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Friday, June 4, 2004

A Postcard From VisitorVille

I had the chance to take a trip to VisitorVille. At its core, it’s a web statistic visualization tool, but that would be like saying Mona Lisa is a smiling lady. In fact this extremely fascinating piece of software manages to make your web site come alive.

Let’s start at the beginning. First you download the 11MB installation at After the setup you provide VisitorVille with your registration data. You can subscribe to a monthly package priced from $30 to $170. (The amount you pay depends on the amount of visitors you have – the price, though justified, does not make this service cheap.)

Now you can start to create your “Sim City” map by choosing a web site under your control. I started with this blog, which has a few hundred pages. Handing those to VisitorVille is easy; you start with a single page and let the program grab the others via links it can follow automatically. I then have to copy a snippet and put it in all of my pages to convert them into buildings.

Pages are buildings

You see, in VisitorVille individual pages are buildings. Visitors to your site are shown as little people. They arrive with a bus, like the one labelled “Google”... which means someone just entered something into Google, found your page in the results, and clicked on it. This person will now arrive at one of your buildings. The more people inside, the higher the building, and the more brightly lit its windows.

The Google bus drives to your building ...

... while this man arrives via MSN

People in VisitorVille might then go ahead to call a taxi – you’ll quickly recognize the whistling sound – to take them to another building. (Which means they clicked on a link taking them to another part of yor web site.)

This visitor from Cologne entered “Nigritude Ultramarine” to find my blog

If you are interested in a certain visitor, just right-click him to make him show his passport. This will reveal details like location (which can be opened as a red blinking dot on a world map), or ISP, or business organization. It will also show the search terms this user previously entered to arrive at your city. You can even follow this person around in real-time, seeing the pages he sees. You might also start a chat with him.

Sounds weird? It is. I was showing this software around in my office, and this is the stuff to make grown system administrators giggle in awe. Now we have several traffic tools installed, we wrote some of our own, and from time to time we even look at naked log files.

But VisitorVille is different. It makes you see what is happening to your web site at this moment. (You can even have it run in the background, listening to traffic noises; they alone would be enough to alert you of visitor peaks.) VisitorVille is the moment in one of those 80s text adventure games after you typed “pick up flashlight”... the whole game is different now, a multitude of possibilities opening up for you.


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