Believe it or not, one of the interesting aspects of my work is the analysis of server logs. With a career in advertising, it’s great to observe such a degree of measurement . One of my favorite clients, Andy Brooks with Town and Country Realty made the statement recently, “Why play ball if you’re not keeping score?”

We keep plenty of logs at GoTriCities. Logs that record most every action on the server as it relates to the web pages we serve up for online newspapers or our commercial web client portfolio. There’s lots of data here too. The Times-News Online serves more than 14,000 unique visitors each day and over 150,000 per month for this one website. Tracking all of that activity has brought forth some interesting observations.

Times Stats

These observations can be described as data begetting data, because without the collection of the information, this observation is nothing more than a casual geek conversation over a high priced latte somewhere. Nevertheless, this information points out something unique about how people around the world may perceive the Tri-Cities and it could be one of the most important and revealing characteristics we need to get a handle on because the image isn’t all that great.

Google’s Analytic Reports are must-have component for anyone running a website and although we keep individual logs locally, the Google service has a spectacular interface that tells a much more interesting story. Looking at a graph of Times-News traffic over the past few months, there are a few interesting notes about our most active stories we published online.

Originally, we thought we were having problems with our ISP or a major attack was going on because our servers all of sudden came to a crawl several times over the summer. However, we when looked at the logs to see what was happening, we were surprised to find out, an editorial from Times-News Online earned the “Dumbass of the Day Award” from Fark.com.

I’ve never heard of Fark.com. They appear to be a satirical news aggregator who build audience by gathering humorous and relevant information from newspapers across the net. After reviewing their home page, there was the Times-News logo and they had selected one of our Letters to The Editor as the “Dumbass of the Day Award.” This website has national attention and this award, although dubious ushered a lot of “new visitors” to our community website.

We set a new record for online visitors that day too. Over 18,000 people visited the website. That’s about a 30% increase for a Friday and although I was glad to have the traffic, it was unfortunate that so many people gleaned this perspective from our community.

Fortunately, the traffic from Fark subsides fairly quickly. I guess they celebrate a new “Dumbass” every day and there are plenty of them, so our web traffic eased up fairly quickly.

These instances have occurred a number of times though since the Fark mention. We began using Google in July of this past summer and below is are our daily stats with a nice wave pattern for weekdays vs weekend, but our focus here is on the peak days – the spikes in traffic.

Here are the top five stories and highest traffic days for Times-News Online according to Google.

Times Stats

August 1
Bristol Pastor Charged with Indecent Exposure
17,224 Unique Visitors

September 4th
Jehovah Witness Plane Crash

16,270 Unique Visitors

September 27th Scopes.com mention
Two Men Try To Drag ATM with Honda Accord
22,810 Unique Visitors

October 8th
Johnson City Sex Sting Snares 40 Men
16,177 Unique Visitors

The phrase “techno-tragedies” refers to instances like the Jehovah Witness Plane Crash on September 4th. Times-News Online broke this story and the Associated Press referred to our newspaper website the weekend of this tragedy. That day, a Google search showed our newspaper as the number two reference next to the CBS corporate news site.

The other stories fall in line with the Fark.com story. A minister in a sex scandal, a couple of dumb criminals and another sex scandal in Johnson City. Journalists sometimes refer to the news with the comment, “if it bleeds, it leads.” That’s true most of the time, but on the web, if it’s absurd it disturbs. Now that’s a good thing for traffic because we turn a lot of pages and attract plenty of eyeballs, it’s just unfortunate that the attention comes down such a critical and loathsome path.

Over the past several years, I’ve worked with the Chamber of Commerce and several economic development organizations with the intent of promoting the great life we have here in East Tennessee. I believe that from the bottom of my heart and often refer to our region as one of America’s “best kept secrets.”

It’s unfortunate that what people seem to notice most (according to these stats) are the absurd stories that come to the surface in our region. From fundamentalist zealots to sex offenders in the pulpit to the arrest of 40 in the “man cave” in Johnson City, our recent headlines are hardly attractive for new residents, but perhaps every city suffers from this type of attention.