Usage. Measurement. Data.

Data privacy and protection is a hot topic, as well it should be. This has me considering what do I want or need to know about visitors to my new site. How little is too little? How much is too much? How much do I even care?

Old school performance & engagement

In olden times, websites had hit counters on them. That was the way you showed off how popular your site was because all the visits were right there in your face. There wasn't anything sophisticated about it, but you got an indication of little or lots of traffic on a site. Hit counters were rudimentary analytics.

Before blog platforms like Wordpress, Joomla, Tumblr, or Wix made it easy to have a dialog with your readers per article or post, there was the website guest book. People used to fill in a little blurb mentioning what they liked about your site or begging you to come see theirs. Guest books were rudimentary comments and web mentions.

Before social media took over in the form of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube, there were webrings. Often, they were just lists of vaguely related sites linked together because the site owners knew each other in some way. Some were curated and joined as a way to connect sites of similar content and passions. Webrings were a rudimentary way to drive traffic.

Today the web is big business

Where I work, we have a big expensive analytics package that tells us all kinds of information about what visitors to our site do when they are there. We also know where they came from before they got to our site (with referrals) and might have an indication of where they went after they left (with remarketing and retargetting). We have an entire teams dedicated to bringing traffic to the site and making sure we have content in all the relevant social platforms. There's a content calendar, a group who determines content themes and which places they will be displayed. These are full time positions.

This approach makes sense because we sell products on that website. We want as many people to know about our products as possible. We want them to buy our products and convince their friends and families to buy our products. It takes a lot of thought, effort, and planning on our part to make that happen.

This site is not a business

This little site of mine serves an entirely different purpose. As I mentioned in my earlier writing, this is for me. But I have to be brutally honest about what that means and the impact on this site. If writing--as an exercise--is truly for me alone, then I would be writing in a paper diary, or I could use an application like Day One which remains on my hard drive. But I didn't choose that route. I chose to expose my writing on the web where other people might see it.

If no one visits this site, then I am putting things into the void. Honestly, that doesn't bother me at all. But, there will be a time when I let people know that I have writings collected here and they might stop by to take a look. I might even write something that connects with another individual and they let others know that writing is here. Is that something I want to know took place?

Knowing, while respecting privacy

I haven't fully worked out how I will approach knowing people have or have not visited this website. Here are my current thoughts on the matter:

  • I don't need to know the referral that brought a visitor here.
  • I don't need to know where they went after they left.
  • I don't need to know how many pages they viewed.
  • I don't care how long they were here.

Based on the above, I conclude that I don't need an analytics package like Google Analytics. That's far too robust. All I want to know is if people were here at all and essentially how many per day. That basic information would serve the purpose of letting me know if I would need to scale this site up in some way or can keep things very low key. I don't know if it is even possible to get an analytics solution with so few features! Suggestions would be most welcome! For now, you would have to let me know by clicking one of the social links in the footer, because I don't have other means set up on this site just yet.

Another benefit to not having some big analytics solution hooked up to this site is that cookies will not be involved. This is a static site made of HTML & CSS. I don't even have any Javascript in use at this time. Your data (at the time of this writing) is 100% unused and my aim is to keep it that way. Naturally, if something about that changes, I will have to put up an annoying cookie banner, write a privacy policy, etc. I really have no desire to do that.

Dialogue vs. monologue

I think I would like to have some manner of interaction with people who read my writing and comment in some fashion. I want that to be lightweight and cookie free, too. Comment forms are a pain to manage to weed out spambots, so more aggressive programming is usually involved. This is not my forte. If I use a pre-made solution like Disqus, I'm slipping into the arena where personally identifiable information (PII) is involved. I want to avoid as much of that as possible.

Webmentions might be a less invasive solution, so I will explore that as a possibility. This crosses into IndieWeb territory and might require a bit of effort, so I won't rush to implement it. It's another new thing to learn which is why I got back into having a website I actively maintain.

I am not a brand. No, really!

I went to lunch with a programmer friend, Chris, today and we discussed a lot of these topics. We both have a similar itch to get back into blogging and don't care much about "building our brand." I haven't ever felt comfortable with the idea because it seems dehumanizing to me.

Our conversation swirled around what is possible, what seems fun to try, and how we might end up making something easier for others based on what we learn. So, when it comes to diving into the IndieWeb options that provide more functionality and maintaining the origin of my writing here instead of on other platforms, I will be poking him for some help and we will likely be documenting it along the way.