Chasing the Metric High can be fulfilling…for a second. But it is an empty experience. I want this blog to be better, both for the reader and myself.
What are analytics?
To those familiar with the business of the web, please skip this part.
Analytics is a term for measuring traffic, behavior, and usage of your website. There are plenty of ways to achieve that, but the most popular way is just add Google Analytics to your site. Unlike a bespoke solution, GA is :
- Just Works
Google Analytics provides you info about where the user came from, where she ended up on, how long she spent on the site, what she clicked on, what is her age, gender, & location, etc. This is vital information if you want to improve user experience, drive them to the important features, and make your site accessible. This is true of Google’s competition as well. Some of them are not free, some of them are not as thorough, but all of them provide some or all of this data.
What’s wrong with that?
Data that can be used to make your site accessible can also be used to manipulate you into buying stuff you don’t need, or worse, make you reveal information you did not consent to. Which is great if you want to make money off your site(ethics be damned). However Google Analytics is a Trojan Horse. Not in the Malware sense. In the classical sense. Yes you get the gender, age, clickflow, and device information of your audience, but so does Google. They use that information to prop up their ad-tech business and sell you its ad services. You know, so you can get more people to your site, make more money, give more data to google…
This may seem like not a bad deal at all, until you realize that the Data you are feeding will also go to your competitors. Or more accurately, Google allows your competitors to utilize your data against you, without them even knowing sometimes. In the process, it violates many reasonable expectations of privacy that most users have. If you have never worked for a web-based business, this is probably the first time you someone told you the depth of information the sites you visit have about you.
However user privacy itself is not my primary concern.
Why is it wrong for me?
I am not saying I don’t care about the privacy of my readers. It is just that this blog is not a business for me. I do not plan to make money off of it. Putting analytics on serves no purpose. Other than the high of watching numbers of go up.
A Note on Ethical Analytics Suites
I am aware that there web analytics suite that are, or at least claim to be, more ethical with the data. However, my concern for my readers’ privacy is secondary to my concern for my own mental health.
Oppression by Numbers
There is a real tendency in the modern world to count everything but see the significance of nothing. I see people weighing their meals and tabulating their calories without a single hint of health and vibrancy in their eyes. I see people fast-walking laps around the park, their eyes on their FitBit number, completely oblivious to the sky and the trees and the birds. I see people posting spreadsheets and projections and countdowns to their FI (Financial Independence) number without giving any indication that they will spend their freedom doing anything beyond further calculations of further metrics.Thomas J Bevan, The Tyranny of Numbers
Numbers are great. To use them to measure change is important. They allow us to see progress. But when numbers become the primary goal, they stop being useful. Which is a simple way of stating Goodhart’s Law. In terms of writing, chasing the Graph Demon can stifle creativity*. I started this blog to find the shape of my ideas. I also am, like most human beings, quite vain. Analytics allows us very easily to indulge in this vanity. It is the carrot and the stick. To have analytics on my personal blog would be no different than chasing likes on Instagram, or counting twitter followers. You are sad because you can never have enough, but also when the number is lower than usual you are sad.
I started writing to get away from that stress.
So Will You Never Monetize?
Never say Never. I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I will have a way to generate income from this site that also does not cause me stress. Maybe I won’t. Fortunetelling is in itself a stressful exercise, and it is rather useless.
What about Accessibility?
I am using the standard theme from WordPress, which I am assuming that has gone through some sort accessibility testing. My limited knowledge of HTML tells me that the client-side web page is somewhat compatible with screen readers. You can always use the reader mode on your browser or share it with Pocket and generate audio that way. But the site is plenty accessible by itself. You can always send me some feedback. The email is feedback at this site’s domain.
Being mindful of your own weaknesses is important. Mine is vanity. The only way to overcome is to no engage with it. If I do not put an analytics suite on this site, not only would it protect my readers’ privacy, but it would also stop me from destroying myself. I hope to keep doing for the foreseeable future.
*In terms of society, it can even have a worse effect, like suppressing violent crime information.