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Dark social: the website traffic data that we never see

With a recent editorial on web traffic analysis, tech writers around the globe are taking a second look at what is being called “dark social.”



dark social

dark social

What is dark social?

You’ve heard of dark matter, unseen matter making up most of the universe, which doesn’t interact with light or other electromagnetic radiation, therefore cannot be seen directly, rather is detected by its gravitational effects. In the spirit of the unseen dark matter populating the universe, Alexis Madrigal, Senior Editor at The Atlantic opines that there is unseen matter in all of our website traffic data analysis called “dark social,” which is the direct traffic that is invisible to analytics programs.

Madrigal noted that over half of all traffic to the magazine was direct traffic, and he observed that since no one manually types out “,” yet people were coming from somewhere, he suggests this traffic comes primarily from email, and IM, or in the dark rather than in public on social networks like Facebook or Twitter.

A fascinating theory: history is wrong

One of the most fascinating positions Madrigal put forth is that the history of the web is wrong. “The social sites that arrived in the 2000s did not create the social web,” Madrigal writes, “but they did structure it. This is really, really significant. In large part, they made sharing on the Internet an act of publishing (!), with all the attendant changes that come with that switch.”

Madrigal continued, “Publishing social interactions makes them more visible, searchable, and adds a lot of metadata to your simple link or photo post. There are some great things about this, but social networks also give a novel, permanent identity to your online persona. Your taste can be monetized, by you or (much more likely) the service itself.”

So what about all this direct traffic talk?

So, if social networks really are a public documentation of sharing activities that have gone on for decades, where are all of the links that are shared privately over email or G-Chat or the like? Madrigal says they’re showing up on our analytics dashboard as simply “direct traffic,” which is an often overlooked metric. Below is what The Atlantic’s traffic when they account for dark social… it’s simply stunning.


Maybe it’s deeper than “dark social”

Tech writer Matt Buchanan at Buzzfeed counters Madrigal, stating, “It might be more accurate to call the universe of direct traffic the noumenal web— a big, messy bowl of stuff that we know is there but whose composition we can’t actually probe with any of our traditional senses (in this case, web analytics, or our nose).”

Buchanan adds, “So the question is how much this noumenal web is secretly social, and how much of this dark social is just, well, dark. BuzzFeed’s data scientists have gathered data from the BuzzFeed Network — a set of sites like TMZ and The Daily Mail that collectively have over 300 million users — that sheds more light on dark social and direct traffic,” concluding that “the more social a piece of content is, the less direct traffic it gets. And that direct traffic tends to skew toward coming from older, non-urban, less tech savvy people.”

Buchanan asserts that “dark social” is too broad of a term for all direct traffic, a form of traffic that we would add most analytics dashboards fail to help businesses to understand.

The tremendous, mysterious traffic source

Regardless of whether it is called “dark social” or the “noumenal web,” Madrigal and Buchanan’s theories unveil that although social media is a great traffic source, direct traffic (representing private link sharing through email, G-Chat, and the like) is a tremendous, mysterious, and often overlooked traffic source. All website owners should spend more efforts focusing on the “dark social,” the content not shared out in the open, and do more than simply ask for a Facebook Like.

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  1. kenbrand

    October 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Is this like digital Crop Circles?  I mean, we don’t know what we don’t know, right?

  2. L8enough

    October 23, 2012 at 9:27 am

    @rvabusiness I tell people all the time that word of mouth and email is the best way to support my blog. Dark social FTW

  3. Pingback: The rise of dark social: All science, no seduction - The American Genius

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Social Media

Twitter to start charging users? Here’s what you need to know

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social media is trending toward the subscription based model, especially as the pandemic pushes ad revenue down. What does this mean for Twitter users?



Twitter and other social media apps open on a phone being held in a hand. Will they go to a paid option subscription model?

In an attempt to become less dependent on advertising, Twitter Inc. announced that it will be considering developing a subscription product, as well as other paid options. Here’s the scoop:

  • The ideas for paid Twitter that are being tossed around include tipping creators, the ability to pay users you follow for exclusive content, charging for use of the TweetDeck, features like “undo send”, and profile customization options and more.
  • While Twitter has thought about moving towards paid for years, the pandemic has pushed them to do it – plus activist investors want to see accelerated growth.
  • The majority of Twitter’s revenue comes from targeted ads, though Twitter’s ad market is significantly smaller than Facebook and other competitors.
  • The platform’s user base in the U.S. is its most valuable market, and that market is plateauing – essentially, Twitter can’t depend on new American users joining to make money anymore.
  • The company tried user “tips” in the past with its live video service Periscope (RIP), which has now become a popular business model for other companies – and which we will most likely see again with paid Twitter.
  • And yes, they will ALWAYS take a cut of any money being poured into the app, no matter who it’s intended for.

This announcement comes at a time where other social media platforms, such as TikTok and Clubhouse, are also moving towards paid options.

