Mark Higginson

How people's attention flows on the web

The web is a social artifact.
Here is a selected collection of related items:


27 September 2014

Keeping an eye on which universities use which web trackers tells me a lot about the sector as a whole and about what individual institutions are up to. I keep a complete list and track changes.

Every university apart from Bristol uses Google Analytics.

Total trackers in use by 126 institutions rose from 202 back in March to 471 by September.

This rise was due in large part to the increased use of advertising trackers. 58 universities were using 146 trackers related to online advertising in its various guises.

The most popular tracker related to advertising was Doubleclick, used by 38 institutions.

It remains to be seen if this was related to Clearing specifically and whether many of these trackers will be removed. Alternatively it may represent nearly half the sector making budget available to sustain ongoing advertising.

Advertising tracker use is related to league table position. The median value for tracker use occurs at the 87th position in the table.

Amazingly nearly a quarter of UK universities run no other trackers besides Google Analytics. Nothing to assist with usability testing or any kind of conversion optimisation.

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05 September 2014

A majority of articles never make it onto Twitter or Facebook.

86% of News Articles Not Shared Within 72 Hours

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on this topic you’ll know that I believe the majority of the marketing industry present an at best overly optimistic and at worst completely false picture of how useful it is to engage in large-scale web publishing efforts.

The above is yet another piece to add to the canon:

“From a sample of 612,212 articles published over 72 hours in April, we measured the total sharing activity for each. We found that 527,793, or 86% of the articles, never saw any engagement on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a long, long tail.”

Furthermore only 0.02% achieved 10,000 to 100,000 interactions.

0.0005% achieved over 100,000 interactions. Five ten-thousandths of a percent!

Marketing is about delivering a relevant message. Easy to do for those who show intent or have indicated prior interest, but to achieve greater awareness you need to have massive reach in order to stand any chance of being seen. The implication here is that relying on social sharing to deliver that at scale is a terrifically difficult proposition.

This is what I have said repeatedly, all along.

However, the same site also carries posts such as this: People Are Sharing More News Than Ever On Facebook. From this it is easy to look at the numbers and commit the logical fallacy that this means that your stories stand a greater chance of receiving a slice of this attention. In actual fact you already have to be one of the ‘winners’ in as much if you aren’t already a major hub the chances of your content being shared is approaching zero. Even if you’re a major publisher you’ll still be subject to the brutal effect of the long tail.

This is why ‘brand’ content destinations are a terrible idea.

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11 August 2014

I was starting to be haunted by a feeling that the world itself was so weird and so rich in cognitive dissonance, for me, that I had lost the capacity to measure just how weird it was.

William Gibson on Why Sci-Fi Writers Are (Thankfully) Almost Always Wrong

A Gazan teen live-tweets being bombed by the IDF to tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.

A Russian soldier’s geotagged selfies place him inside Ukraine during a time of increasing instability.

A militant group using their social media followers to intimidate the population of a city on which they are advancing.

A team of civilians operating a 1970s NASA satellite out of an abandoned fast food diner.

The future is here and is being distributed whether we like it or not.

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10 August 2014

As you can see, nearly everyone who visited my site came for the original image, maybe scrolled once or twice through others in that set, then left.

Things I Learned After My Photo Hit #1 on Reddit, and Why I Probably Shouldn’t Have Posted It

This highlights how a photo of Mount Fuji posted to reddit resulted in thousands of visits to the original photographer’s website. No one looked at anything else. No one bought a print. They came. They stayed for that one page. They left, never to return.

I’ve seen this happen loads of times myself. A post goes up on a popular hub site that undoubtedly has a huge readership. There is a nice link back to a client’s blog or similar and a good reason to click. The result is a few hundred or thousand referrals. No repeat visitors. Essentially worthless given the effort involved.

Welcome to the world of content marketing and an industry totally at odds with the reality of how attention works on the web.

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07 August 2014

Attention is like weather.

These tweets from Mat Honan are completely true. To my eyes attention on the web is like a weather system. There are larger forces making it all work that while we can grasp the fundamental rules the subtleties of all this in effect lie just outside our ability to predict what might happen.

This is why I rail against posts with titles like these I spot passing through my feed reader:

The authors of these type of posts present a completely inaccurate perspective of how attention ‘works’ on the web; same goes for most people representing ‘content strategy’.

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