Techdirt 2021: The Stats.

from the closing-the-books dept

Every year, a few days after New Years (once the data is truly complete), I try to do a post exploring some of the traffic patterns and comment details on Techdirt for the year. This year’s will be a bit different on the traffic front, because at the end of last January, we took Google Analytics off the site, and that had been the tool we’d used to see where people were coming from and whatnot. Instead, this year for the details on where people are coming from and what technology they’re using, we’ll be using a combination of a self-hosted Matomo instance and Plausible Analytics (not self-hosted; though we’re hoping to eventually switch to the self-hosted version). We ran all three solutions for one month before turning off Google Analytics, and the data roughly, though not exactly, matched (because all traffic numbers are fake and unreliable), but this year’s info should be slightly different. As in the past, we’re not reporting silly things like how much traffic we get, because (again), all those numbers are fake, due to dodgy tools and even dodgier bots and such. But we can get useful comparative data about where people are coming from and such.

Even though it relied on different analytics, if you’d like to see the older versions, here they are: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010.

The first thing we usually cover is where visitors are coming from — and already we discover that with different tools, we get very different data. According to Plausible, our top five countries for visitors are the US at 70%, Canada at 5%, UK at 5%, Australia at 2% and India at 2%. Matomo has somewhat different results: US at 78%, UK at 6%, Canada at 3%, Australia at 2% and Germany at 1%. On Matomo, India actually comes in at number 15, rather than 5th on Plausible. Though Germany is 6th on Plausible. On Plausible the next four after Germany are France, Netherlands, Brazil and Sweden. On Matomo, the next five after Germany are France, Russia, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden. Brazil, which came in 9th on Plausible shows up as 11th on Matomo. Russia, which shows up as 7th on Matomo is all the way down as 24th on Plausible!

I repeat: a lot of traffic numbers are garbage and no one knows anything! Last year we were surprised that Google Analytics said China was in our top 10, even though we had heard Techdirt was mostly blocked there. Matomo says that China gave us the 13th most visitors of any country, though Plausible says it’s actually 42nd (though, it counts Hong Kong separately, and has that come 37th — so perhaps if you combine the two…).

Moving on to what browsers people use, Chrome is still the leading tool for reading Techdirt. Matomo and Plausible seem to measure browser info in slightly different ways, but it does appear that somewhere around 45% of our traffic is from Chrome (Matomo breaks it down into different versions of Chrome) and somewhere between 25 and 32% from Safari. Firefox is somewhere between 8 and 12%. Interesting to note that most of the Safari traffic is from mobile (so, iOS) whereas most of the Chrome traffic is from a computer. There is still decent amount of mobile Chrome and desktop Safari, but it’s a lot more of the alternative. Microsoft Edge is around 4% according to both platforms. DuckDuckGo’s privacy browser is a new entrant this year, with both systems saying about 2% of our traffic is coming from there (which is cool to see). Both Opera and Samsung’s browser get about 1% each. Matomo claims that there were 126 different browsers used to visit Techdirt last year, which is quite something.

In terms of operating systems, Windows at 32% beat out iOS at 26%, Android at 24% and Mac at 14%. Linux variations were about 3% and Chrome OS was a bit under 1%. The two analytics systems seem to agree that about 48% of our traffic was from desktops/laptops, with 52% coming from phones/tablets. Incredibly, a tiny fraction of people apparently visited Techdirt from gaming consoles, TVs, or car browsers (?!?).

Every year I’m interested in, generally speaking, where visitors are coming from. While other sites spent lots of time “gaming” social media sites for traffic, we’ve always avoided that. I’m not against getting such traffic, but I don’t want to be reliant on it. So I’m always most interested in how much of our traffic is coming directly from people choosing to be here, and that continues to remain high, with 52% of our traffic coming from “direct” visits, 26.5% from search, only 14.2% from social media, and another 6.5% from other websites:

As for social media traffic, Twitter is the biggest single provider, with 55.6% of social media traffic coming from the bird site. Facebook provides 18.3% of the social media traffic, barely edging out Reddit by a barely noticeable number of visits. Hacker News comes in 4th at 6.3%. Everything beneath that is negligible, but if you must know, it’s LinkedIn, YouTube, and Telegram after the top four.

