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Tech Talk

Learn not to be scared

6/4/2014

There are two layers to the Internet as we know and love it: the observer side where you visit websites and interact with others digitally, and the observing side, where tracking code and browser cookies allows content providers to analyze your online behavior.

As nerdy as it sounds, for every piece of data and content online there is easily 10 times as much data about that data generated during development and audience interaction. Data about data — generally referred to as metadata — is primarily gathered through statistical analysis and is used to describe and understand how digital information is used, discarded and absorbed. Lost yet?

Look at this way: Any website has the ability to track who is coming to its website, where geographically a visitor is, what device is being used, the time of day, how they got to the website, and that’s only scratching the surface. Not only can any website gather this data, nearly all of them do. And it’s not just the big boys like Google or Yahoo, but also your friend down the street who runs a quilting blog.

This information is readily available thanks to services such as Google Analytics, Crazy Egg and Compete, which implant intelligent tracking code on websites for content providers to help understand their user base. While these tracking details may sound creepy, they’re incredibly important. Let’s say on a whim you upload a video you made putting on zombie makeup for Halloween, and surprisingly it’s a hit online. To recreate that success, you might immediately film a new video about vampire makeup, only to find it doesn’t attract an audience. Had you dipped into YouTube’s free analytics service, you might have learned all the zombie video traffic was coming from a Walking Dead fan site, and you misunderstood what your audience was looking for.

If there is a lesson to be learned here it’s not to be scared that you’re being watched, because there’s practically nothing you can do about. My advice is join the fun and start analyzing your audience. Who knows, your personal blog might be ripe to become the next Huffington Post. CV

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Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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