The Great Website Unknown: Who’s Out There?

Website TrafficSam Dean over at Five Thirty Eight pointed out a curious aspect of modern computing, It’s 2015 — You’d Think We’d Have Figured Out How to Measure Web Traffic By Now. It deals with a strange issue in website metrics: the unique visitor. In the old days, people talked about “hits” and then later “total visitors.” But today, the metric that everyone cares about is “unique visitors” — it is seen as more authentic. The problem is that the companies who determine how many unique people visit a website always indicate that there are a lot fewer than the websites’ own access logs indicate. So what’s up with that and should we care?

I must admit that I’ve always focused on unique visitors — even when people were talking about “hits.” The problem with hits was always obvious. If a website has a page with 9 images in it, that represents 10 hits. Thus, a website with a lot of images would have more hits than one that didn’t — even if they had the same number of visitors. But total visitors can be a problem because the same person can come back again and again. Take, for example, a visitor who has left a comment and refreshes it throughout the day to see if anyone has responded. In my case, I’m more worried about my own use. I used Frankly Curious far more than anyone and I don’t want that to skew my statistics.

There are various ways that a website can seem to get more unique visitors than it actually does. The most obvious is the time period. Frankly Curious gets about 1,500 unique visitors per day; but only about 25,000 per month — not the 45,000 the daily number would imply. But the bigger issue is that the whole counting thing is done with cookies. So if you visit the same site from a different browser or computer (or phone), the web server counts you twice. And people delete cookies. And so on.

Another issue that is huge — at least for little websites — is spamming. As I said, Frankly Curious gets 1,500 unique visitors per day. But we don’t actually get that many people visiting the site. According to Google Analytics, we get about 300 actual individuals. The reason for this is that the spammers are going fast. They do not waste their resources by running the JavaScript that is necessary for these statistics to be tracked. So we’ve got 300 real visitors and 12,000 spammers per day. It really is outrageous.

But I’m not certain that unique visitors really mean that much. A whole lot of visitors come to a page, and back right out a few seconds later. I suppose in an industry that sees advertising revenue as its product, maybe that’s fine: people came onto the page long enough to get an opportunity to click on your Ben & Jerry’s ad — mission accomplished! But for personal websites, people normally think of others actually reading their content as an important aspect of what they do. So if one person comes onto the site, gets involved, and reads thirty articles, that’s a big deal that is clearly not represented with the unique visitors metric.

Just the same, big websites need some way to compare themselves, and unique visitors is as good as any. Personally, I don’t much care about absolute numbers. Even Google Analytics messes up from time to time. What I care about is the trend. Roughly twice as many people visit Frankly Curious today than they did last year. But interestingly, according to my access logs, my unique monthly visitors hasn’t really changed since early 2013. That’s because it is swamped by spam. I wonder if that isn’t a problem at Huffington Post as well? Actually, I don’t care.

David Frum Proves He’s a Rich White Guy

David FrumI have this thing about steroid use in professional sports: I don’t care. Sure, I think it is terrible that people do that to their bodies. They shouldn’t. But there is nothing very natural about professional sports. There is nothing natural about 330 pound tackles running 5 second 40-yard dashes. And then there is the whole question of drugs being a fairly vague category. Why not decide that professional athletes can’t eat more 2,000 calories per day? That makes sense to me. At least it would put an end to the physical freaks that now dominate the world of professional sports — especially football and basketball.

But what are we to make of David Frum’s accusations that Serena Williams’ unprecedented success as a tennis player is due to to steroid use? Well, that’s pretty clear: David Frum is a racist. I don’t mean that in the sense that he is likely to walk into a church and start murdering African Americans. But I also don’t mean it in the sense of everyone having racist impulses because we are human and thus tribal, and because we live in an incredibly racist society. I mean that David Frum is smart and worldly enough to check himself before publicly accusing the most iconic African American tennis player in history of cheating. And he decided not to.

This doesn’t exactly make Frum a bad person. It just makes him a clueless rich white guy. He’s so privileged that he has no clue about it. In one of his deleted tweets he brought up Mark McGwire and Lance Armstrong. I think he did that to convince himself that he isn’t a racist. That’s the thing: I’m sure that he doesn’t see himself as a racist. But the thing is that I can’t find Frum writing about McGwire and Armstrong before. I can’t even find him writing about steroids.

So what we have here is a guy who looks at Serena Williams; and it doesn’t seem quite right to him. So he jumps to steroids, rather than his own biased expectations of tennis — as understandable as they may have been. But having been caught, Frum isn’t backing down. He’s going back the McGwire and Armstrong hedge. Judd Legum explained in an update to his article:

Frum appeared on Roland Martin’s show on TV One on Monday morning to defend his tweets. Frum largely attempted to shift the topic to a general discussion of steroid use in tennis. He did, however, assert there was reason to suspect Serena Williams in particular…

It’s slippery. If called on the particular allegations (Frum doesn’t quite have his facts straight), he just goes to the “steroid use in tennis” narrative. But of course, his comment wasn’t about steroid use in tennis; it was about Serena Williams’ steroid use in tennis.

But apart from the racist content of the whole thing, I think Frum does himself no favor in trying to make it about steroid use in tennis. There is really only one more clear indication that one is a rich white guy without a clue than to be concerned about steroid use in professional tennis. And that is to be allowed to shift the conversation from a racist observation into a concern about the integrity of the game of tennis. That is ultimate proof that David Frum is a rich white guy.

