June 15, 2008

Computer whizzes, help me figure something out.

I noticed I was getting huge traffic this morning — over 3000 visitors an hour — and it was nearly all coming from the Yahoo search for "mccain obama vogue photos" — those exact words, in that order. Right now, Site Meter is showing 68% of my recent traffic as coming from that one search! Here's a list of all the recent searches that brought more than one visitor to my blog:
2,721 mccain obama vogue photos 68.0%
1,099 Not referred from a search engine 27.5%
18 althouse 0.5%
4 ann althouse 0.1%
2 tim russert's last interview
(I know. Who the hell is Clint Wolbert? Please don't get distracted!)

This traffic was coming from many different locations, including foreign countries. Look at the Site Meter world map and you'll see these visitors appear to be coming from all over.

Here is Site Meter's chart showing what search engines people are supposedly coming from. 67.5% of current traffic comes from Yahoo. Since 28.2% of the traffic is not coming from search engines, it looks fishy. Does this merely demonstrate the sheer power of being #1 on a particular search? I only come up 6th in a Google search for those words.

Is something funny going on at Yahoo? Is this real traffic that I can feel good about or phony traffic?

ADDED: The question is whether I've stumbled upon evidence of some sort of scheme to create the appearance of traffic on various websites. I don't suspect that this has anything to do with my blog in particular.

PROBABLE SOLUTION: First, I'm sure I know why I had some visitors looking for Clint Wolbert. My blog comes up second in a search for his name (because he wrote in my comments a couple times), and he was quoted in a NYT article today, which would have set off a few searches:
Gay Couples Find Marriage Is a Mixed Bag

... To Clint Wolbert, 28, marriage is too “assimilative.” Being gay is like belonging to an “exclusive club,” Mr. Wolbert said. “I just worry that the drive to marry will end up kind of chipping away at the culture.”
Second, all that "mccain obama vogue photos" traffic most likely occurred because some high-traffic website included a link to that Yahoo search. People clicked on that link and then were motivated to click again to my post, which was the first link on that search. I haven't located that other post, but it must exist. I sometimes link to a search page to prove a point, such as the fact that there's a lot of talk about something. It seems so obvious now. Now, you've seen my little tendency to think bad people are up to no good.

IN THE COMMENT: Clint stops by and expands on the quote!

38 comments:

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

I wasn't suspecting that this was specific to me, but that someone had figured out a way to manipulate Yahoo and that I just happened to be in a position to notice the phenomenon.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trooper York said...

I don't know about this, but if you put Ann Althouse in MSN search some pictures come up and the second broad from the left is definitely not you! What’s up with that!

bearbee said...

Who the hell is Clint Wolbert? Please don't get distracted!)

Sorry its my nature. He posted under this thread

Kirby Olson said...

It's not clear to me how the site-meter works. Mine was getting about 200 hits a day for a while, and I was simple enough to be proud of that. But it was all based on one post I did about six months ago called "Aristotle as Neuroscience," because it was linked at some sort of neuroscience site. I actually don't even really know what neuroscience is, and actually don't even really care. But I suppose that this wasn't clear to the people who came.

No one should even be on the internet during the summer months, so dragging people who shouldn't be on the internet to your site -- well, you should feel doubly ashamed.

Not that I was.

dbp said...

Maybe the 27.5% not from a search engine are just regular readers. How do you normally do on a Sunday afternoon, numbers wise?

Methadras said...

This almost sounds or looks like a precursor to a DDOS attack. It may be aimed at blogger mostly, but it could be also be a spider going through all of bloggers stable. Ask around and see if other blogger sites are getting the same traffic.

Chip Ahoy said...

I do not have an immediate answer to this deep and penetrating existential question. Therefore, I suggest feeling good about the hits, as one might feel good about breast implants because such an analogy is sterling.

I can only add, thank you, for the site meter search statistics. Best entertainment reading I've had all week. Two whole pages of pure comedy gold, that.

rhhardin said...

It must be wizzes, after wizards.

Whiz is peeing.

Perhaps it could be settled by listening for a leading aspirated h (``hwiz'').

rhhardin said...

I recommend not using any traffic meters at all. It just encourages them.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Methadras said...

Theo Boehm said...

methadras--That's exactly what occurred to me, too. I'm afraid I didn't put it as clearly in my first comment.

I recall reading some time ago that one of the advantages of Blogger is that it is supposedly very well defended against these kinds of attacks, as opposed to other services or hosts.

Could this be changing? Are there new exploits out there?


