Thing 21: Links and tracking


In 23 Things for Research we have tried out many tools that allow you to create and publish content online. But how do you know whether anyone is reading (or listening or watching)?

All online activity generates data. In this Thing, we explore the ways that online tools use and display this data.

Your data, week by week

Most of the online tools that we have tried in this course allow you to measure the impact of your contributions.

The most common metric is “views” – meaning the number of times someone else has arrived at your page / tweet / video. Of course, if someone visits your page twice they will register as several views, so many sites also try to record a count of “viewers” / “visitors”: how many distinct individuals have arrived at your page.

This data can be a useful starting point, but it’s not perfect. The fact that someone has visited your page doesn’t automatically mean that they have read it – they may have clicked away without reading or watching anything. What if someone accesses the page from their computer and then their mobile phone? They may be recorded as two different visitors unless the site requires you to log in.

With those caveats in mind, we’re going to explore the ways you can access this data for your own content.

Your blog data

In Thing 3 we created blogs. As the owner of a blog, you can see a timeline of how many people have visited it.

If you’re using WordPress, look for the link Stats or Site Stats (they’re usually in the top menu and also through the dashboard).

If you’re on Blogger, go to the dashboard and look for the Stats link.

Tumblr does not give you visitor data by default, but you can enable this with 3rd-party additions like this one:

Your Twitter data

If you are logged in on the Twitter website you can access data about your account by clicking on your profile picture and selecting “analytics” from the menu that appears.

Taken 2015-09-25 at 11.01.23 am

Your professional social network data

Thing 8’s two professional social networks both provide specific data about who has interacted with your page.

On LinkedIn, go to the top menu: Profile > Who’s Viewed Your Profile? This will tell you who has accessed your profile (in truncated form; you have to pay for the full list!).

On, follow the Analytics link in the top menu for lots of data. This is more comprehensive than just visits: you can also see how people found your page (via link? a web search?) and the geographic distribution of your visitors.

Your video data

In Thing 12 we talked about YouTube and Vimeo accounts.

YouTube displays the number of views publicly, so you can see this for any video (not only your own). You can get much more data about your own uploaded videos: click on the “Analytics” button under your video.


Vimeo’s view data can be accessed by following the Stats link under your own videos.

Your Google Docs data

Google Docs are designed to be transparent about all changes and edits. In the top menu of a Google Docs file go to the top menu and select File > See Revision History. This will show you all the changes that have been made, who made those changes, and when they made them.  You can also see old versions, compare versions, or revert to an earlier draft.

Compilations and link tracking

Some tools combine the data from several sources to give you a larger picture of your content and activity. SumAll, for example, gives you a report based on your Twitter, Facebook, and other accounts.

Link shorteners like,, and “shrink” links down to a short and manageable form by creating a small intermediate link. When someone clicks on a shortened link, they are directed to the shortener’s website, and then immediately sent on to the final destination. Because the link goes through the shortener website, data is tracked about how many people have clicked on the link. See the Explore Further section for a how-to guide.

What are you sharing?

So far we have looked at how you can track other people’s visits to your pages, videos, links, etc. What about the reverse? What are you sharing when you browse online?

Because of the nature of the infrastructure behind the Internet, any site you visit can theoretically record the following information:

  • your approximate geographic location (certainly country, usually city)
  • Internet provider
  • the screen size, operating system, and browser of the device you use to access the site
  • how you found the site (which site led you there or what search terms you used to find the site)
  • how you move around the site (which links you follow, which documents you download, how long you stay on a page)

This data is not usually enough to uniquely identify you, so most sites collect it in aggregate form. If you log into a site, however, it is possible to uniquely identify users.

try-this-iconTry this

For this Thing, we’d like you to explore both the data your online creations have gathered.

Look up the stats for your blog. Start a blog post analysing that data. What has been the most popular post, and why do you think it was the most popular? When were your blog’s peak readership times? What may have triggered that activity? (Was it cross-posted from your Twitter account, for example?)

If you cannot access your blog stats (for example, you’re using Tumblr), look up one of the other tools mentioned above instead.


explore-further-iconExplore further

“by receiving regular, actionable feedback on their academic performance, students were able to alter their behaviors in a way that resulted in stronger course performance, leading to enhanced academic performance over time.”
Ethics, Big Data, and analytics: A model for application

“These days, the best URL shorteners come with a full suite of analytics tools so that you can not only redirect users via a more memorable address, but also track where your traffic is coming from and what they’re doing once they get there.”
URL shorteners and analytics: Which ones deliver results?


We didn’t adapt any other courses for this Thing.

Header image: Dawn Ellner / Flickr / CC by 2.0
Icons: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon / GNU Lesser General Public License

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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