Adam T. Vaccaro

Occasional musings on journalism and media

Posts Tagged ‘media

The Hit Counter: A New Dawn

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Remember this guy?


Why, it’s the page view counter (perhaps best known by its colloquial name, the hit counter)! A staple along the early roadways of the World Wide Web, this beacon let weary Internet travelers know how many souls had set digital foot in the area before them. The hit counter was generally placed on a home or landing page and looked like a car odometer, keeping track of the number of times the page had been accessed.

When Web 2.0 came to be last decade and “interaction” and “engagement” became the buzzwords by which we judged a web property’s success, the hit counter fell to far less prominence. Instead, comment counts and later social media shares shares became the important gauges.


Of course, proprietors still cared how many folks were reading their content. But much, much more sophisticated data analysis products had already been available on the backend to publishers. And around the turn of the millennium various products made this data cheaply and widely available, culminating in the release of market leader Google Analytics. And like the toys in Toy Story 3, the hit counter was displaced.

But wait! Something’s happening at some of the more popular new media companies out there. The hit counter has come a’roarin’ back!

Look, here it is at BuzzFeed:

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 7.15.34 PM

And here, at Gawker:

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 7.15.59 PM

And, for good measure, here it is at Business Insider:

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 7.14.29 PM

So, it would appear as though the hit counter is back in style. After all, these three sites are hip and trendy and all that jazz, and have some level of say, at least for the time being, in where digital media will go.

This new generation of page counts doesn’t look like the old one. First, these are used on individual pieces of content, not on homepages like we saw in the late ’90s.

Also: they look different, probably to their benefit. That fire icon is suggests something very different than the old odometer-based counter I introduced up top. The odometer suggests, “Hey, this is how many miles are on this page thus far.” It makes it look old. A page that’s been viewed a lot comes off looking like a car with 150,000 miles on it. The fire (and I’m not really intending this pun but I see it coming and I’m going to walk right into it) is much hotter. It means, “This story is blowing up.” And, I’d suggest, that’s a whole lot more attractive to readers (and thus advertisers).

I haven’t done a study and intensive Google searching suggests no one else has either. So I’m not speaking as an analyst, just as a consumer. But something interesting I’ve noticed about myself: when I see something has more views, I’m more compelled to click. I want to be in on the joke, or to know what people are talking about. It’s the same as a blockbuster movie I might not have had interest in seeing. But suddenly it has a chance of setting some sort of revenue record? Well, damn! I want in on that too!

I’ve also noticed that when a publisher announces over social media that some of their content has gone viral, urging me to click on their link (not sure what the scientific measure for viral-ness is, but I tend to take their word for it), I’m all the more likely to click, with the thinking again being that I want to get in on whatever it is that’s blowing up the web. BuzzFeed does this a lot. Here’s what that looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 7.24.06 PM

So, hit counters. I’m wondering if the strategy here is to attract readers to click on or share a page by showing them that however many other people have as well. (Gawker’s properties and Business Insider show each piece of content’s views on the home page, but you can’t see BuzzFeed’s until you click on the given article, so maybe not.)

I reached out to BuzzFeed, Business Insider and Gawker to ask about why they are using these new generation hit counters. Only Business Insider CEO and editor Henry Blodget responded. He didn’t have a ton to say, except that readers seem to enjoy the numbers and they help make the site look “more lively and fun.” He also added:

They’re also helpful to our writers and editors, who use metrics like these to make sure they’re producing work that our readers like.

(Of course, analytics software does that with much more depth, but requires a little more time to delve into the numbers, and is more useful for understanding how and why people are clicking. So I can buy that it’s beneficial to the publisher to see right there on the site what’s getting read the most in realtime.)

No philosophizing or psychologizing from Blodget about the value of letting the audience know about an article’s popularity to influence them to click on it as well. Maybe it never crossed their mind. And I haven’t done the social science or surveying or anything like that to show that there even is such an effect.

But speaking simply as a reader and a consumer, I can say the new generation of the hit counter does have that effect on me. If I see something’s got the Internet’s attention then I want it to capture mine as well.


Written by Adam T. Vaccaro

January 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Commentary

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Why Are Social Media Accounts Used Only for Editorial Purposes?

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Here’s a question for the media-types.

Why do news organizations only treat their social media accounts for editorial purposes?

Social is the buzzword in advertising, and most every news organization has itself at least a Twitter and a Facebook page, with a decent number of followers.

Why shouldn’t advertisers pay to have links to their websites or products or what have you blasted via those accounts? Newspapers, magazines have always been editorial and ads. If a Facebook feed and a Twitter stream are going to be considered a vessel for news organizations to spread their content, why can’t they equally be seen as an advertising source?

Without having done any kind of study, but I bet advertising services as disbursed via social media would be a hell of a lot more effective than simple banner or display ads. Or popup ads. It is shocking to me that some sites are still employing popups. Seriously. If I see a product advertised via popup, there’s a decent chance I’ll go out of my way to not buy it.

Two things. First, you would not put your editorial staff in charge of these advertising blasts. You would most indeed want to keep that line between editorial and advertising steadfast, for the same reason you don’t want your editorial staff writing ads — it comes as a threat of credibility, etc. So you’d need to make sure your advertising staff has access to post those ads. And there would likely need to be some agreed to quota between advertiser and organization as to the amount of times an ad can run per day, as well as an internal agreement at the organization about the ratio of ads posted to news content. The editorial content should probably be posted at a much higher ratio, so as to not irritate readers and risk the dreaded unfollow.

Second, also in keeping with the traditions of news organizations, I imagine you’d need to make it clear that a social ad is indeed an ad. I don’t know if that’s as simple as writing AD: (You’re only losing 4 of your 140 Twitter characters that way if you include the space bar) ahead of the Tweet, but I feel like this could be easily worked around.

It just strikes me as obvious. News sites are being accessed via social media. Readers ignore display ads. Advertising is the lifeblood of the industry. And editorial and advertising have always shared the page and the airwaves. Why can’t they share a newsfeed? Who says a news organization’s social networking account should be purely editorial?

I’ve never run a business and have never attempted to sell an ad, so I may be missing something. If so, please tell me why this wouldn’t work. Or are there places it’s already being done? I haven’t seen it, and I have a hard time understanding why not.

Written by Adam T. Vaccaro

October 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Commentary

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