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March 02, 2005

Another Deadly Dull Discourse On Web Statistics

Perhaps it's not quite as dull as I once thought. Michelle Malkin has, after perusing a number of Sitemeter stats pages begun to question the idea that the blogosphere has a readership 32 million strong, and stirred up a bit of teapot tempest as a result.

If Alexa's figures are in the right ballpark, the top 100 political blogs, in the aggregate, probably average about 100,000 U.S. adult visitors per day. That's not small potatoes but it is a far cry from the inflated Pew figures cited by the Wall Street Journal this morning.

For argument's sake, let's suppose Michelle is right in her estimates. If the readership numbers for blogs as a whole are really so low, why are blogs batting so far above their weight in the wider mediasphere? One would think it would be easy for websites with a total readership in the millions to drive stories into the mainstream media, but it should be much more difficult for sites possessing numbers as low as Michelle's estimate. Surely not every reader of blogs is a member of the media elite, which would seem to be the most logical explanation for the reason blogs are so successful at driving certain stories.

But her estimates are almost certainly incorrect, as Michelle is drawing data for her conclusions from a circumscribed pool. As David from Sitemeter notes in the comments at my original deadly dull discourse, Sitemeter doesn't count readers who access content via RSS feeds, which, at least in the case of Eric and I, constitute more than half our daily readership. Right now, (March 2nd, 2005) Sitemeter shows us as having an average of 1,218 visits/visitors a day. Using February's stats, the last month for which stats are complete, Hosting Matters' Webalizer show us as having a daily average of 3449 readers a day. March's numbers are considerably lower (1681 per day) , presumably because of the way stats are compiled for the month, but that evolving average is still higher than Sitemeter's numbers.

As well, Michelle accepts the fallacy of the 80-20 rule when it comes to online content, as it implies that the supposed 32 million should be more highly concentrated at the more popular blogs.

8 million bloggers! 32 million readers! John Hinderaker doesn't believe the hype, and neither do I. Even mighty Instapundit averages less than 200,000 visits per day--does anyone seriously believe that he is capturing less than 1 percent of the blogosphere's readers?

In reality, the blogosphere, like most online content, is more likely an example of the Long Tail rather than the 80-20.

What's really amazing about the Long Tail is the sheer size of it. Combine enough nonhits on the Long Tail and you've got a market bigger than the hits. Take books: The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon's book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are (see "Anatomy of the Long Tail"). In other words, the potential book market may be twice as big as it appears to be, if only we can get over the economics of scarcity. Venture capitalist and former music industry consultant Kevin Laws puts it this way: "The biggest money is in the smallest sales."

Given the Long Tail, that Instapundit even begins to approach 1% of the total readership attributed to the Internet is amazing.

But Malkin's biggest mistake comes in not thinking through the numbers in the first place. Given 8 million blogs, 32 million readers is peanuts, because each blog only needs to attract 4 visitors a day to reach that number. Assume that half those blogs are started and abandoned, so that there's really only 4 million blogs. 8 visitors a day at each still gets us to 32 million.

32 million sounds like a lot, but only when taken out of context. When it comes to the really big numbers, like the U.S. budget and total Internet readership, 32 million is chump change.

Posted by Bigwig at March 2, 2005 10:21 AM | TrackBack
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Speaking of stats, I signed up for for my personal blog. The one thing I like about it is that you can set the time for one "visit". I set my time limit at 12 hours. If someone comes from the same IP in that amount of time, it's only recorded as one visit. It helps distinguish unique visitors a little better, I think.

Posted by: Kehaar at March 2, 2005 11:19 AM

That's way too long. You can have five different AOL users with the same IP address hit the site in under an hour.

Most web stats packages set it to 30 minutes, I think.

Posted by: Bigwig at March 2, 2005 11:32 AM
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