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We’ve Been Stumbled Upon By Stumbleupon.com

Like many bloggers, we like to look at the visitor statistics for our blog. In our case, that’s a combination of the stats which WordPress.com provides, and the wonderful free statistics we get from Statcounter.com.

Since we started RoutingByRumor late last year, we’ve become accustomed to the ebb and flow of traffic to our blog. Weekly traffic patterns are very predictable. Generally speaking, Saturday is the slowest day of the week, followed by Sunday, which is generally only marginally busier. Midweek tends to see the most traffic, and we’ve seen a pronounced drop in traffic during the summer months, particularly in August. It’s so predictable, that we can usually forecast to within a percent or two, what the traffic on any particular day will be. It sort of reminds us of how precisely electric utilities can predict electricity demand, based on day of the week, time of year, outside temperature, wind speed, cloud cover, etc.

We’ve read much into these patterns. We believe that most web surfing, or at least most blog reading, is probably done while at work. Sometimes you can prove this based on the DNS information associated with visitors IP addresses, such as RealBigCorporation.com (a hypothetical example). We see very predictable traffic patterns to each posting on our blog. Certain articles are perennial favorites, while other posts hardly ever muster any readers (a terrible shame, since we can attest to the fact that every single one of our posts are of excellent quality and worthy of your consideration). We never know ahead of time which of our articles will attract lots of traffic, and which ones will live their life in solitary confinement. Perhaps THIS article about Stumbleupon will be a big hit. Then again, maybe not. It’s difficult to predict. Sometimes, events in the news cause a particular article on our blog to explode in popularity for a few days.

If we’ve learned one thing, it’s that the popularity can be very fleeting. Another is that anything you post related to a scandal, public figures in the news, or some dirt being dished about someone, seems to attract many more visitors than any article you can post with any redeeming value. Sadly, the latest piece of trash about Brittany Spears will attract much more traffic than an announcement that you’ve found a cure for cancer, a solution to global warming and the key to world peace. It doesn’t say much about how discerning the average web surfer is, and it’s also probably why supermarket tabloids sell so well. Up until this past weekend, when Stumbleupon opened the floodgates of hell, the most traffic we ever saw at RoutingByRumor was in the days following our posting of this article. What a sad commentary on the human race.

While visitor statistics usually don’t tell us which search engine a visitor used to find us, it’s probably a good bet that it’s usually Google, the 10,000 pound gorilla of search engines. Thanks, Sergey! WordPress alerts Google and other search engines when new content os posted to a blog. It’s kind of scary how fast Google usually indexes our latest posting. Things usually appear to a limited extent in Google results immediately, with a fuller indexing within 24 to 48 hours.

Unless something pops up in the news that is in some way related to one of our articles, there aren’t many surprises. We see some unexplained transient spikes in traffic to certain articles, but that’s generally all. So, we had to do a double take this past weekend, when traffic to a single article on our blog shot up around 10,000 % or about 100 times more than what we normally see. Our first impression was that it was some sort of problem with the stats. It wasn’t. Good thing that WordPress doesn’t charge us for bandwidth usage !!!

What happened ? We had been “stumbled upon” by stumbleupon.com, which we had never heard of. More specifically, a stumbleupon.com member named Bizspotter stumbled this post of ours.

Apparently, Stumbleupon is part search engine, part social networking site, and part viral marketing tool. Wikipedia describes Stumbleupon this way… “StumbleUpon chooses which Web page to display based on the user’s ratings of previous pages, ratings by his/her friends, and by the ratings of users with similar interests“. Sounds like an interesting concept. Similar to how a site like Amazon suggests to you that people who bought this item also bought these other items, or iTunes telling you that people who bought this album also liked these other albums.

The fact of the matter is that it looks to us like Stumbleupon is the crack cocaine of traffic generators. Why do we say this ? Because despite the incredible amount of traffic it sent to our blog in a matter of hours (it was pretty much all over by the next day), it appears that none of those visitors were the least bit interested in reading the article they landed on, or anything else we’ve blogged about. We saw absolutely no increase in click-thrus. That is, once they landed at our site, unlike many visitors who find us via a search engine, these Stumbleupon visitors didn’t stick around, and they didn’t click on any links in the article. Unlike many of the “normal” visitors to RoutingByRumor, they also didn’t read any of our other articles.

So, it appears to us that Stumbleupon serves up relevant traffic much the way that McDonald’s or Burger King serve up health food. A search engine like Google is very good at finding content on the Web that is of interest to someone doing a search. It appears that Stumbleupon does a very poor job of finding content that will interest a particular web surfer. Of course, the Stumbleupon paradigm is new to us. Perhaps there are others with more experience with products like Stumbleupon, who have a different opinion as to it’s value. Based on what we’ve seen, if we were paying for traffic to be referred to our blog, we wouldn’t pay a cent for the “junk” traffic Stumbleupon is sending our way. The sheer number of hits that stumbling a URL can generate are very impressive, but a closer look at the quality of that traffic is utterly disappointing indeed.