Google (84%) provides the majority of our search traffic (again, which is 26% of our overall traffic), followed by DuckDuckGo (10%), Bing (3%) and Yahoo (1%). If you mash social and search together, Google provides us the most traffic, followed by Twitter, Reddit, DuckDuckGo, then Facebook, HackerNews and Bing.

And… now we get to the lists.

Top Ten Stories, by unique pageviews, on Techdirt for 2021:

  1. As Predicted: Parler Is Banning Users It Doesn’t Like
  2. Not Easy, Not Unreasonable, Not Censorship: The Decision To Ban Trump From Twitter
  3. Hello! You’ve Been Referred Here Because You’re Wrong About Section 230 Of The Communications Decency Act
  4. How The US Government Legally Stole Millions From Kim Dotcom
  5. The Bizarre Reaction To Facebook’s Decision To Get Out Of The News Business In Australia
  6. Michigan State Police Officials Are Dodging Public Records Obligations By Using Encrypted Messaging Apps
  7. The Neighbors Are Watching Via Surveillance Video
  8. Techdirt Is Now Entirely Without Any Google Ads Or Tracking Code
  9. Florida Sheriff’s Office Now Notifying People It Will Be Inflicting Its Pre-Crime Program On Them
  10. Appeals Court Tells Lying Cop No ‘Reasonable’ Officer Would Think It’s OK To Tear Gas Journalists For Performing Journalism

So… there are some oddities and surprises in that list. Four out of our top ten stories… are actually not from 2021! In fact, three out of the top four are not from 2021. That’s… weird! In the past, every so often we’ve had an older story slip into the top 10 list, but having four show up is very, very odd. In fact, the Parler story was also the number three story from 2020. It went a bit viral in January, when Parler got a lot of attention after being kicked off of Amazon and out of the various mobile app stores. The “Hello, You’ve Been Referred…” is not that surprising, as that’s taken on a life of its own and people now regularly link people to it on social media. These days, almost every time I come across someone spouting some nonsense about publisher v. platform, I’m relieved to see someone has already linked to my post. Service journalism.

The Kim Dotcom story is… from 2015. But it has snuck into the top 10 list in the past. In 2018, it also made a surprise appearance. Dotcom has had a pinned post on his Twitter linking to that story for years, so whenever he goes viral, that story tends to go viral as well.

Now, the oddest one of all: the 7th ranking story, the Neighbors are Watching Via Surveillance Video… is from 2003. And, honestly, until I was going through the stats to put together this list, I had no idea that it somehow had received a flood of attention. I don’t check stats that closely during the year, and am perplexed as to how or why this article from 18 years ago is suddenly in our top ten list. Here’s the other oddity: as far as I can tell, it’s not because of a bunch of traffic on a single day or two, but steady traffic from some sort of search (though it’s not clear what keyword is leading people to it) every damn day of the year. And not just Google. The search referral to that one story matches our general breakdown: Google searches supplied 88% of the traffic to that story, DuckDuckGo supplied 7%, and Bing supplied another 2%. On an average day it doesn’t get anywhere near the traffic of a new story, so I’d be unlikely to notice it. But it gets just enough traffic every single day that it’s in our top 10! I also see that comments continue to pour in on that story, which now has over 650 comments (though not that many in 2021). It appears that this has been a low-level traffic collector for a while now… I mean, in some ways, the story is interesting, in that it was a very early reporting on neighbor’s using surveillance cameras to help police — something that is now happening regularly via Ring and Nest cameras and the like. But I will admit that I am at a complete and total loss as to how or why that story gets so much traffic every day.

