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Of web hits and Britney Spears
gauging success in online publishing (and education!)

By Lisa Neal / January 2008

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Hits, Web analytics—some days it seems they're all I hear about. To the best of my knowledge, my position at eLearn Magazine is not dependent on how many people read my articles, or open the Web pages (which is really what analytics track). Other publications, however, are starting to measure the value of individual writers based on hits.

Gawker, "the notorious Manhattan media and gossip blog," recently lost many key writers when it implemented a "new compensation system that pays writers according to how many times people view their blog posts rather than only by how many posts they write."

I was particularly struck by Gawker's move because I had just read a John Dvorak column in PC Magazine that suggested the best way to get hits is to write about Britney Spears. I was amused at first but then thought more about the appeal of celebrities. I certainly find that my attention is caught by celebrity journalism (especially in a doctor's waiting room). For example, I just read how Joe Namath recently received his bachelor's degree from the University of Alabama "42 years after he left school to become a professional football player." He completed his degree in five years through Alabama's External Degree program. At a press conference called to spotlight his accomplishment, Namath said, "Without a degree I had a hole in my being." How refreshing to hear a statement like this about the value of education!

To the best of my knowledge, Britney Spears is not involved in any degree-granting programs, online or otherwise (although I understand she recently took a court-ordered parenting class.) However, the mention of her name in my column may dramatically increase hits, especially if I can think of a way to include Jamie Lynn Spears, too. My mention of Joe Namath may help as well, but not as much as the Spears sisters.

At eLearn Magazine, we are concerned about quality in both the ideas and the writing of the material we publish. Measuring hits is useful because of what it indicates about readers' interests, but other measures may be more meaningful—especially direct reader feedback, because that is usually the clearest sign that one of our articles has made a difference in readers' lives. In fact, the same is true when trying to measure student engagement as regards online or traditional courses. Raw data is no match for readers' (or students') comments.

That said, when Britney Spears enrolls in an online program, you'll read about it here first.


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    Lisa Neal
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