Hard to say what is going on really. Since most exploits are usually a symptom of lazy administration or lack of total administration then it would be safe to say that in the case of blogger it may be a feeler out there looking for something. It would be interesting to see what the DNS server on blogger are and if they compare or on the same DNS servers as Google or at least on the same network. Also, I wonder where from Europe these so-called site meter hits are coming from? My guess would be from Eastern Europe, namely Romania and as far east as Russia, since most of the types of exploits, viruses, malware, spyware is coming from that region of the world.

bearbee said...

Doesn't mccain obama vogue photos seem an odd combo?

Daryl said...

The question is whether I've stumbled upon evidence of some sort of scheme to create the appearance of traffic on various websites.

I think what you are getting at, is that you suspect Vanity Fair is trying to make bloggers think it is relevant by driving fake traffic to their sites.

This will encourage more blogging about VF, and especially about new things going on at VF (like every time they release a new photo shoot).

Interesting theory.

The other possibility is that a major web site has a link directly to that Yahoo! search. If CNN.com had a link on its front page to that Yahoo! search, then thousands of people would be clicking on it, a good portion of them would be clicking on search result #1, you. (At least, you were. Now you are #2.)

That's the only other explanation I can come up with off the top of my head.

It's suspicious that there is exactly one search from Yahoo! driving traffic your way. Nobody* wrote "vogue photos mccain obama"? Nobody* wrote "obama mccain vogue photos"?

I don't think it's a DDOS attack, because 3k hits/hr isn't enough to take Blogger down, and it would be too easy for Blogger to block all traffic from that one referrer, if the entire DDOS attack was based on that one referrer.

* Nobody, in this context, means zero or just 1 person

AJ Lynch said...

FYI - I could not access your blog this morning from 10AM EDT til almost noon I believe. So I thought blogger was down.

Ann Althouse said...

bearbee said..."Doesn't mccain obama vogue photos seem an odd combo?"

It has to do with photos of the wives (and probably to the Robin Givhan column that discussed them both together). If I were doing that search, I'd look for vogue cindy michelle givhan.

Daryl said "I think what you are getting at, is that you suspect Vanity Fair is trying to make bloggers think it is relevant by driving fake traffic to their sites."

I assume you mean Vogue, but no, I don't. I think someone is trying to manipulate traffic numbers or search engines.

"The other possibility is that a major web site has a link directly to that Yahoo! search. If CNN.com had a link on its front page to that Yahoo! search, then thousands of people would be clicking on it, a good portion of them would be clicking on search result #1, you. (At least, you were. Now you are #2.)"

I tested that theory before I wrote the post by searching for those terms in Google News. Nothing came up.

"It's suspicious that there is exactly one search from Yahoo! driving traffic your way. Nobody* wrote "vogue photos mccain obama"? Nobody* wrote "obama mccain vogue photos"?"

Right. I think that proves it's the work of a machine.

Christy said...

All I know is that my sister's browser has been hijacked by Yahoo -- Microsoft Explorer powered by YAHOO! which always takes one to a shopping site when doing searches. Searches yield normal results but click on a correct url link and one ends up at an EBay page listing all the Instapundit merchandise. Clicking on your correct URL in the search results sent me somewhere else also. This sounds like a variation of that. Don't know if it is an unidentified virus, or what. Typing in the correct url in the address bar worked just fine.

somefeller said...

I suspect the Red Chinese are somehow involved in this.

Ann Althouse said...

And "whiz" is correct to mean someone who does things quickly and with ease. There's no wizardry involved!

Trooper York said...

Well if it's Cheese Wiz then we know it orginates from Wisconsin.

UWS guy said...

The only people with a financial motivation to pump up your site meter would be the people who sell ad space on your blog...

They show that you have more viewers and they could jack the prices up for 'space' at althouse dot com.

Who does your advertising?

UWS guy said...

Ann: (over the phone with Reynolds) "Hi, have you noticed the increase in my traffic recently? It seems odd, Strange keywords, spikey traffic...would you kn.....

Instapundit: "...Stop right there Ann. A veteran lawyer like yourself should know better than sticking her nose where it don't belong."

Ann:"Glenn, what are you saying? I find it hard to believe..."

Insta: "GOD DAMN IT!, pajamas media has an empire to build! Mark Steyn asked too many questions also and look....!, (calmed down and patronizing) Ann, honey...look, you don't want to get hauled infront of a tribunal now do you?
(become more sinister)

"If it can happen to him in Canada, it can happen here Ann. There are things...big things, going on. Things you don't wanna worry your pretty little head about...go back to posting pictures, look at mine...I even copied your fisheye lens..."

greenpoint said...