2021’s Top Ten Stories, by comment volume:

  1. Not Easy, Not Unreasonable, Not Censorship: The Decision To Ban Trump From Twitter 679 comments
  2. The Flopping Of Trump’s Blog Proves That It’s Not Free Speech He’s Upset About; But Free Reach 473 comments
  3. Texas Legislature Says You Can’t Teach About Racism In Schools, But Social Media Sites Must Host Holocaust Denialism 458 comments
  4. Judge Ignores First Amendment, Misreads Town Law, While Ordering Resident To Remove ‘Fuck Biden’ Signs 452 comments
  5. Nintendo Killed Emulation Sites Then Released Garbage N64 Games For The Switch 427 comments
  6. A Few More Thoughts On The Total Deplatforming Of Parler & Infrastructure Content Moderation 393 comments
  7. Modder Solves ‘GTA Online’ Loading Time Problem, Gets Paid By Rockstar For It 346 comments
  8. Changing Section 230 Won’t Make The Internet A Kinder, Gentler Place 339 comments
  9. Game Publishers: If Your DRM, Anti-Cheat Software Does Creepy Installs, Warn Your Customers First 314 comments
  10. Florida Steps Up To Defend Its Unconstitutional Social Media Law And It’s Every Bit As Terrible As You’d Imagine 288 comments.

Huh. So the first few on that list are perhaps predictable, but then it goes off in directions I wouldn’t have expected. Once again, we see little overlap between the stories that get the most traffic and those that get the most comments, which always strikes me as worth noting (people always assume otherwise).

Okay, okay, I know what people are really waiting for are the comment leader boards…

2021 Top Commenters, by comment volume:

  1. PaulT: 3419 comments
  2. Stephen T. Stone: 2918 comments
  3. Scary Devil Monastery: 2636 comments
  4. That One Guy: 2334 comments
  5. Lostinlodos: 1851 comments
  6. That Anonymous Coward: 1301 comments
  7. Toom1275: 1185 comments
  8. Samuel Abram: 1172 comments
  9. tp: 977 comments
  10. ECA: 976 comments

The top four people are the same top four as last year, though in different order. PaulT returns to the top spot he last held in 2018. A couple of “new entrants” into the list this year, from two individuals who seem to spend more time arguing with the long time commenters, which seems to have contributed to their comment totals…

Top 10 Most Insightful Commenters, based on how many times they got the light bulb icon: Parentheses shows what percentage of their comments got the lightbulb

  1. PaulT: 907 comments (26.5%)
  2. That One Guy: 905 comments (38.8%)
  3. Stephen T. Stone: 742 comments (25.4%)
  4. Scary Devil Monastery: 254 comments (9.6%)
  5. That Anonymous Coward: 246 comments (18.9%)
  6. Toom1275: 232 comments (19.6%)
  7. Mike Masnick: 201 comments (45.6%)
  8. Bloof: 191 comments (43.12%)
  9. Samuel Abram: 147 comments (12.5%)
  10. Thad: 118 comments (26.5%)

Those top three really dominated the leadership boards again, as they’ve done for a few years now. Thank you for contributing such regularly insightful comments.

Top 10 Funniest Commenters, based on how many times they got the LOL icon: Parentheses shows what percentage of their comments got the LOL icon

  1. Stephen T. Stone: 91 comments (3.1%)
  2. That One Guy: 56 comments (2.4%)
  3. That Anonymous Coward: 38 comments (2.9%)
  4. Thad: 31 comments (7.0%)
  5. Toom1275: 28 comments (2.4%)
  6. Bloof: 25 comments (5.6%)
  7. PaulT: 21 comments (0.6%)
  8. Samuel Abram: 18 comments (1.5%)
  9. Jojo 13 comments (12.4%)
  10. Norahc: 11 comments (10.4%)

As always, we’ve seen that it’s much, much more difficult to get the coveted “funny” vote. Also, for the previous two years, we had noted that Norahc had come on strong as someone who commented less frequently than others, but had a really high percentage of comments voted as funny. This year, Norahc’s percentage of funny comments was even higher than the previous two years, but… newcomer Jojo stole the show by edging out Norahc with an even higher percentage of the funny vote.

