James Royal-Lawson

What gets shown in Facebook’s Ticker?

Facebook has rolled out their Ticker to all users as part of their September updates (if you haven’t got it yet, you soon will!).

Combined with other changes to the appearance of the news feed, this has raised a fair few questions from people about their privacy settings and what gets shown where.

I’m going to try to explain it for you.

So how does it work?

The visibility of every update you post to Facebook is controlled by the privacy settings associated to it. Using the inline audience selector you can control the privacy settings at the time you post it, and adjusted them at any point afterwards.

Screenshot from Facebook

The news feed now just shows a selection of updates based on a number of factors (which i’m not going to go into during this post). If you want to see everything that is happening the world of Facebook as defined by your friends (and people subscribed to) then you need to take a look at the ticker in the right hand column.


The activity firehose

This ticker shows everything people who you’ve subscribed to are doing on Facebook that has a privacy setting that you are included in. You are subscribed to your friends, and all their types of updates by default.

You can unsubscribe from a persons activity, and you can even turn off certain types of activity from a specific person. So if someone listens to far too much music on Spotify that rubs you the wrong way, you can untick Music and Videos.


By and large though, what this means is that you may see more Facebook activity than you are used to seeing – if you bother to look at the Ticker in the right hand column that is!


Whenever any of your friends write someone on someone else’s wall, for example, you’ll see that action appear in your ticker.

If any of your friends comment on a person’s update who isn’t your friend, if that update has public or “friends of friends” as it’s privacy settings, then you will see not only your friends’ comment, but also all the other (non-public) comments everyone else has written.

If someone publishes a public update (of whatever kind; a status, a photo, event, action) then any comments and likes made to that public update will also be public. In this case, public means totally public. Not-logged-into-Facebook public.

Keep your eye on the grey icon

So what matters now is that you pay special attention to the little grey icon visible at the bottom of each update. If this has a little globe on it, whatever you say will be public. If it has a couple of silhouettes, then hover over the icon and see what it says. It will explain the reach of the update, and therefore the potential exposure of anything you write.




Remember though, privacy can be changed afterwards. So something you once said in private may become public (and vice versa). Even if you said it years ago…

is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

Google Analytics: Updated visit definition is missing visits

Google updated their definition of a visit in the middle of august. I’ve written an explanation in a separate blog post. In general the change is good as it should make the data in Google Analytics easier for the layman to interpret.

What isn’t so good is that Google Analytics isn’t behaving in the way Google describes. It’s not only missing visitors in some situations, but it is also missing some traffic sources – the attribution is totally incorrect for some visits.

Test details

My test was as follows:

Using my Android tablet, I visited my blog a series of 4 times. I used my tablet so that it would be easy to extract my test visits (with little chance of anyone else visiting the same pages from the same sources on that day).

Visit 1

Via a link on one of my old sites, 
The browser newly opened 
Not visited in the past 30 minutes.

Visit 2

Via Google's search results searching for beantin fishbang
A few minutes after visit 1.

Visit 3

via Google again, this time searching for beantin seo
The browser newly opened
Over 60 minutes since visit 2.

Visit 4

Via a link on another one of my old sites,
Just a few minutes after visit 3.

According to Google’s new visit definition, this should have been 4 visits, with 4 different traffic sources.

What the data contained

Detail of a screenshot

According to my Google Analytics data, I had made 3 visits. Visit 4 is missing. Instead, you can see that the beantin seo search has had 2 page views attributed to it – which you can see from my test actions simply isn’t true.

Showing all 4 visits happened

As a way of confirming that visit 4 really did happen and data was received by Google Analytics, showing the referral from, I made use of my per visit referrer script.

On this script saves the referrer for each visit as a custom variable. The script is run on each page view, and the referrer is saved to the custom variable at the visit level.

This means visit 4 will have over-written the referrer for visit 3 – as Google hasn’t trigger a new visit for visit 4, but there is a page view, so my script grabs the referrer…

Details of a screenshot from Google Analytics showing that a was a referrer

As you can see from the screenshot, is there – meaning a visit did come from that site, and there are two page views attributed to it (the page views from visits 3 and 4).

Bug or feature?

I’ve repeated this test on my laptop and examined the cookies after each visit, and Google Analytics is failing to update the traffic source (in __utmz) and subsequently failing to trigger a “new visit” according to their new definition.

A bug or a feature? I say bug… what do you think?

Update 20110915

When researching this blog post, I focused my attention on the __utmz cookie. I’ve just taken a closer look at how both __utma and __utmz are behaving in the above scenario.

Google Analytics is failing to update not only the traffic source, but also the visit count and the various timestamps stored in __utma detailing when you last and current visits took place.

This means that even more reports in Google Analytics could be affected (depending on your visitor patterns)

is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

Google Analytics: what are visits?

It’s all change with Visits and Google Analytics. In August 2011 Google altered when they consider a session to have ended. A small change according to their blog.

Get ready, I’m going to mention some odd sounding cookie names a fair bit!

close up photo of a Google Analytics visitor graph

In the old days

Prior to August 2011, If a user was inactive for 30 minutes or more, any future activity would have been attributed to a new visit. Any users that left your site but returned within 30 minutes were counted as part of the original visit.

Google made use of two cookies in keeping track of a session. One called __utmb and another called __utmc.

__utmc was a pure browser session cookie which expired as soon as the browser was closed. If __utmc didn’t exist, then it was a new visit.

