Politics and the Internet

Jan 10th, 2012

As we approach another presidential election, it is interesting to look back on how the internet has evolved through the last fifteen years of politics. An early moment in the modern technical era of politics was the creation of a GOP Internet forum in 1997 at freerepublic.com. In 1998, the website moveon.org was created for progressives as a political community formed in response to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Over the years, the internet has been used in many different ways to help and hinder political campaigns. Today, there are thousands of websites that relate to politics.

One popular use of the internet by politicians has been online fundraising. In 2000, Sen. John McCain managed to raise more than $500,000 over the internet in less than 24 hours after he won the New Hampshire primary. This was a significant amount of money at that time, and was a significant moment for online fundraising. In 2007, Ron Paul raised $4.3 million in 24 hours on November 5 largely through online donations, then again on December 16 his campaign brought in $6 million in 24 hours.

Also in 2000, the use of online ads became quite popular. In that campaign year, Republicans ran more than 20 unique banners on 35 websites, while the Democrats ran a single banner ad on Yahoo. The use of online ads evolved over the years and culminated in Democrat Scott Murphy's successful 2009 congressional district election which was supported by the new Google Blast Advertising Campaign, which blanketed sites running Google AdSense with Murphy ads targeted to people in his district.

In 2002, blog sites were not as common as they are today. Markos Moulitsas burst onto the scene with his blog site dailykos.com, and two years later he was among the first bloggers given press credentials to cover the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Over the years, well written blogs have garnered the attention of potential voters, so blog sites have become instrumental in all campaigns.

In addition to blog sites, social media has become a widespread online campaign method. Just like selling products, selling a candidate via social networking has become an art form. In 2006, Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston was one of the first to utilize social media by posting a video of what his campaign called Mailtube on YouTube, an attempt to reach out to constituents through the use of online video.

In 2007, President Barack Obama took social networking to a new level with my.barackobama.com, which helped organize volunteers and supporters online. Facebook and Twitter also gave rise to an enormous amount of political activity in 2008. Facebook Connect was also launched which was a set of APIs from Facebook that enabled Facebook members to log onto third-party websites. This led to the integration of political websites and social networking websites, allowing a campaign to send out messages to the online community including Facebook and Twitter.

With elections fast approaching, how can you take advantage of your website hosting account to participate in the coming elections? If you have a blog that garners enough visitors, you could be selling political campaign ads, or even get yourself media credentials for campaign events. In the end, the freedom to voice your opinion via your website is powerful, so don't keep quite...speak up now!


Web Stats - What Does It Mean?

Jan 03rd, 2012

Now that you have a website up, you want to know how popular your website really is! You can enable stats in the Account Manager for all of your website hosting accounts, then visit your custom stats page to see what is going on when people head to your website.

We use Webalizer stats tracker to output the details of your website activity, and the stats page is generally updated every morning for the previous day. When you visit your stats page, you will see an overview of each months statistics. If you click an individual month, you will get more detailed information about that specific month.

Within the monthly view, there are many stats recorded and displayed, some of which may be confusing. Here, we will break down the individual stats displayed so you can better understand what they mean.

The first stat is HITS which is any request made to the server that is logged. These requests can be for anything, including html pages, graphics images, audio files, CGI scripts, etc. Each valid line in the server log is counted as a hit. This number represents the total number of requests that were made to the server during the specified report period.

The second stat listed is the FILES stat. Some requests made to the server require that the server then send something back to the requesting client, such as an html page or graphic image. When this happens, it is considered a 'file' and the files total is incremented. The relationship between 'hits' and 'files' can be thought of as 'incoming requests' and 'outgoing responses'.

The next stat listed is the PAGES stat. Generally, any html or php document, or anything that generates an html document, would be considered a page. This does not include the other items that go into a document, such as graphic images, audio clips, etc. This number represents the number of 'pages' requested only, and does not include the other features that are in the page. This stat is sometimes referred to as 'Pageviews' in other stats reporters.

Each request made to the server comes from a unique SITE, which can be referenced by a name or IP address. The 'sites' number shows how many unique IP addresses made requests to the server during the reporting time period. This does not mean the number of unique individual users (real people) that visited, which is impossible to determine using just logs.

Whenever a request is made to the server from a gien IP address, or website, the amount of time since a previous request by the address is calculated. If the time difference is greater than a pre-configured 'visit timeout' value, or has never made a request before, it is considered a 'new visit' and the VISITS stat total is incremented both for the site, and the IP address.

The KBytes, or kilobytes, value shows the amount of data, in KB, that was sent out by the server during the specified reporting period. This value is generated directly from the log file and is a fairly accurate representation of the amount of outgoing traffic the server had.

The Top Entry and Exit tables give a rough estimate of what URL's are used to enter your site, and what the last pages viewed are. Because of some limitations, this number should be considered a rough estimate, and will give a good indication of the overall trend in where users come into, and exit, your website.

The REFERRERS stat is much harder to analyze than a typical URL. What is contained in the referrer field of your log files varies depending on many factors, such as what site did the referral, what type of system it comes from, and how the actual referral was generated. This is a reflection of how a user got to your website, which may have been from a bookmark in their browser, they may simply type your websites URL into their browser, they could have clicked on a link on some remote web page, or they may have found your website from one of the many search engines and site indexes found on the web.

The SEARCH STRING stat is a good indication of what users were searching for when they found your website. The Webalizer will do a minimal analysis on referrer strings that it finds, looking for well known search string patterns.

Being able to read and understand the stats reported about your website will help you to know what is working, and what needs help.