11 October 2002
No accounting for taste
Zeldman on TrackBack and similar blog innovations:
[R]eflective links serve as this year's version of the Hit Counter, which, by declaring somewhat accurately how many people have visited a site, implies merit or at least popularity.
In 1996, Jeffrey Veen sagely observed that such counters add no value to user experience and only betray the producer's vanity. Hit Counters tell approximately how many people have seen a page, but not who, or what they thought about it, or how long they stayed, or how much (if any) of it they read. Hit Counters are also at best semi-accurate. (A Hit Counter may record 500,000 AOL users as a single visitor.) Even their name is a bust. Hit Counters record page views, not hits. For these and other reasons, almost no modern site includes a Hit Counter.
The Daily Report sports a Hit Counter mainly to annoy Mr Veen. It's been restarted three times since 1995 and is about as accurate as anything else on the web.
Reflective links can add value but may also discourage the very practice they record. If your site is shown to have sent two or three visitors to someone else's site, your vanity might prompt you not to link to that site again. After all, who wants to suggest that no more than two or three people are reading their site? For a personal site, the implication is embarrassing; for a commercial site, it could have financial repercussions.
There were days early on (say, most of 1996) when I thought having two or three people reading my site would be Cloud Nine, or at least Cloud 7.62. And present-day tracking services are quite a bit more detailed, and possibly even more accurate, than the old-style Hit Counters.
And I'm happy to send people elsewhere; after all, I couldn't do that unless they got here first. I'm far more interested in giving my readers something worthwhile to look at, whether it's on-site or off, and I suspect the vast majority of bloggers feel pretty much the same way. Traffic hasn't grown much in the past six months approximately 2,000 visitors per week, heaviest on Mondays but I'd like to think I've made some progress from the bottom of the blogosphere, and I'm reasonably certain I've made some friends along the way. If I'm at all embarrassed, it's because of something I've written, not because of something I've linked.