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Wednesday, July 19, 2006


As a quick intermezzo before posting my promised essay on “I Pagliacci,” I thought I’d share some of my thoughts regarding blog visitors. Some weeks ago I added SiteMeter to this page, hoping to find out if anyone was reading this stuff. Much to my surprise I’m actually getting a fair amount of traffic, although most of it appears to be of the, “Oh, crap, that’s not what I’m looking for” variety.

You know the feeling. You’re doing a very specific Web search with particular results in mind, plugging key words and phrases into some search engine—Google’s my favorite, but that’s more out of habit than anything else. You send off those lovely search-bots, and back they come with a million possible pages to view—well, maybe it’s only 200,000. Then it’s time to start clicking away at the results. Depending upon the depth of your search and the terms you’ve used to define it, you either locate the information you want after a few dozen page views, or you redefine them with a secondary search, or you say “the hell with it” and head for Wikipedia.

Perhaps you’re like me—easily distracted by unrelated material. I get that way when I’m looking up words in a dictionary. For instance, since I own a CD of Donizetti’s “Le Convenienze e Inconvenienze Teatrali” that has an Italian-only libretto, I’m fighting my way through my own translation into English. I possess what might best be described as a rudimentary understanding of the Italian language. [While visiting Rome and Naples in 2000, I managed to survive fairly well with a copy of a traveler’s phrase book and whatever knowledge I’ve gleaned from listening to opera for 30-plus years—although for some strange reason (and thankfully so) I never had occasion to use the phrase “il tremo,” despite its ubiquity in bel canto librettos.] Flipping through the pages of my 700-page Oxford Paravia Dictionary, I find myself constantly sidetracked by other words I find fascinating.

That also happens to me while doing Web searches, which is one of the reasons it takes me so darned long to finish these essays. You think you’re doing this amazing job of narrowing your focus, only to come up with totally unrelated results. Some of it has to do with the way search-bots perform—after doing a purely Boolean “AND” search, any page that has the words you’re seeking will come up. Let’s say you’re looking for information on Catania’s work on quantum physics, knowing that he’s lectured at universities in Rome and Naples. Plug in those terms, which seem very specific, and at some point you’ll come across this very page—hardly what you’re hoping to find. But if you’re also an opera fan, you just might stick around and read some of this drivel.

OK, back to the topic at hand.

SiteMeter posts Web site visitor data through a variety of methods. My favorite is by location. Using a fairly accurate method known as IP tracing, the Internet service provider one uses for access to the Web is identified in a sort of reverse look-up method, much the same way a street address can be identified by knowing someone’s phone number. Of course there are plenty of ways to mask or spoof an IP address, which is why it makes a poor security measure. But for the purposes of keeping tabs on visitor traffic, it’s plenty good enough.

In addition to identifying the approximate location of a site’s visitors, the system also tags the purpose or source of that visit. Did someone perform a Google search for a specific set of words or phrases? If so, it’s listed. Did they arrive at your page by clicking on a link from somewhere elsewhere? That’s noted, too. Additional statistics include the number of page views, as well as the total amount of time a visitor has spent on your site.

It’s not an obsession of mine, but a couple of times a week I flip through the log. I’m especially fascinated by the sort of searches that bring people to this site. Close to 80 percent visit anywhere from zero to just a few seconds. These are the folks who were looking for specific information—words to a libretto, biographical information on a composer or performer, dates for a specific opera production—and the mere fact that I’ve mentioned their search topic has caused them to click on the link that brings them here. It’s not what they want so on they go to the next page.

These searches occasionally come in waves. Last week there were more than a dozen visitors looking for information on Michele Carafa’s opera, “I Due Figaro” which, I assume, has to do with its recent revival in Europe. Regular readers may recall that Carafa was the subject of one of my earlier essays, one of the 88 Composers I’m in the midst of highlighting.

And my visitors come from all over the world. Opera truly has global appeal. Just in the past few days I’ve logged people from Spain, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Columbia, Argentina, Singapore and France. Because this blog is written in English, most of my visitors come from places like Canada, Australia and the U.K. Naturally the United States comprises the bulk of my visitors, topping out at approximately 60 percent of the total. A quick survey shows that I’ve been viewed by people in just about every U.S. state, although most of them moved quickly on to the true object of their search. Two of these folks were former high school classmates of mine, one who did a search on his own name (he was mentioned in my essay on Shalom Secunda), and the other who was searching for details on my old high school choir director. You just never know who’ll show up!

Then there are the regular readers. The same ISPs keep appearing every couple of days, and I suppose they’re doing the same thing I do—checking on a bookmarked Web site to see if it’s been updated. These include a reader from New Zealand and one from Italy. Hello to whoever you are! In many ways it makes me sad that I haven’t had time to post a new message for them to read. But the nature of this blog is such that it’s essay-driven rather than comment-driven, so I’m not compelled to rush off a few lines simply so that I can post something—anything.

Because I belong to Opera RingSurf (see the links at the top of this page), I get a fair amount of traffic from related sites. My favorite RingSurf compadres include Campbell Vertesi, a young basso profundo who writes about his budding opera career, and La Cieca, a campy “opera queen” whose site includes terrific video clips and a weekly podcast of operatic selections.

I’m also starting to get quite a few visitors from the mention I received on the Donizetti Society’s Web site. This is a terrific resource for anyone interested in bel canto opera. As soon as I have some spare cash lying around, I plan to subscribe to their newsletter, which offers essays on a number of interesting (to me, anyway) topics in that realm.

If you’re a blogger, I strongly recommend adding to your site one of the many free metering processes out there. It’ll give you a good idea who’s checking you out, and it might even help you come up with enough material for yet another posting.

Don't be fooled by the visits of 0 seconds. It only measures the time between loading the page and the final click on a link. So it's taken me seconds, minutes (I honestly don't know...!) to read that post. I read and savoured it, but you would assume I'm a 0 second person if I hadn't clicked on the link to 'Comments' and one of the external links in the post!


PS I've come from Bloglines...
Hello back from your regular reader in New Zealand.
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