Statistics have been around since, well, anything has been worth keeping track of. The much used and much cliched phrase “just another statistic” is echoed throughout many different cultures, all with different meanings and connotations, both positive and negative. Now, in our modern web world, we are being bombarded with more and more statistics, ranging from the truly useful to the truly atrocious. What began this stat craze? In the current standing, all signs point to the O’Reilly Media company, which first coined the ever popular term “Web 2.0” back in 2003. Web 2.0, the hailed “second-coming” of the internet as we all know it, ushered in a new brand of web, one with shiny gradients, overly protuberant fonts and glossy buttons (usually of the star persuasion). Along with websites getting this fresh coating, our favorite statistics were also candy covered and served to us, just waiting to cause cavities.
Our love of statistics in the Web 2.0 atmosphere is most evident in the juggernaut that is MySpace. While not particularly Web 2.0 in appearance (and not a particularly good website either), the stat tracking available on this site is utterly astounding. Don’t believe me? Go to your profile (which I know you have, as everyone seems to these days) and track this for me: How many friends do you have? How many comments? How many profile views? How many blog posts? How many comments solely on blog posts? What are your details? When is the last time you logged in? I could truly go on for however long you would like to stare at your poorly designed custom MySpace page (which, I pray, is no longer). All of these statistics have one thing in common: they are all entirely pointless. What does it matter if you have 23480 friends on MySpace? Do you actually know half of them? Of course not! Then again, the internet was built on this unstable foundation uselessness, so I can’t really argue it too much. Even still, tracking stats on MySpace is a dumb, meaningless affair, used only to keep teenagers coming back day after day for ad revenue (which I know they make more of in a day than you will make in your entire life. Sorry.).
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum of statistics comes those of Last.fm, the social music website recently purchased by CBS for £140m ($280m), making it the largest UK Web 2.0 purchase of all time. Once a user signs up for a Last.fm account, he or she can download a plugin known as Audioscrobbler which will monitor and track all of the music you play on your computer (or even iPod with a separate plugin). This information is then displayed for all the world to see on your own custom Last.fm page. Now, those uninitiated with Last.fm may be wondering what this type of information may be good for. For those in the know, they understand just how valuable this tracking is. Using your scrobbles (as they are so aptly and lovingly named by Last users), the site can give you recommendations for new bands, find shows in your area you would like and link you up with other people who dig the same music you do. The community on Last.fm is one to be applauded and one that everyone should try out if only to find some new tunes. This is Web 2.0 stat tracking as it should be: clear, concise and with real, meaningful purpose.
Another site that gets a nod for achievement in statistics based products is the social news website Digg. Digg allows users to submit news stories in numerous categories – everything from technology news (on which the site was originally based) all the way to Entertainment and 2008 US Elections news. Once submitted, stories can be “dugg” by other users and, once a story gets enough diggs, get moved to the front page, a storied slab of HTML for only the most worthy of news (or something to do with Ubuntu, Apple, or cuteness). However, the statistics powerhouse that is Digg doesn’t lie in how many diggs a story gets, or how many comments are tracked, or how many stories a user has dugg, etc. etc., but instead in the presentations available. Within Digg is a playhouse of sorts for ideas from Digg developers, known as Digg Labs. In the Labs, there are four official Digg projects: Arc, BigSpy, Stack and Swarm. Each of these projects have their own unique way of delivering data in a way that makes it interesting and, dare I say it, fun. In fact, these Digg Labs projects are so popular that a recent contest was held to choose the best uses of the Digg API. The three most popular ones, Digg City, Digg Charts and Digg Expose, are all just different ways of displaying statistics to the masses.
My question is this: have you ever willingly looked at numerous different applications just to get the same exact data in a different way? Of course not, hence why so many people hate the monotony of statistics. But, thanks to websites such as Digg and the Web 2.0 movement, stats are becoming increasingly popular with every tracked comment and every digg. This movement is only just beginning, with more and more websites flooding the internet everyday (for better or for worse), giving you something more to track and observe. Could there have perhaps been a better waste of time and energy than statistics? Maybe, though the popularity of Web 2.0 (and my 1,300 Bloc Party scrobbles) say otherwise.