Prof. Althouse -

Did you edit your post? How much traffic have you been getting from people googling Clint Wolbert (presumably after reading his comments in the NYT article about gay marriage)? I know I was directed to your blog after doing so myself...

Ron said...

While "Whizz", of course, only refers to cheese.

UWS guy said...

Ann Althouse: "Glenn, I don't know what to say..."

(silence)
(Ann puts down the receiver)

Instapundit: "...heh..."

Verso said...

By far the most likely explanation is what Daryl said: Someone has linked directly to Yahoo's search results for that specific query, sort of like this link goes to Google's query for those terms.

Ann said, "I tested that theory before I wrote the post by searching for those terms in Google News. Nothing came up." But what is searching Google News supposed to prove? How would it be able to find a link to Yahoo's search results page for a particular query? The "theory" has not been tested at all by simply searching Google News. Plus, Google News only indexes a tiny fraction of the Internet, so why Google News was searched to test this theory is unclear.

I'm curious what the people who think this is being done by a machine think that machine is doing. I'd like to hear some explanation for how a "machine" is querying Google from computers around the world, then following links to Althouse blog. And for what purpose?

Verso said...

It's most likely a page, somewhere on the internet, like this one. Note this page contains links to Yahoos search results.

The only problem with this explanation is that it's totally innocent.

Verso said...

Interesting: This post now appears on Yahoo's Buzz Tracker...

Ann Althouse said...

1. I didn't edit my post.

2. Verso said..."By far the most likely explanation is what Daryl said: Someone has linked directly to Yahoo's search results for that specific query, sort of like this link goes to Google's query for those terms."

Okay, I see what you mean. I only checked to see if there was a news story that would have made the search active. Frequently, I get traffic on an old post and I'm able to figure out why through a Google search limited to the news category.

"I'm curious what the people who think this is being done by a machine think that machine is doing. I'd like to hear some explanation for how a "machine" is querying Google from computers around the world, then following links to Althouse blog. And for what purpose?"

I thought it could be an attempt to falsify traffic records for a commercial purpose.

greenpoint said...

So sorry about the confusion -- I didn't see your "Probable Solution" update when I posted the comment.

By the way, what do you think of Wolbert's assertion that being gay is like belonging to an "exclusive club"?

Padre Steve said...

I am normally writing from NJ but am in Ecuador for 3 weeks so if you get a lot of hits from down here... its probably me!

Rich Beckman said...

"Now, you've seen my little tendency to think bad people are up to no good."

Yeah. Until now, I thought you accepted what everyone said at face value.

Ann Althouse said...

Greenpoint, no need to apologize. It was your repetition of the point that made me get it, and I subsequently wrote the update.

Ann Althouse said...

In all my years of blogging, this was the biggest traffic spike I have ever seen. It felt really weird!

Trumpit said...

I don't think much of Clint Wolbert's comments about gay marriage on the NY Times. He acts like gay people are from outer space and he would like to keep it that way. Except for Palladian and Titus, gay people are mere earthlings.

Did Jim Crow make blacks feel unique? I'd say it made them feel like 2nd class citizens and worse. Did anti-miscegenation laws make interracial couples feel special or like criminal scum? He's a 28 yr. old young man fresh out of law school. He still has lots of time to discover how the law can be used for good as well as evil intent. I hope he figures it out before too long.

Clint said...

Hey I just caught all of this. I was quoted in the paper today. I'm not sure if anyone's around to read this, but:

My point in the article was that gay people should acknowledge that marriage is a double edged sword. It's great to have the option to marry. Some day far away I'll probably avail myself of it. But the more gay culture takes on the trappings of heterosexual normalcy, the less distinct the culture will be. And I like the culture.

The photographer and I were talking about this subject and he equated it to when Jackie Robinson, et. al. were invited to participate in major league baseball. It's great, a watershed, a step in the right direction. But that meant the community built around the Negro Leagues was going to disappear. That's a net positive, but only because the benefit outweighed the detriment. The detriment did in fact exist.

It's the same with gay marriage. Nothing is black and white. It's great that gay people can marry, and it's great that more gay people have these rights in the US now than ever before. But people should be aware that gay marriage comes at a price to the community. (A price that's worth paying, definitely, but still, it's a price).

It's tough to capture that sentiment in a sound bite.

Ann Althouse said...

I set up a new post to discuss the issues raised by the NYT article & Wolberts quote. Here.