And, with that, the 2021 books are closed, and 2022 is well underway. As noted in my final post of the year for 2021, we’ve got some decently big changes coming up soon, which should make the comments an even more fun place, so stay tuned…

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Comments on “Techdirt 2021: The Stats.”

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17 Comments
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Extremely honored

I’m extremely honored by these stats:

Top 10 Most Insightful Commenters, based on how many times they got the light bulb icon:

  1. Samuel Abram: 147 comments (12.5%)

Top 10 Funniest Commenters, based on how many times they got the LOL icon:

  1. Samuel Abram: 18 comments (1.5%)

Extremely happy to be part of this wonderful community! This is one of those rare websites where I say "do read the comments!"!

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Extremely honored

Yep, that’s markdown. It doesn’t matter what number you put at the beginning of a line, it’ll always start a numbered list at 1.

(It’s fairly common for Markdown lists to go "1., 1., 1." etc. and let the formatter convert them into actual sequential numbers. Saves the trouble of having to renumber if you change the order.)

Ben (profile) says:

"Incredibly, a tiny fraction of people apparently visited Techdirt from gaming consoles, TVs, or car browsers (?!?)."
I used to analyse traffic for the sites I wrote for a former employer and usually found a few oddities like these at the bottom of the user agent analyses. I mentioned it to the development team and several of them admitted to just accessing the sites with odd browsers just to see if they could, and if the site would work. A few more tech savvy customers could be gotten to admit to the same… but nobody was really using a Nintendo Wii to check their long term savings portfolio for real.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

"I repeat: a lot of traffic numbers are garbage and no one knows anything!"

For one, I know that I’ve probably accessed the site a bunch with either my work VPN activated (which should normally show Germany but I’ve noticed that occasionally it shows as the Netherlands or other EU countries since we switched provider a few months ago), or when I’ve used one to bypass certain content regional restrictions (UK/US to access sites I pay for that don’t service me in Spain without such things).

"Now, the oddest one of all: the 7th ranking story, the Neighbors are Watching Via Surveillance Video… is from 2003"

If I had to guess, I’d say that it an unfortunately evergreen topic where the headline is vague enough to be able to fit any relevant trending topic today and general SEO would attract traffic fairly consistently when searching the generic terms.

"Once again, we see little overlap between the stories that get the most traffic and those that get the most comments, which always strikes me as worth noting (people always assume otherwise)."

I think there’s just a difference between the way people interact with the articles. Articles that are linked from elsewhere often have discussions going on in those other places, or have the articles cited as part of another argument not directly inspired here, but people will check out the original source linked. Whereas sometimes, we all know we’re guilty of arguing with trolls and/or among ourselves on articles that may or may not have wider appeal outside of that specific argument among those who have already commented/subscribed to the conversation.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Well, that's not really odd.

"So… there are some oddities and surprises in that list. Four out of our top ten stories… are actually not from 2021! In fact, three out of the top four are not from 2021. That’s… weird!"

Consider what 2021 looked like and the titles. Anyone googling those topics will find them. And sadly, 2021 has been a very, very bad year when it comes to trends – as in a lot of people searching the web for answers to some very depressing topics.

"US stole millions", I imagine, is a natural query given the shit-show surrounding "Build Back Better". Kim Dotcom is the TPB Trial of the US and gets tossed around every now and then.
And "Neighbors, watching, surveillance, video" seem a likely go-to default given the political polarization just going into overdrive this last year. If your next door neighbor still has a Trump or Biden sign on their lawn, suspicion is soon to follow.

I also note that although I apparently inspire a lot of insightful comments I’m really not that funny. Think it’ll help if I pepper my comments with Carlin quotes? ????

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