My hot take: Is it important – especially during a pandemic – to make sure that creators are receiving fair compensation for the content that we as users consume? Yes, 100%. Pay people for their work. And in the realm of social media, pictures, memes, and opinions are in fact work. Don’t get it twisted.

Does this shift also symbolize a deviation from the unpaid, egalitarian social media that we’ve all learned to use, consume, and love over the last decade? It sure does.

My irritation stems not from the fact that creators will probably see more return on their work in the future. Or on the principal of free social media for all. It stems from sheer greediness of the social media giants. Facebook, Twitter, and their counterparts are already filthy rich. Like, dumb rich. And guess what: Even though Twitter has been free so far, it’s creators and users alike that have been generating wealth for the company.

So why do they want even more now?

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Social Media

TikTok enters the e-commerce space, ready to compete with Zuckerberg?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Setting up social media for e-commerce isn’t an uncommon practice, but for TikTok this means the next step competing with Facebook and Instagram.



Couple taking video with mobile phone, prepared for e-commerce.

Adding e-commerce offerings to social media platforms isn’t anything new. However, TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance, is rolling out some new e-commerce features that will place the social video app in direct competition with Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Instagram.

According to a Financial Times report, TikTok’s new features will allow the platform to create and expand its e-commerce service in the U.S. The new features will allow TikTok’s popular users to monetize their content. These users will be able to promote and sell products by sharing product links in their content. In return, TikTok will profit from the sales by earning a commission.

Among the features included is “live-streamed” shopping. In this mobile phone shopping channel, users can purchase products by tapping on products during a user’s live demo. Also, TikTok plans on releasing a feature that will allow brands to display their product catalogs.

Currently, Facebook has expanded into the e-commerce space through its Facebook Marketplace. In May 2020, it launched Facebook Shops that allows businesses to turn their Facebook and Instagram stories into online stores.

But, Facebook hasn’t had too much luck in keeping up with the video platform in other areas. In 2018, the social media giant launched Lasso, its short-form video app. But the company’s TikTok clone didn’t last too long. Last year, Facebook said bye-bye to Lasso and shut it down.

Instagram is trying to compete with TikTok by launching Instagram Reels. This feature allows users to share short videos just like TikTok, but the future of Reels isn’t set in stone yet. By the looks of it, videos on Reels are mainly reposts of video content posted on TikTok.

There is no word on when the features will roll out to influencers on TikTok, but according to the Financial Times report, the social media app’s new features have already been viewed by some people.

TikTok has a large audience that continues to grow. By providing monetization tools in its platform, TikTok believes its new tools will put it ahead of Facebook in the e-commerce game, and help maintain that audience.

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Social Media

Your favorite Clubhouse creators can now ask for your financial support

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Clubhouse just secured new funding – what it means for creators and users of the latest quarantine-based social media darling.



Woman talking on Clubhouse on her iPhone with a big smile.

Clubhouse – the live-voice chat app that has been taking the quarantined world by storm – has recently announced that it has raised new funding in a Series B round, led by Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.

The app confirms that new funding means compensation for creators; much like the influencers on TikTok and YouTube, now Clubhouse creators will be able to utilize features such as subscriptions, tipping, and ticket sales to monetize their content.

To encourage emerging Clubhouse creators and invite new voices, funding round will also support a promising “Creator Grant Program”.

On the surface, Clubhouse is undoubtedly cool. The invite-only, celebrity-filled niche chatrooms feel utopic for any opinionated individual – or anyone that just likes to listen. At its best, Clubhouse brings to mind collaborative campfire chats, heated lecture-hall debates or informative PD sessions. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m actually obsessed.

And now with its new round, the video chatroom app will not only appear cool but also act as a helpful steppingstone to popular and emerging creators alike. “Creators are the lifeblood of Clubhouse,” said Paul & Rohan, the app’s creators, “and we want to make sure that all of the amazing people who host conversations for others are getting recognized for their contributions.”

Helping creators get paid for their labor in 2021 is a cause that we should 100% get behind, especially if we’re consuming their content.

Over the next few months, Clubhouse will be prototyping their tipping, tickets and subscriptions – think a system akin to Patreon, but built directly into the app.

A feature unique to the app – tickets – will offer individuals and organizations the chance to hold formal discussions and events while charging an admission. Elite Clubhouse rooms? I wonder if I can get a Clubhouse press pass.

Additionally, Clubhouse has announced plans for Android development (the app has only been available to Apple users so far). They are also working on moderation policies after a recent controversial chat sparked uproar. To date, the app has been relying heavily on community moderation, the power of which I’ve witnessed countless times whilst in rooms.

So: Is the golden age of Clubhouse – only possible for a short period while everyone was stuck at home and before the app gained real mainstream traction – now over? Or will this new round of funding and subsequent development give the app a new beginning?

For now, I think it’s safe to say that the culture of Clubhouse will certainly be changing – what we don’t know is if the changes will make this cream-of-the-crop app even better, or if it’ll join the ranks of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook in being another big-time social media staple.

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