October 18, 2007

Will RSS Readers Ever Report Detailed Referrals?

It wasn't all that long ago that much of the blogosphere was abuzz around the power, or supposed lack thereof, from A-list sites and TechMeme. How come they were only counting a few hundred visitors? It could be, in my opinion, due to the growing use of RSS readers, like Google Reader, NewsGator and Bloglines, which mask the URL of the referring feed if a visitor clicks through.

Instead of telling site owners what feed, and what post, a visitor originated from, RSS feed readers trumpet their own URL as the source for the link. As a result, instead of giving TechMeme, Scoble or TechCrunch the credit, it's Google Reader who snakes the statistic. And God forbid a small site link your way that only has a few RSS feed readers, but one who liked your content. In that case, you'd see a visitor from the feed reader to a specific subpage, but not know who was linking.

Yesterday evening, after my flight from Dallas, I clicked through on my Blackberry to obsessively check my blog stats, and I saw an uncommon spike in traffic, sent my way from a post on Scobleizer linking to my Feedheads article. While I know that more than 500 unique visitors came my way in the last 24 hours from his note, scobleizer.com only is given credit for 40 to 50% of that amount in my site statistics, as you can see in the side graphic, which shows the share of referrals among my last 4,000 visitors. Instead, Google Reader, BlogLines, Twitter and other RSS feed engines snaked the rest.

Ideally, an RSS feed reader would pass to the site owner enough information as to ascertain which feed was being viewed, and even better, which post fed the link. It could be that this data today doesn't rest with the feed reader, but instead with today's browsers, and the URL passed to Web server logs is dictated, not by the feed reader, but instead by Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, but I'm sure somebody smart (like Dave Winer) could figure this out and help us get more detail.