A Tale of Two (Wisconsin) Priorities

Proposed Milwaukee Bucks StadiumKevin Draper over at Deadspin reported, Wisconsin Senate Votes To Give $250 Million To Billionaires. This is in reference to the Wisconsin state senate voting to give a quarter billion dollars to build a new sports center for the Milwaukee Bucks. The owners of the team — Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens — are both billionaires. But that’s the great thing about being rich: you never have to pay for anything. Well, not much anyway. The two of them are going to throw in a total of $150 million dollars. So the actual owners will pay a whole 37.5% of the cost of their new home. And I don’t know the deal, but I assume that these guys are also getting huge tax breaks. So it is questionable whether they are paying any part of this.

Some people will claim that this is a great thing for Wisconsin to do. You know: the Bucks will bring in all kinds of money to the area. But as David Cay Johnston has noted in Free Lunch, the tax breaks and outright payments for sporting venues almost never pay for themselves. The big economic boost that is supposed to take place around the arenas, never comes. Instead, people drive to the events, spend their money at the events, and drive away. There is no spreading out — no trickle down.

What’s more, Johnston has done the calculations. It turns out that if it weren’t for taxpayers providing all the money they do for the millionaire and billionaire owners of the teams, none of the four sports leagues — baseball, basketball, football and hockey — would be profitable. We taxpayers spend $2 billion per year subsidizing all these teams. Obviously, the owners don’t need the money. They own these teams because they like it. But apparently, they don’t like it enough to pay for it. Regardless, as I said: the rich are used to not having to pay for anything.

Johnston noted something else interesting about our 43rd president. He’s a great example of how these things work, “George Bush owes almost his entire fortune to a tax increase that was funneled into his pocket and into the use of eminent domain laws to essentially legally cheat other people out of their land for less than it was worth to enrich him and his fellow investors.” He’s talking about the time that they built a great stadium for the Texas Rangers in Arlington. One of the best ways to make money is to take a team from a crummy venue and move it to a nice one. All you have to do is get someone else to pay for it.

But the case in Wisconsin is particularly interesting. Because just a few days ago, “Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a state budget that includes cuts of $250 million to the University of Wisconsin system, among other cuts to public education funding.” But this is the standard way for the modern Republican Party. Gone is any pretense of what conservatism used to mean. Now it is all about taking from the poor and giving to the rich. We’ve seen this in Kansas recently, where previous tax cuts for the rich blew a big hole in the budget. When it came time to fill in the hole, the Republicans in Kansas raised taxes on the poor.

In Wisconsin, we are seeing the same thing. Education has to be cut! So they have money to give to rich guys who own sports teams. Welcome to modern America.

Morning Music: Hoyt Curtin

The JetsonsI was never a big fan of The Jetsons. The Flintstones is more my kind of thing. But I’ve always loved the theme song of The Jetsons. Those fast filler riffs have always blown me away. And then the perverse use of “Chopsticks” is too great.

The song was written by Hoyt Curtin. He wrote the theme song for just about any Hanna-Barbera cartoon you ever saw. The Los Angeles Times called him the “Mike Post of animation sound tracks, the John Williams of the Smurf set.”

Apparently, in 1986, the song was re-recorded and released in a slightly longer form along with a “music video.” It’s interesting, because they managed to take out the truly sexist (and ahistorical) bit where George hands Jane a dollar bill, and she leaves him with it, taking his whole wallet before zipping off to “Shopping Center.” It reached “No 9 on Billboard magazine’s retail sales charts,” which is, really amazing.

Anniversary Post: Trinity Explosion

Trinity ExplosionOn this day in 1945 — exactly 70 years ago — the Nuclear Age started with Trinity, the first nuclear detonation. It was an implosion-design plutonium device — the same kind that we would drop on Nagasaki less than a month later. It’s good to be reminded of this. The typical American believes that we must stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon because they can’t be trusted. I don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon either — but not because of concerns that they can’t be trusted. But that is what Americans think: the Iranians are “crazy” and would give nuclear weapons away to terrorists.

But supposedly one country that can be trusted is the United States of America. Yet we are the only country that has used a nuclear weapon — and we’ve done it twice. I’ve discussed this before, Stalin, Not the Bomb, Defeated Japan. What we did was kill well over 100,000 Japanese civilians. And we did not do it to protect ourselves or to defeat Japan. We did it to send the Soviet Union a message.

As evil as terrorism is, those who engage in it at least think that they are righting some wrong. When we dropped the nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we were not doing that. Our leaders very calmly decided that it was fine to kill so many fellow human beings in the name of “flipping the bird” to the Russians. And as it was, it only took four years for the Soviets to get their own bomb. If the US hadn’t dropped those bombs, Stalin likely wouldn’t have felt it so pressing to get the bomb for himself.

I understand why we decided to get the bomb. It was thought that the Nazis would get it and win the war. It’s hard not to sympathize with that thinking. So I don’t have such a problem with the Manhattan Project or even with Trinity. But we didn’t have to use the bomb on fellow humans. Sadly, the leadership of the United States thought exactly the opposite. And for the worst possible reasons.

Welcome to the Nuclear Age, 70 years ago today.