The spirit of Gordon Gecko lives on in web analytics


BACK in the 1980s, when hair was big and house prices were low, the financial world was ruled by men wearing pinstriped suits, braces and garish ties.

Rows of slick-haired, sharp-eyed stockbrokers would stare up at giant illuminated screens showing blinking charts and scrolling numbers, shouting into primitive, oversized mobile phones, buying and selling to fuel their egos and boost their payslips.

The fashion might have moved on slightly, but our obsession with tracking progress through data remains as strong as ever. Every pair of eyes on our newspaper or website is another potential customer for the advertisers, who essentially pay our wages. So it’s in our interests to keep tabs on the ups and downs of daily traffic.

A few months ago I was introduced to a system called Omniture, an online web analytics tool operating within the Adobe Marketing Cloud. It allows us to keep track of exactly how many people access our website each day, which stories are receiving the most clicks, and what our readers are searching for. We can see which device you are using, how long you spend on each page and whether you are a regular customer.

Given the continued revelations about the surveillance activities of governments and corporations around the world, all this might sound a bit familiar. Here come the comments – The Herald is spying on us! They can see our every move! Nothing is private anymore!

We can assure you we are not the slightest bit interested in what you’re Googling, unless it’s the latest top notch local news. But such is the intricate detail available from Ominture, it can sometimes be difficult to tear ourselves away.

We are constantly tweeting links and posting stories to Facebook in a desperate attempt to send our favourite stories rocketing up the league table. Our reporters slave away on vitally important public interest stories – abuse victims tell their stories, crumbling car parks are shut down, criminals are brought to justice. But it would seem the people of Plymouth want just two things – sex and celebrity.

On October 30 we published a story entitled ‘Plymouth police hunt condom thief’. It was a three-paragraph police statement, turned around and published by our team of web-trained monkeys in about 30 seconds. Over the next three days it was easily our top story, gaining more than 7,500 hits. Likewise when Tom Daley announced he was dating a man, traffic went through the roof, breaking all previous records.

We clutched our smartphones, straightened our ties and gazed at the daily reports with a mixture of pride and resignation. “No matter how hard you work”, we sighed, “the markets have a mind of their own.” But still we keep watching the screens and searching for the hits.

So next time you’re enjoying a leisurely surf, give us an extra click. In the words of the ultimate 80s city slicker, Gordon Gecko, greed is good.

This piece was first published in the Plymouth Herald

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