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Your Web stats are going to hell

Submitted by yelvington on June 14, 2011 - 2:26pm

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics," said Mark Twain. Progress has given us a fourth: Web statistics, and now Google has inadvertently invented a new way to make it even worse. 

Google is obsessed with speed. You know about Chrome, the hot rod of the browser world. You probably know about autocompletion. You might know about Google Instant, but you probably don't know about SPDY. There's so much speed it's hard to keep up. The newest improvement, announced today, is Instant Pages.

It's actually been in the Chrome developer channel for awhile, so I've been trying it.

As you type in Google Instant, searches are being run and results displayed on the page.

But as you type in Instant Pages, whole pages are being requested from potential destinations. This is being integrated with Google Search so even before you've decided where to click, Google has already predicted your behavior and your browser has fetched the page.

The result is faster page displays. For users, this is great. So what's the problem? Take a look at this screenshot:

Screenshot: 404 errors being logged

This is a Drupal 7 Watchdog report showing 404s -- requests for invalid URLs.

What's causing this? Me, typing with my thumbs, apparently. While I'm mumble-typing, Chrome is happily tugging at the website, generating bogus page requests during my the pauses.

So if anyone is typing in a URL, or if Google's simply guessing wrong about which search result you'll be clicking, the browser is going to be creating server hits that can screw up your Web metrics (as well as create unwanted server load and error reports).

I don't want to make too much of this, as I'm not yet sure what this does to Javascript execution, remote ad server calls, et cetera. But it does illustrate that once again, progress comes at a price.

Comments

Perhaps this is an excuse to filter 404 errors into a separate report. Sometimes this is helpful to have anyway, because if you set it up correctly, you can see what pages on your own site are leading to 404s and fix the broken links.

Not to mention slowing down browser speeds as it tries to download 5 pages you don't want instead of the 1 page you do want. It would be intolerable on slower mobile devices. Hopefully it will have a disable option.