It makes you wonder why eBay thought that Stumbleupon was worth the $75 million they paid for it. Probably because anything on the Web these days with a social networking slant (facebook, myspace, youtube, linkedin, etc., etc., ad nauseum) is hot.  But then, eBay thought Skype was worth shelling out at least $2.6 billion for (mere pocket change). Hey, people once ridiculed William Henry Seward for spending two cents per acre for a piece of land called Alaska ! We guess that when you have as much money as eBay, dropping a billion here and a billion there isn’t a big deal.  Besides, have you noticed that most big business deals aren’t measured in terms of millions of dollars anymore, but rather in the billions of dollars.  I don’t think it’s inflation so much as it is proof that wealth is being concentrated more and more in a smaller and smaller percentage of society, certainly in the United States, and no doubt elsewhere.  It’s also a result of the shift in our economy, away from dominance by companies like IBM, AT&T and General Motors, to the new billionaires… The Microsofts, Googles, eBays and WordPresses of the world.  (Oops… how did WordPress slip in there ?)  If it doesn’t end in “.com”, it doesn’t really matter anymore.  But I digress.

Of course, we’re probably just a wee bit out of touch with the masses when it comes to appreciating some of the finer websites the Web has to offer. For instance, we can’t quite understand why anyone with even the slightest semblance of a life would find myspace.com the least bit interesting, but at least a few myspace users would probably disagree with us. Myspace claims to have blown by the 100 million user mark more than two years ago, and we’ve seen reports that more than 250,000 new myspace accounts are created daily. Gee whiz… it’s almost as popular as RoutingByRumor !

On the one hand, we were underwhelmed by Stumbleupon. On the other hand, we know when we’re outnumbered (IYCBEJE**). So, if you liked this article, Stumble It!

– Routing By Rumor

(** IYCBEJE – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em)

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Filed under Apple, Blogging, Google, iPod, Personal, Routing by Rumor, Wordpress

The Walmartization of America

Wal-mart

<walmart-bashing-mode>

What better way to start my blog than by bashing Wal-mart? After all, they are the retail behemoth that people love to hate. I guess it must be jealousy.

I was never in a Sams Club or Wal-mart store until last year, when a Walmart sprung up about 15 minutes from my home. With their reputation for low wages, poor or non-existent employee benefits and brutal business practices, I wasn’t too eager to become a Wal-mart customer. In fact, the rumor around here is that “Sam’s Club” actually refers to the big stick that Sam Walton would use to beat up his suppliers and the competition. They don’t call us Routing by Rumor for nothing. I did want to check them out, however, to see if their prices were really that good. I consider myself a very savvy shopper. OK, I’ll admit it… I’ve now shopped there several times since they opened.

My first impression was that Wal-mart is K-Mart on steroids. (I hate K-Mart, and won’t shop there.) Wal-mart is very similar to Target stores also. Lots of low-end merchandise. Cheap shoes. Cheap clothes. Not cheap as in inexpensive; cheap as in, well, cheap. I think Target tries to position itself as selling somewhat more upscale clothing. I’ll call it “cheap chic”. And don’t forget that K-Mart has (or had) Martha Stewart. I guess we’re talking higher quality made-in-China merchandise.

Wal-mart does sell many staple items at rock-bottom prices, but many other popular items are priced no lower than other retailers. You can do better on many, perhaps most items at most other chains or supermarkets, especially when an item is on sale, and particularly on grocery items. I felt that some of Wal-mart’s private-label food items I tried were of inferior quality, and not a very good value. Kind of ironic, since one of their private-label grocery brands is called “Great Value”.

Prices seem to jump around a lot at Walmart. Their price “roll backs” come and go, and I’ve seen some items, especially on the last few visits, jump 20%, 25%, or more. I think the bottom line is that you save on one item, but give back what you just saved when you pick up the next item and place it in your basket.

Being the geek that I am, I gravitate to the electronics department of any store I find myself in. I found a few bargains there, but in general, you can do much, much better buying stuff online, a la Amazon or ebay. On some really hot items, like Apple iPods, Wal-mart prices are pretty close to MSRP. I’ve found some small local or regional electronics chains that beat Wal-mart’s prices on electronics by 10% or more.

One thing I’ll concede about Wal-mart, though, is that returns are never a hassle. They seem to be much more consumer-friendly with returns than many large retailers are these days. One other thing that you’ll only find at Wal-mart is that they sell the local newspaper for half-price. I’ve never seen anyone discounting a newspaper at the newsstand, much less selling it for half-price. Obviously, it’s a gimmic, but it is a nice little surprise.

They have gotten a lot of good press lately because of their very low prices for generic prescription drugs. They also have excellent prices on their house-branded OTC drugs. I guess these cheap drugs make up in some small way for the otherwise poor health benefits they offer their employees. Then again, if you can’t afford to see a doctor, you can’t get a prescription for the cheap medicine. Another Wal-mart paradox, I suppose.

What surprises me most about Walmart is how many items are out of stock on each shopping trip. I don’t think it’s so much a case of them having a run on many items, as it is a logistical or management problem. I suppose the really talented, experienced retail people don’t apply for jobs at Walmart. That’s not to say that they don’t have good people working there. They do, and I empathize with anybody that works hard and does not get a decent salary and benefits. Is America better off with the Walmarts, Home Depots and other giants that have decimated virtually all of their retail competition? I think not.

</walmart-bashing-mode>

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Filed under Consumerism, Money, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Walmart