Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Ok, I mostly just wanted to use that for a blog entry title, but it is an important issue. A lot of people rely on stats for their web sites (see the posts over at Karl Nelson’s site), but more often than not, the stats are a far cry from even the best guess. Tim Bray has an interesting post about RSS stats entitled AdSense For Feeds, Say What?. Interestingly enough I found the same issue when researching [a very popular RSS feed service]. It claims it tracks the number of subscribers to your RSS feed. Well, sort of, but more like unique IPs. This, of course, is really not the same as unique users, even if they call it unique users. As Tim points out, no one really knows and most can’t even find the ballpark figure. The root of the problem is how the data is being captured unless users actually have to “register” (as is the case with Bloglines), there is no real way of telling how many subscribers you have. So, when it comes to web statistics, be very skeptical.