A List Apart: Just the Stats

Continuing with our “data, and what we can learn from it” theme, here are A List Apart‘s four most popular individual pages this week (excluding the home page, with 178,270 page views). Pay particular attention to the publication dates:

Article Page Views This Week
Flash and Standards: The Cold War of the Web by Daniel Mall, MARCH 9, 2010 41,035
Drop-Down Menus, Horizontal Style by Nick Rigby, JUNE 29, 2004 40,683
CSS Design: Taming Lists by Mark Newhouse, SEPTEMBER 27, 2002 37,867
[Articles Index Page] 34,630

What do these stats tell us?

For one thing, they tell us that for every reader who viewed A List Apart as a topical periodical publication—that is, for each person who read one of its latest articles—there were two readers who used the magazine as a source of evergreen web design and development content.

Put another way, for every person who uses A List Apart like a magazine or blog, there are two who use it as an encyclopedia of best practices in coding and design.

We’re looking at only seven days worth of statistics, here, but the pattern is consistent from week to week. What it tells the editors is that we’re not in the quick-hit eyeballs and ad sales business (but we knew that), we’re in the professional education business. It reminds us, if we needed reminding, that the mission stated on our Contribute page is still true:

We want to change the way our readers work, whether that means introducing a revolutionary CSS technique with dozens of potential applications, challenging the design community to ditch bad practices, or refuting common wisdom about, say, screen readers.

As we go about soliciting and reviewing potential ALA content, we must keep uppermost in our minds how people use our site, because its value lies in the hardiness of our best articles. Web professionals trust us to have the information they need to do their jobs better and deliver the best possible experience to their clients’ customers (and thus the best value to their clients). These stats reinforce what we already know, and help us stay true to our core purpose and values.

This emphasis on the evergreen over the topical also helps us as we strategize means of deepening our relationship with the web design community and add or change features to do so.

I’m barely scratching the surface of what the data tells us, but the little I have teased out so far is already very useful—and that’s the point. The more you look, the more you can learn. What’s in your logs?


Love Me Long Time

Those who say web users don’t spend time reading web pages haven’t met readers like you folks. According to Google Analytics, zeldman.com fans spent five minutes, fifty-five seconds reading the relatively short post, “My Love/Hate Affair With Typekit.” If Jakob Nielsen is right, and readers take in no more than 20% of the words on a page, y’all took a hella long time to read 190 words.

But generalized findings like Jakob’s are merely one data point in a universe of possibilities. Every site is a special snowflake, with stats and usage patterns all its own. Faced with an unfamiliar shopping site, we may indeed give it little more than a cursory scan before closing the window and returning to Google to fine-tune the search that led us there. But when we visit a familiar site to read, then read we do—as anyone with a good blog and a decent set of analytics tools can tell you.

Here are a few recent average times readers spent poring over various zeldman.com posts:

Post Title Average Time Spent
My Love/Hate Affair With Typekit 5:55
Crowdsourcing Dickens 3:36
20 Signs You Don’t Want That Web Design Project 7:52
Ed Bott’s Lament 4:22
Gowalla My Dreams 4:41
IE9 Preview 4:37

Morals of the story:

  1. Don’t use Peter’s stats to paint Paul.
  2. If you want people to spend time reading your site, give them better content.

Future of Online News

Many website designers run their own niche blog, and if the content is unique enough, a designer might be able to sell subscriptions to it. The content has to be very high quality, though, and few design blogs meet that standard.

A List Apart is one that does, and it could potentially turn a profit selling subscriptions. But the subscription route is a risky move because it alienates many users and shrinks ad revenue substantially.

Jeffrey Zeldman, publisher, founder and executive creative director of A List Apart, gives two reasons why A List Apart does not put its content behind a paywall:

  • It’s against our belief in free online content.
  • It wouldn’t work unless our competitors also put their content behind a paywall. We appeal to a discerning base of web designers, but if we went behind a paywall, it would be as if we had stopped publishing. Our readers would turn elsewhere.”

More at What Is the Future of Online News? | Webdesigner Depot.

Posthumous Hosting and Digital Culture

The deaths of Leslie Harpold and Brad Graham, in addition to being tragic and horrible and sad, have highlighted the questionable long-term viability of blogs, personal sites, and web magazines as legitimate artistic and literary expressions. (Read this, by Rogers Cadenhead.)

Cool URIs don’t change, they just fade away. When you die, nobody pays your hosting company, and your work disappears. Like that.

Now, not every blog post or “Top 10 Ways to Make Money on the Internet” piece deserves to live forever. But there’s gold among the dross, and there are web publications that we would do well to preserve for historical purposes. We are not clairvoyants, so we cannot say which fledgling, presently little-read web publications will matter to future historians. Thus logic and the cultural imperative urge us to preserve them all. But how?

The death of the good in the jaws of time is not limited to internet publications, of course. Film decays, books (even really good ones) constantly go out of print, digital formats perish. Recorded music that does not immediately find an audience disappears from the earth.

Digital subscriptions were supposed to replace microfilm, but American libraries, which knew we were racing toward recession years before the actual global crisis came, stopped being able to pay for digital newspaper and magazine descriptions nearly a decade ago. Many also (even fancy, famous ones) can no longer collect—or can only collect in a limited fashion. Historians and scholars have access to every issue of every newspaper and journal written during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, but can access only a comparative handful of papers covering the election of Barack Obama.

Thanks to budget shortfalls and format wars, our traditional media, literature, and arts are perishing faster than ever before. Nothing conceived by the human mind, except Heaven and nuclear winter, is eternal.

Still, when it comes to instant disposability, web stuff is in a category all its own.

Unlike with other digital expressions, format is not the problem: HTML, CSS, and backward-compatible web browsers will be with us forever. The problem is, authors pay for their own hosting.

(There are other problems: the total creative output of someone I follow is likely distributed across multiple social networks as well as a personal site and Twitter feed. How to connect those dots when the person has passed on? But let’s leave that to the side for the moment.)

A suggestion for a business. Sooner or later, some hosting company is going to figure out that it can provide a service and make a killing (as it were) by offering ten-, twenty-, and hundred-year packets of posthumous hosting.

A hundred years is not eternity, but you are not Shakespeare, and it’s a start.


Men like it fast, women like it good

In a recent usability survey, researchers from Southern Illinois University found that after ease of use, men prefer fast download speed to easy navigation. Women prefer ease of use, easy navigation, and accessibility. The researchers hypothesize that these different usability criteria are due to differences in how men and women use the web.

Details at “Usability Study: Men Need Speed – web usability criteria show gender differences.”