, statistics were tabulated at the end of the month and didn’t give us a good idea about what are visitors were looking at on a day-to-day basis. Our statistics reports are publicly available, so if you’re curious you can see what I’m talking about. I try to avoid getting too worked up over some details, because statistics can be lies with numbers. But I did want to focus on a couple areas of interest – blogs and the long tail.

First, let’s talk about blogs. I’ve been checking Technorati, a blog search engine, a lot to see who is linking to the Daily Collegian Online. According to Technorati the answer is a handful of real blogs and a lot of spam blogs (blogs that just steal content and links to attract more hits). After checking out the referring URLs in our statistics I realized that we get linked a lot more often than I realized. College Humor currently has Friday’s Bundy story linked on its home page, as did FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). Bundy, by the way, gathered more page views than our home page yeterday. Yesterday Fark tagged our story about a creationism/evolution lecture from Sept. 29 as “sad”. Those are just some examples of the bigger sites linking to us.

This all leads into my second point – the long tail. Those two “hot” stories from yesterday’s statistics are ones that did not appear in yesterday’s paper. In fact, a look at our statistics reports will show that only about a third of our traffic is for that day’s news. The long tail is a concept introduced in a Wired magazine article that has later been expanded into a book. It suggests that the Internet has started a shift in business from selling a small number of popular items to using technology to sell small quantities of many smaller items. Think of sites like Amazon.com and Netflix, whose selection is a big selling point. Julia Turner demonstrated last month how the long tail works for Slate magazine.

Seeing information like this shows the significance of maintaining archives and not putting them behind a pay wall. Some people may think it bad that a significant amount of our traffic goes to our archives, but from an advertisers’ perspective we’re still delivering them eyeballs. There may be some issues revolving around what sort of audience comes from outside our site. One way we don’t capitalize on this currently is that our archives don’t bring people back into the site well. Our navigation isn’t consistent across the site and we don’t have any “fresh” content on our archive pages. So most people who come to our site from a direct link to a story don’t necessarily to see what else we have going on.

The long tail is a valuable lesson for a lot of businesses including newspapers. Its unfortunate that more news sites do not embrace this philosophy and leverage their archives better.

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Don’t Be Alarmed

Somewhere in my dream I felt a brief warning, a premonition that something was happening. Five seconds later the jarring ringing of a fire alarm threw me out of my bed at 5 a.m.

In addition to having alarms in every hallway, the University has recently installed alarms in every room. The noise is so loud you cannot think, let alone sleep.

A flood of horrible images rush through your mind as you try to get yourself out of your room. I grab my wallet and keys of the desk. Two planes hit the twin towers. I throw my shoes on my feet. Millions infected with AIDS in Africa. I grab sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Justin Timberlake brings sexy back.

I can only imagine what other uses this alarm system could provide. Perhaps guards could use it for prison escapes or even a new form of torture in Guantanamo. Every time I hear that alarm, I really wonder why they couldn’t just let me die in my sleep.

I feel like a real veteran to have the wherewithal to grab my sweats before running out to the cold morning air. Many were not so lucky, coming out tired and underdressed. One girl wrapped her comforter around herself and a shirtless guy. I saw two guys do the same, which may be an even more extraordinary gesture.

One RA told me he tried to write up a fire alarm as a community program, since you get nearly everyone to participate. It is funny how neighbors go day in and day out ignoring each other, but will begin to converse with each other while shivering outside at 5 a.m.

A girl who appeared to be an authority figure, an RA perhaps, comes around and yells for people to back away from the building. “This is not a fire drill!” she said. Duh. If she announced it was just a drill, I think someone may have hit her.

For a second I grasp the potential seriousness of the situation as I imagine all of my belongings exploding out my window like in Fight Club. I think I left my CD collection in the car, but I doubt any insurance company would reimburse me for my giant DVD collection.

Fortunately while this wasn’t a drill, this wasn’t a real fire either. Most likely it was the act of a drunken student or a technical issue with the fire alarm. I remember a year ago a similar event was set off by a wiring error in the attic.

Atherton Hall is listed on some maps as “Centre Halls”, but it seems it is miles away from civilization whenever an alarm goes off. In the course of 45 minutes I never saw a fire truck or even a maintenance van pull up.

The alarm eventually stopped and people started to move towards the doors, but I waited. I’ve been burned by fire alarms before. Sure enough the alarm starts up again for a few more minutes, an aftershock I guess. We finally get the go ahead and return to our rooms.

Appropriately enough, fire prevention week will start next week. So if you don’t have the misfortune of a major university being liable for your fire safety, perhaps you can take the opportunity to get some smoke detectors and test their batteries. And don’t worry, smoke detectors have a much nicer ring to them.