I have to look after a handful of websites. All of these websites collect a little information about the people who visit them. Some of the utilities have a vast array of available views of that information. Maps. Pies. Tag clouds. You can produce your own multi-hued USA Today with them, if you like. The problem is, they tell you almost nothing.
Advertising is shifting from other media, especially print, onto the Web. So people prize these statistics. They are growing adept at massaging them into something salable. Most people seem to be cobbling together a concatenation of screeds calling conventional media giants poopyheads in the hope of drawing conventional media attention and a paycheck. Because that's where the money is.
If you're worried about the nature of the statistics being collected about you when you cruise the Intertunnel, perhaps I could put your mind at ease. It says almost nothing. If you leave your machine wide open to cookies, people could find out the town you live in, maybe, or more likely the town the Internet Service Provider you use lives in. Webmasters can see what pages get looked at. Who referred you by hyperlink. Search terms. Nothing much.
People that have webpages generally look at one number, which they hope is a big fat one: how many people visit each day. The rest is amusing applesauce for the most part, in my humble opinion. Even the good numbers can be applesauce, because Internet prominence schemes involve getting people to look at your page whether they are really an important audience or not.
I've seen people painstakingly build Web edifices solely of large handfuls of monomaniac patrons, being counted over and over as they compulsively visit a page and yell stuff in the comments. Then the bloggers get a book deal based on the traffic numbers and no one buys it. It's as if you got every person that stands on a highway overpass and yells at traffic to sign off on your business plan. If I had to rename the Internet right now, "Potemkin" would appear somewhere in its new title.
I keep seeing websites that are based on the most quotidian aspects of life become behemoths, with the only real traffic that matters if you're trying to make money without hopscotching off the web: people who spend real money. I see pundits being asked serious questions on television news programs simply because they've assembled a phalanx of angry commenters. But if you had any sense, you'd never as a third party purchase their website when you could buy Celebrity Baby Blogs instead. What a sneer you'd get from the literati glitterati of the blogosphere if you mention a website like that. Sneering at it is all you can do if you can't afford a postage stamp sized ad on there.
I'm not registered on The Truth Laid Bear. That's a website that constantly ranks "blogs" (another nebulous term) by traffic and by their prominence based on the amount of other blogs that refer to them in the form of links. Technorati does the same sort of thing. There are many others, of course. I can't help but notice that's basically a closed circuit, with a few opinions racing around in a circle.
I get some attention in that closed circuit, more or less than I deserve depending upon your taste, I guess, and I do find it interesting to participate in it a little. But I'd like to remind myself, and everybody else in the closed circuit, of one little thing.
Internet information is the dumbest kind of information there is. It involves bestowing attention based solely on a very provincial kind of notoriety. If you see people arguing over some obscure point in the comments of an Internet talking shop, the gauntlet is often thrown down: "Link please." It means you're being called out to back up whatever the hell you said with a hyperlink to something somewhere else on the Web to prove it. That has a certain aroma to me. "This is how I go, when I go like this."
There are many things in this world that are not amenable to "Link Please" pleading. When I had a management job in a large construction company, I occasionally had to utter: "You guys do understand that something actually happens outside this building?" to the assembled throng of beancounters, who manifestly did not understand that. And since what was happening outside the building dwarfed what happened inside, being that it involved excavators and bulldozers and dynamite and so forth, you'd think they'd know that already. They'd just look at you blankly.
I sell furniture now. I've been outside the Internet building. If you told me I could have a banner ad on every single blog listed on The Truth Laid Bear for a year, or I could have Martha Stewart look directly into a camera lens and simply utter my name, kindly, once, guess which I'd pick.
"Link, please." OK. Who is the only serial killer of note in Massachusetts, according to Google?
I'd stay on my good side, were I you. "If You Don't Buy This Magazine We'll Kill This Dog" can't hold a candle to me. Maybe buy an end table or sumfin'. You wouldn't want to make me angry.