The UK Government and Web Metrics
Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 March 2008
Spotted recently on Hansard (25 Feb 2008):
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills how many hits the (a) most popular website and (b) least popular website run by his Department has received since 1 January. 
Mr. Lammy:The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills corporate website was launched on 28 June 2007, following the machinery of Government changes and creation of the new Department. The numbers of hits for the most and least popular websites that come under the DIUS remit are as follows:
Website Number of hits( 1) from 1 January 2007 to 25 October 2007 The Intellectual Property Office (www.ipo.gov.uk) 236,301,690 Technology Strategy Board (www.berr.gov.uk/innovation/technologystrategyboard/index.html (2)82,370 (1) Please note that a ‘hit’ is simply a successful request to the web server from a visitor’s browser for any type of file, whether an image, HTML page, or any other type. A single web page can cause many hits, one for each image included on the page. (2) Figures are form page views from 1 July 2007 to 25 October 2007 as hits are not measured for this site.
Now what is worse, I wonder? The fact that Norman Baker, Lib Dem MP for Lewis is asking about the popularity of UK Government Web sites based on such simplistic criteria or the Government’s response which compares ‘hits’ with ‘page views’? Even worse is that the official response is so defensive about having to provide figures on ‘page views’ (which is a legitimate measure on Web site usage) as data on hits (which reflects the Web site design and not the popularity of the Web site) are not measured.
Even worse is that the response compares a Web site domain (www.ipo.gov.uk) with a Web site area (www.berr.gov.uk/innovation/technologystrategyboard/index.html).
And the latter Web page is not longer available – although I suspect that it refers to http://www.berr.gov.uk/dius/innovation/technologystrategyboard/page40217.html
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a Government Web page which no longer exists isn’t particularly popular!
But what worries me most about such absurdities are the implications of the Government’s increasing preoccupation with such (flawed) measures of impact and the responses which might be expected from the Government critics. I could easily envisage a Daily Mail leader article being critical of a drop in the numbers of ‘hits’ to Government Web sites, ignoring the realities of technological enhancements which may mean that although the numbers of hits or page views go down, the user may actually be getting a much more valuable and useful experience (e.g. the data being surfaced in other areas).