As you can see on the bottom of any page on this site, Strongrootsconsulting.ca is “Proudly Powered by WordPress“, an open-source blogging platform that in recent years has expanded to include Content Management System (CMS) features for websites like this one. I’ve used WordPress in the past for both professional and personal projects and have found it to be a versatile tool: friendly enough for beginners to get up and running quickly, while preserving the ability for more experienced hands to dive into code and tweak to heart’s content. If you need a quick website set up for an organization or new project, WordPress.com provides you with a free site in the form of http://yourproject.wordpress.com , with the option to set up your own domain name (www.yourproject.com) later on.
Anyway, what got me started on this post was a summary of my “2012 year in blogging“, prepared automatically by a WordPress service called JetPack. Pulling together site visit statistics into a visually-appealing page, I’ve learned interesting tidbits like the number of visitors to my site last year could fill four Boeing 787 aircraft, and that while most of my visitors were from Canada and the US, I also saw interest from Russia, Germany, India, and Argentina (those international visits likely coming from EvalCentral showcasing my posts). Although the system is not perfect – for example, it includes static pages such as the homepage on its list of popular blog posts – it does provide a good overview of last year’s stats.
This little exercise raises two interesting points about evaluation for me. First, presentation is important in getting your findings across. The site stats could have been shown in a table, but it wouldn’t have had the same impact. Likewise, the use of metaphors such as the airplane example helped me digest the raw numbers: while 920 visitors can be somewhat abstract, it’s easier to picture four planes worth of people.
Second, we often view data collection and statistics as a means to an end or information to use for a specific purpose. However, we shouldn’t discount the regular tracking and meaning-making of data even when there isn’t an explicit reason for doing so, allowing for discovery of insights and potential new directions. For example, before receiving this report I hadn’t thought much about setting goals for my website, but now I’m thinking about its purpose and where to take it in 2013. As a bonus, I now have some archival data to serve as a baseline for any future self-evaluation.
Don’t get me wrong: data collection in service of specific goals and objectives is very useful, and spending too much time on tracking random useless stats can definitely be counterproductive! That being said, sometimes it’s a good idea to take a step back, just to make sure you weren’t missing a whole forest of trends and opportunities while looking for that one tree.