Think & Ask uses Urchin to measure site traffic. Urchin reports tell us which stories are most popular, without bothering the reader with pop-up surveys. Is this a "Big Brother" phenonemon? No. We don't capture your computer's ID. The following information helps us understand what readers want to know.
For January-December 2005 the top 11 most popular stories on Think & Ask.
From January to December 2005 Think & Ask logged 4,679,721 unique visitors, up 2.5 million from 2004.
Search engines continue to drive the most amount of traffic with 49 percent of users arriving from Google.com, 28 percent from Yahoo!, 9 percent from MSN, and 4 percent from AOL. Ten percent of users arrived directly or from other sites.
What we know about those who arrive on Think & Ask is that about 11 percent bookmark the website, 29 percent have no identifying domain. MSN accounts beat AOL in 2005 for highest ISP traffic (as No.1 and No.2,) followed by Comcast, Verizon, and the United States governmnet and educational institutions. Blog links spiked traffic, and produced about 17 percent more traffic we estimate than would be otherwise.
The majority of users (33 percent) hit from ".com" domains, 27 percent hit from ".net" domains. The top country domains (that actually show up -- most are not listed) include: United States, Germany, UK, Canada, Japan, Italy, China, France, Australia.
Browsers used: Internet Explore 66 percent (a drop of 4 percent from 2004,) Netscape 12 percent, Safari, Konqueror, Opera, and dozens of smaller readers/viewers.
Operating systems: 68 percent use Windows (a 2 percent drop from 2004,) 28 percent unknown, 4 percent Mac, 2 percent Linux; Unix.
The Village Voice, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal (to name three print channels) consistently missed key strategic issues already underway in the Bush administration pre 9-11. After 9-11, the media grew quiet from fear of being labeled "unpatriotic." Today, even CNN has cut the number of reporters in Iraq to save money, and now broadcasts to your screen verbatim press releases from U.S. Military. Why? Good question, hence the title of this website.
We used an ISP in California from 2000 into early 2003, until stories published on Think & Ask took direct aim at the White House in September 2002. We don't know what surprised us more; what the White House [actually] planned for Afghanistan before 9-11, or that these plans missed media radar across the United States, or that our ISP took exception to our content.
Our ISP accused us of publishing "unpatriotic" content, and said that we violated the Patriot Act. We ignored the charge, and continued to pay service fees.
Think & Ask was hacked in October 2002, shortly after we published "Afghanistan: Operation Terror", but upon quick recovery we experienced numerous outages with our "patriotic" ISP. After a second hack-attack in January 2003, we fired the ISP, and re-launched with ValueWeb. We are pleased with their service to date.
With a stable ISP in place, Think & Ask's next challenge was its "sudden disappearance" from search engines, after having built a strong presence in February and early March 2003. Beginning March 23 and ending April 17, Think & Ask was nowhere to be found on Google, MSN, or Yahoo. As the blackout period ended, Think & Ask was back in business until May 21, when it disappeared a second time. Although, this round was not as widespread.
Three of our stories appeared on search engines during the second blackout, while the homepage and two dozen stories vanished. This was the same period Google dropped indymedia.org. After contacting the ACLU, and Google, both indymedia, and Think & Ask recovered in June. We've not fully recovered on MSN, and hold little hope for a full crawl unless we pay for clicks.
Can we call search engine blackouts "censorship?" By definition, not really, because they claim not to have purposefully blocked these sites. They also claim it is impossible for all three (competing) search engines to drop a site at the same time; although or own logs prove them incorrect. Realistically, anything is possible in 'Net land.
However, it raises the question, "What is censorship," and what role, if any, do search engines play in censoring content? During the temporary blackouts, we found content through Google that violates their own rules to ban "hate speech" and "child exploitation" sites and pictures. Websites challenging the White House must be dirtier than pictures of... well, you can imagine. Google clearly states their policy to ban certain websites, but a "news" website was not on the list.
As measurements (right column) for Think & Ask show, search engines provide a boost to traffic through keywords, although roughly 73 percent of users arrived here without a keyword. The top keywords for Think & Ask in 2005 are difficult to sum-up although there were some keyword trends to note: Jerry Springer and Ben Affleck had high rankings, and "Ty Herndon is gay" has ranked No.3, although we can't understand why so many people search with that term. "IBM" in some form with layoff, pay rate, outsourcing, or benefits is hot, as was "dead bodies" following hurricane Katrina. "Unemployment" and Michael Jackson were hot keywords in 2005 on Think & Ask. Words related to inflation, job growth, gay, and Wal-Mart were also noteworthy terms.
e-Mail statistics for Think & Ask in 2005 remain supportive of our content, but (and thankfully really) fewer people email now that blogs have taken off in popularity...Readers would rather post instant responses on a web blog than go through the trouble of sending an e-mail. Of 12,000 e-mails received into the news room in 2005, only a handful were threats.
Think & Ask does not accept advertising. All expenses related to Think & Ask (ISP charges, advertising charges, and author compensation) are paid for out-of-pocket by the site owner.