Friday, March 13, 2009

Enough about me...

... Let's talk about you.

I recently installed Google Analytics on Radio Free Stan. There's a tiny itty-bitty, tweeny-weeny piece of javascript that sits quietly within the code of the page near to where it says "Google Analytics" over to the right in the margin. This records arrivals to and departures from my half-acre of cyberspace. I can also see what you click while you're here. 

I've been using Statcounter almost since I started blogging - you can see the stats from this over to the right where it says "View My Stats". Google Analytics is pretty similar, except that it has a much more complex reporting package behind it - good enough for a much bigger site whose owners actually care how many "eyeballs" view their pages. 

So, what do I know about my readers ? Well, I get 30 or 40 people dropping in every day (double that if I'm dissing the Magistrates' Association). Half of you are still using Internet Explorer, but the rest of you are pretty intelligent. 40% of you arrive from Bystander's blog, while Google has led around 10% of you here. Some of the Google searches leave me wide-mouthed in disbelief - my favourite recent one was "desinges that a thirteen year old boy could put on a bakewell tart".

I can also tell that 100% of the female readers are beautiful and that 80% the males have more charisma than you would expect from a random sample of the population. 14% of you read Radio Free Stan while sitting in your underpants. 95% of you will have an uncontrollable desire to scratch after reading this sentence. 5% of you have a grizzly bear standing behind you (made you look).

I'm joking, obviously. Radio Free Stan is a low-tech, amateurish thing - but the big-name websites have an awesome ability to track your behaviour. I've seen one of these customer behaviour systems up-close and I can tell you that among other things it's possible (from the pages the user visits) to be about 80% certain of the gender of the site visitor. I reckoned I could work out if the user was left or right-handed by the way the cursor moved across the page.  

So, what's my point ? 

Well, please never assume that your web activity is anonymous. If you think CCTV is intrusive, think of all the invisible bits of javascript around the Web, tracking everyone's behaviour.

The World Wide Web is 20 years old today. It has been a force for good and a considerable force for evil. It has allowed people to organise against political oppression, but it has also given the State more tools to more tightly control their citizens. Even after 20 years it is a jumble of contradictions and appears always to be in a state of unpredictable creative chaos. 

It's a beautiful, ugly, liberating, dangerous mess. And I love it.

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