Dane. Designer.

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Lessons from the Chewbacca Incident

An analysis of the referrers and visitors from last weeks Chewbacca craze, set in beautiful interactive SVG graphs and wonderful CSS3 columns.

Chewie dropped it like it was hot the saturday before last and traffic spiked at one hundred times normal late last week, for a total of over 50.000 unique visits. Aside from worrying amounts of stat masturbation, I also took the opportunity to glean some insights into the referrers and visitors interested in everyone’s favorite furry.

Above is a look at how the traffic evolved in the week following publication. And what’s noteworthy here is that some sites taper off immediately, The Daily What for instance, as the news item is quickly pushed off their frontpage, while others, like Kottke, have a fairly long lifetime. In fact, Kottke is one of the few sites that carried more traffic on the second day than on the first. One of the others is Reddit, which never exploded, but instead has an exceptionally long lifetime.

More interesting is the fact that because ambient traffic levels are usually quite low – or, atrophied; tomato, tomato – a surge for a single post tells us a lot about the nature of the visitors and their referrers. Especially when it’s a post which can either be read as a whole for the narrative or skimmed for the punchline.

Here the top 30 referrers (by volume), with the average time spent on site on the left of each site in a dark shade of that site’s color and the average number of pages visited on the right, in a lighter shade1.

As one might expect, Reddit users go straight for the punchline and bail immediately. One might assume the the same behavior from Facebook users, but no, among the visitors that hang around, they rank third!

Likewise I would have expected MetaFilter readers to hang around and Boing Boing users to quickly move along; but in fact, the opposite is the case. So much for preconceptions. Another surprise, and a welcome one, is that the venerable John Gruber of Daring Fireball’s readership, the largest of them all, is considerably more patient than that of io9, a dedicated science fiction site.

Then there’re some of the more obvious ones, like Instapaper readers spending an understandably short amount of time on the site, though they explore above average (hopefully adding my sage words to their reading queues), and The Daily What, the readers of which are just looking for the daily punchline (TLDR!).


I exported the top 25 referrers per day since the 17th from Google Analytics, imported the CSV into Numbers where I culled the unneeded data and indexed the visitor values against the busiest day (the 27th). In cases where a site had a mobile version, I collapsed all versions into one. Then I converted the CSV to JSON and wrote a whole heap of garbage code to squeeze it into something I could use. Should you want, the data is free to use.

The graphs are SVG, built using Protovis, a wonderful SVG library from Stanford.

‘Google Reader’ is actually representative for all Google traffic, but the vast majority, somewhere between 90 and 95 percent, is from Google Reader.

  1. A word of caution: While these stats appear here as in Google Analytics, there are likely a whole host of factors that can influence just how much they can actually be trusted, as can be seen my some of the freak stats, like Hacker News (the readers of which are exceptionally attentive!) or meneame.net (click everything in sight and get out quickly!). ↩