Dark Social

Interesting article about social web analytics in The Atlantic this month.

If you want to see how someone came to your site, it’s usually pretty easy. When you follow a link from Facebook to The Atlantic, a little piece of metadata hitches a ride that tells our servers, “Yo, I’m here from Facebook.com.” We can then aggregate those numbers and say, “Whoa, a million people came here from Facebook last month,” or whatever.

There are circumstances, however, when there is no referrer data. You show up at our doorstep and we have no idea how you got here. The main situations in which this happens are email programs, instant messages, some mobile applications*, and whenever someone is moving from a secure site (“https://mail.google.com/blahblahblah”) to a non-secure site (http://www.theatlantic.com).

The author Alexis Madrigal shows a graph of how this ‘Dark Social’ plays out in the numbers on the Atlantic’s site.

His summary (and paradigm shifter) from the article is strangely satisfying to me, the idea that there is still a shield of darkness in our social netiverse:

1. The sharing you see on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the tip of the ‘social’ iceberg. We are impressed by its scale because it’s easy to measure.

2. But most sharing is done via dark social means like email and IM that are difficult to measure.

3. According to new data on many media sites, 69% of social referrals came from dark social. 20% came from Facebook.

4. Facebook and Twitter do shift the paradigm from private sharing to public publishing. They structure, archive, and monetize your publications.