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Getting to know you

Writers Web Watch

This articles started out life as ‘we know where you live’. It is not literally true, so my editor gave it the folksy title 'Getting to know you'. We really do know a lot about your surfing habits. So..

Should you worry about your personal privacy on the web?

Definitely not. Do you seriously mind that we know what version of which browser you are using and with what operating software? Do you object to us finding out which website you came to us from? Or if we know whether you used a search engine and which one? And who cares which page you were reading just before you left?

To you this is truly boooooring. But to a nerd like me who runs a website - well, I love it. If you are serious about running a good site you need to make sure that pages work with the many possible technical permutations. Each browser handles things differently and we want to look our best in all these environments. So I need to know which browsers to check.

We know that Sundays and Thursdays are the favourite days for writers to surf. Half your visits used to be on these two days. But over the years the load has spread and now the only quieter day is Saturday. It can't be a poor TV schedule as we are talking worldwide.

People prefer to visit later in the evening but, as the world spins, we cannot even be sure about this. We can also deduce that you are an honest, hard-working crowd, because very few of you appear to surf from work. I infer this from the fact that less than 5% are on the networked computers which people normally use in offices.

We can also work out that you are not serious techies. You don’t rush out and buy the very latest technology. How very sensible. There are plenty of Windows 98 folk out there and early versions of Netscape are still popular. We are starting to introduce a few ‘flashy' bits to the site, but we know not to rely on the latest features or add-ins, as a sizeable minority will not be able to enjoy them.

We also know which country you live in.  However, statistics can mislead. Some countries host major servers. The 104,000 folk in Tonga appear to be welded to the web. The explanation is that AOL has a big server there, so many users are routed via this tiny island. The locals probably prefer the wetter sort of surfing. But 85% of our visitors are from outside the UK, where we are based, we are working to provide services relevant to writers worldwide during 2005.

Believe me, it can give you quite a buzz to discover that there are hundreds of people from China logging on to your site.

So, if we don’t actually know exactly where you live, do we know who you are? You bet we do. You are or something similar. That is your Internet id. It lets the World Wide Web find you and return the pages you request. The good news is that your service provider probably provides a new identity each time you log on. So no fear of electronic stalking.

Our site, like most serious sites, has a fixed address. When you buy a web address the administrators link your web name to a number. This is looked up each time on the Domain Name Server, (DNS). The DNS matches the part (our URL) to an Internet Protocol address (IP). This is our unique four-part, eight bit number (here we are talking computer bits), that identifies the site every time someone types in ( - 106 - You can see why we choose to use names, rather than numbers).

Most sites report that 70% of visitors leave after visiting just one page. This is not surprising. Just think how many shops you wander into or books you inspect before deciding to buy. We are pleased that many more of visitors follow links to other pages on the site. We call this 'stickiness'. Our target is 50% going to another page, and we are half way there.

We worry about our figures.

  • We know which pages you visit, how long you spend on each page and the number of pages you look at on each visit.
  • If you stop looking at some formerly popular pages, we want to know why.
  • If there are any links missing, they also show up in the statistics.
  • We can see which pages you skip. We reckon the longer you stay, the better the site.

Any website owner can access this information. It is part of the technical specification of the Internet. There is nothing sinister about it.

There is plenty that we do not know.

  • Some people read online, which makes the figures look better, while others, like me, capture the pages and read them later. Most people download a page if they return, which looks like another visit, whereas I tell my browser to reload it from memory. So how precise are the figures?
  • Another thing we do not know is how many visitors are new and how many are returners. A lot of sites send you a cookie to help track you but we decided we would not do that. We have our newsletter which tells us that hundreds of people do want to know about the changes and updates we make each week.

So you still have your secrets and, in spite of all our statistics, you will still keep us guessing.

© Charles Jonesauthor; formerly nerd responsible for keeping the site running; spent over 25 years in computer business; started out dusting bugs off valves, but in time graduated to writing software and managing projects; as published author with stack of waiting-to-be-published manuscripts tucked away, WritersServices is answer to his silent prayer; his book 'Ordinary Heroes' An extraordinary true story of wartime adventure; recently published book about Battle of Fulford-'Fulford the forgotten battle of 1066', published by Tempus ISBN 0752438107 2001

Revised Jan 2005

Is Internet use seasonal?

Six months back, the weekend was the most popular time to visit the site. As summer has returned to the northern hemisphere, usage now peaks on Tuesdays. As 90% of the site visitors live in the northern half of our globe,  could it be that there are better things for writers to do during a summer weekend than sit at their computers?

Friday is still the day you abstain from the site. This is, anecdotally, the day that hackers are most active. It is also the customary day for sites to perform their backup procedures.

With visitor numbers measured in tens of thousands, this cannot be a statistical blip, so we will keep an eye on this piece of web trivia!

July 02 postscript

While we watch you, search engines are probing WritersServices