Fun with analytics: pitting Hacker News and /r/programming against each other

I noticed a weird anomaly in my analytics today. It started shortly after midday EST on Monday, and lasted for approximately 24 hours. What was the shape of this crazy UFO-style disturbance? Something like this:

I call it the snapped hockey stick.

The anomaly was my post about making custom maps for my app, Taxonomy. I submitted it to both Hacker News and /r/programming, and to my surprise it was a hit in both. So, delving through the figures, I thought we could have a little fun, and compare Hacker News to /r/programming- the figures, the discussions, and which of you are nice and voted for my app.

How it started

After writing the post, I immediately submitted to HN and /r/programming (or proggit, to its regulars). There was no immediate traction in either. I also sent out a tweet, cc-ing MapBox, the makers of the TileMill software I discussed in the article.

You’ll notice that I sneakily included a link to the HN submission. I was retweeted by MapBox, which started to bring traffic to the site. Looking at my analytics real-time stats, there were around thirty users on the site at any given moment.

Soon, traffic picked up- and fast. My HN submission had gotten about four votes- if your submission is recent enough, that’s all it takes to climb the board rapidly. Meanwhile, the Reddit submission had also taken a life of it’s own and arrived on the proggit homepage. At peak, I had over 350 people browsing the site at any one time. So, did including the HN link in my (retweeted) tweet help? The jury is out- the proggit link did just fine without it.

The figures

So, first off, let’s take a look at the raw numbers. It may not surprise you to learn that Reddit trounced Hacker News in most main metrics:

So, for those of you still unaware: Reddit (and this was only the programming subreddit) is a traffic building machine. As for the distribution over time, the two started off similarly, but changed as time went on:

This resembles (but does not match) the chart positions. Both entries shot up relatively quickly- peaking at around 9th place on Hacker News, and making it all the way to first place on Reddit. But it started to slide back down the HN board relatively quickly, leaving the front page by the end of the day. The Reddit post, however, remained in the top spot for nearly twenty four hours. It definitely didn’t see a traffic peak on day #2 however, suggesting that being in the top spot for a long time isn’t as beneficial as you’d imagine- presumably, all the proggit members that were going to read the article already had.

The small bump in Reddit traffic towards the end corresponds with a crosspost I made (after it was suggested to me) to /r/geospatial. A much smaller sub-reddit (1,900 readers vs 356,000), it only attracted four upvotes- but at it’s peak wasn’t far off the peak HN traffic.

Engagement

So, that’s the raw traffic. But how can we examine user behaviour in a little more detail? To start, let’s take a look at average time spent on the page:

None of them exactly seem stellar when put like that, but proggit definitely comes out as the bad boy at the back of class here- 16 seconds is surely barely enough time to read anything. The ‘other’ category was made up primarily of Twitter traffic- it stands to reason that @MapBox followers would be more interested in the post than the average programmer, so it’s interesting to see that HN almost matches it.

Who is my best friend?

So what about the users that actually performed an action on the site? I did have a call to action, of sorts. My app is running in a competition that has a public voting segment, and I had three links on the page urging people to vote.

It’s not really a traditional call to action. Normally, you would be using your page to persuade the user that it is in their personal interest to click your link- that they will get something out of it. My voting link can’t really promise that- I’m asking people to inconvenience themselves for absolutely no material benefit. So it’s interesting to see how everyone behaved. Annoyingly, I only managed to plug in vote tracking at around 4pm EST, so these results aren’t so accurate (in the interests of fairness I’m only taking traffic from after 4pm, too):

So- proggit may give you traffic, but HNers are almost twice as likely to click. That said, I got more than double the traffic from proggit, so it still wins in overall clicks.

You’ll notice that I say clicks and not votes, because I can’t actually guarantee that someone clicking the link will go on to vote- indeed, according to my stats I ought to have got 271 votes from HN and proggit combined, but that’s actually less than my overall vote count after a week of voting. I estimate that I got around 30 votes out of the whole thing- pushing me up two whole places to 9th, but suggesting that ChallengePost have a low conversion rate on their voting pages. Still, thank you to everyone that did vote.

Other observations

That’s the numbers more or less crunched. There isn’t much statistical analysis to be done of the comments, but there are some interesting anecdotal points. The comments between the two sites were varied- proggit had an in depth discussion about the name Taxonomy, something that didn’t appear once in Hacker News. For it’s part, HN had some detailed feedback on specific roads that looked wrong, and labels that were difficult to read. In the world of “popular off topic discussion”, HN was peeved by the persistent toolbar that my blog had, while Reddit was preoccupied with getting me to kiss the guy who works down the street from me (both posts were voted second and first, respectively).

One thing that didn’t happen was my post going viral. When I’m watching stats with RecordSetter, a link will often be featured on a large site (The Daily Mail, or HuffPo, for example), then pop up on ever-decreasing sizes of site for days afterwards, creating a sort of outward ripple of traffic that lasts for days. I saw nothing like that with my post- no-one linked to it (aside from a few Facebook and Google+ inbound links I saw), and the traffic was all but dead shortly after 24 hours had passed. I have no insight into why this might be the case, but it’s an interesting data point.

Conclusion

Stats are fun. Now I’m off to submit this link to Hacker News and proggit so that I can examine that traffic, in a beautiful, never ending circle of numbers.