__utmb is a persistent cookie that is set to expire after 30 minutes (by default). This cookie was used to register a new visit if you’ve left the site open in your browser (ie __utmc exists), but you disappeared for more than 30 minutes to do something else – perhaps to eat lunch.

Back to the future

From August 2011, the session cookie __umtc is no longer used to calculating visits and instead Google is using the __utmb cookie in combination with another cookie, __utmz, to determine when a new session begins.

__utmz is the traffic source cookie. I’ve explained the often misunderstood Google Analytics traffic sources in a previous post. This cookie only gets updated when the traffic source for the current visit is different to the traffic source stored in the cookie (excluding direct visits).

What Google Analytics does now is reset the __utmb cookie and increment the session counter in __utma (the 2-year persistent cookie storing your unique ID amongst other things) every time the __utmz cookie is updated – ie, each time the traffic source changes.

It does this whether the __utmc cookie exists or not. So, closing your browser, reopening it and revisiting a site (within 30 minutes of __utmb last being updated) will count as part of the same visit.

So What does this mean?

This means that you can’t compare visit data that crosses the date divide of August 16th 2011. Year-on-year comparisons are out of the window.

You will also see an increase in visits. How much of an increase depends on your traffic patterns – if visitors frequently hopped back and forth to your website from other sites or search engines in a short space of time, you’ll see a much bigger jump than say, a blog with a relatively low publishing frequency.

You will see a slight increase in traffic sources as the splitting of visits up into per-source chunks should reveal sources that were previously buried. Average page views per visit will fall slightly, and bounce rates will rise.


My research has shown that visitors re-entering a site (within 30 minutes) via a referring site (not a search engine, or a visit with campaign tracking) are not causing the __utmz cookie to be updated, and no new visit is recorded. These visits are being considered a continuation of the original visit.

If we ignore the oddity of referring sites not being recorded properly, this change is probably going to make session-based reports easier for the layman to interpret. and a step closer to seeing per-visit traffic sources out of the box.

is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

The complete website redesign: why you should avoid it

Never do a complete redesign & rewrite of your website in one go.

Many companies are still locked in a 3-5 year redesign cycle – a point is reached when the unhappiness with their website reaches such a level that a total redesign is ordered.

The website redesign cycle

While we’re at it

A “while we’re at it” attitude comes into action.

While we’re at it…

  • we’ll redesign the look of the site…
  • we’ll change the interaction design…
  • we’ll rewrite all the content…
  • we’ll change the navigation and structure…
  • …and what the hell, we’ll change CMS while we’re at it too.

Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Well, not really. There are very few situations where I’d advise an organisation to do a complete and utter redesign, rewrite, and rebuild of their website all at the same time.

Much more complex

Not only do all those changes executed at roughly the same time require quite a sizable heap of cash, they also increase the complexity of the project by several orders of magnitude.

The increased complexity often translates into; the overunning of the project in terms of both time and money, poorly researched decisions, difficulty in making sensible decisions.

Furthermore, we’ve got the poor old user. If your repeat visitors make up a significant segment of your visitor base, consider what a complete re-working of your site will do to their world.

Search Engine impact

Finally, the big one. Something regularly under appreciated is just how symbiotic the relationship between your website and the internet really is. Everything you publish is analysed and indexed by the search engines. Other sites link to your content – perhaps many of them deep link to content beyond your index page.

Digital fingerprint

This presence, your old website, is a digital fingerprint. Google webmaster tools (and similar services) can give you an idea of what that fingerprint looks like.

What Google (and other search engines) think about your site is made up from all the words you use across all the pages on your site, its URLs – as well as; page titles, internal links, incoming links, the anchor text of all those links, and numerous other signals.

If you rewrite all of your content, change all your URLs, and redesign all your pages – all at the same time – how do you think that impacts on your fingerprint?

Minor surgery

So if a complete redesign – a full monty – is out of the question – what should you do?

Minor surgery, rather than heart surgery. Tweak. Constantly evolve. Change a few pieces at a time. Measure and test how well those pieces work. Adjust them, rewrite them, tweak them. Measure again.

Support network

If you for whatever reason can’t avoid the big bang, or you come onboard too late to steer the ship clear of the iceberg – then make sure you’ve got the right support network. The complete website redesign is the biggest challenge web management can throw at you.

is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

Sweden Social Web Camp ticket giveaway

When it became clear that I wouldn’t after all be able to make it to SSWC, I had to decide what to do with my ticket. What easier way to deal with it then to give it away?

No easy decision!

It wasn’t so easy at all. Not because nobody wanted it, quite the opposite – there were a whole load of people to choose from – but because choosing which one individual would get the ticket was a much tougher thing than i’d ever considered.

I’d set out my terms and conditions for the giveaway on Google+. In short I wanted to give the ticket to someone who hadn’t been in the “web” industry for years and would learn from the experience – to give someone a little lift and perhaps help them over the garden wall.


After quite a bit of thought – and a number of changes of mind – I decided the ticket should go to Jessica Muschött, @Karmapriya. Jessica has been involved in the branch previously, but has spent recent years doing voluntary work in India. She’s looking at making a comeback in this exciting world of digital communiction. So, She’s going to be off to Sweden Social Web Camp 2011 as part of that climb back over the garden wall.

Thanks to everyone who nominated someone, or nominated themselves. Everyone had a good case, and I wish I could send you all. Maybe next year!

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