"A unique, wry and often satirical look at the Internet, the modern age and life in general" (there is way too much search-engine competition for the phrase "incoherent ramblings")

Friday, June 8, 2007

Dehumanising webmaster jargon! (Did you know you are a hit?)

Did you know that you are just a "hit", a mere statistic, a "click", an item of traffic? Well you would know this if you followed some of the webmaster chat that goes on, on forums such as Digital Point. The most important thing for most webmasters who are in it for business, is that they get as many people visiting their sites as possible, and as high a percentage of those people as possible clicking on advertisements, buying stuff or whatever other way it is they are earning money from their site.

Only thing is, they do not use words like "people" most of the time! In fact, to read some of the discussions, you might not realise they are talking about human beings at all! Here are some samples from a thread chosen completely at random from Digital Point:

"I checked my logs yesterday and I found that so far in June google has sent me as much traffic as they did in all of May...."
Say what? Traffic? What, like cars, buses, etc?

"The funny thing was that i also got a few from Yahoo also - and this is rare."
"A few"? A few what?! Lesser-spotted marsh-warblers?

"so most of the traffic there was only one or 2 hits per keyword phrase."
Now you've really lost me! Hits? Keyword phrase?

In fact, at the time of press, this thread did not mention human beings one single time!

Now, all business is dehumanising to an extent, but still, in the majority of businesses, their operators at least come into contact with the end consumer in some way. In this world of web business the only point of contact with the "customer" (aha, didn't know you were a customer!) is through looking at statistics in web-server logs (or bank account). So it is understandable to an extent that they can only refer to you by a logged IP address, or a "referral code", and that, in direct proportion to the popularity of a site, you simply become a statistic.

But this goes much further: for example, webmasters often make tiny tweaks to their sites - say by moving an advertisement to a slightly different part of the page, to see what the result will be on their "stats". This result usually translates to a different "CTR" - click-through rate - (the percentage of visitors that clicks on an ad), or "conversion rate" (the percentage of visitors that buys whatever they are selling) and these minute changes often yield slightly better "results" over a longer period. So you might not know it, but you are really just a tiny blip in a number-manipulation game.

The real-world equivalent might be something like a soft-drinks manufacturer making a minute change to the flavour of their beverage and seeing what that translates into in terms of sales over the coming year. But in the web-world, the results of these changes can sometimes be seen in minutes!

This kind of impersonal treatment of humans as statistics is the sort of thing that could boil over into revolution. The question is, are you and I, my precious hits, I mean, dear visitors, going to stand for this? And another question is, what can we really do about it? Perhaps in the long-term, web users will get wise to this, and companies will be forced to return to good old, personal customer service.

In the meantime, say with me, "I am not a hit, I am a free man...!"