Ads, privacy, and javascript

Part 1: Ads (or lack thereof)

Ever since the features of Apple’s iOS 9 were announced, there has been much discussion surrounding the software’s ability to block ads. Now seems to be a good time to discuss several interconnected issues related to my website, starting with how I monetize the traffic flow and page views.

Simply put, I don’t. The business model for Knossos Games is that there is no business model. Knossos Games has always been presented free of advertisements. I intend to keep it that way. Ads on the web (and generally in life) have gotten way out of control, to the detriment of the entire experience. When you come to the Knossos Games website looking for quality puzzles, that’s what I want you to find. Nothing more, nothing less.

So how can I afford to do this? CTY and Imagine pay me for each submission to the magazine as a regular contributor, and they graciously let me retain the copyright for my work. Even so, the puzzles and the website are a hobby and not my main occupation, and as such I don’t rely on them for my main source of income. As an educator, I believe that knowledge wants to be free (in every sense of the word), and I want my work to be as accessible as possible. A long time ago I decided, in exchange for their payment, the magazine and its readers would get an exclusive window of opportunity to see my work before it is posted to the website. If you really enjoy Knossos Games and have a little money to spare, please consider buying a subscription to the magazine.

There are two things on the website, however, that some people might consider advertising. First, there are frequent links back to CTY and Imagine. I am grateful to them for giving me a nationally-published puzzle column in their magazine that I retain the rights to, so can you blame me? That being said, I get no direct income from those links and honestly have no idea if they have any impact whatsoever on web traffic to their site, interest in their programs, or increased readership of the magazine.

Second, when I mention on this blog a relevant puzzle book that I think you might like to read, I insert an Amazon Affiliate link. I do not intend to ever clutter up the main website with these links, or host the barrage of Amazon advertisements included in their program on the website or the blog. (Notice that I’m not even linking to Amazon within this post.) Each blog post link is clearly identified as such with a rollover. I can report that, in the first ten months of using Amazon Affiliate links, I’ve posted a grand total of two of them, and made zero dollars from them. Do yourself a favor and buy the books from your local bookstore after using Amazon to see the details.

Part 2: Traffic Analysis and Privacy

Your privacy is important. I want to be completely transparent as to what information I collect about those who read Knossos Games. I’m not a lawyer, but I wanted a privacy policy for the site, so here it is.

As I alluded to above, I have no information about subscribers to the magazine. I wouldn’t want it if it was offered to me. My editor has told me that Knossos Games has a small but loyal fan base, and this seems to be good enough to keep Knossos Games in print. If you are a long-time reader of the puzzle column, thank you!

I use three methods to collect anonymous information about visitors to the website. The first, which I’ve used for many years, is JavaScript code at the end of each puzzle website page (but not the blog) that sends information to StatCounter. The other two, which I started using in July 2015, are server-side tracking features for the puzzle website and the blog: Webalizer and AWStats. Both of these provide slightly different analytics from each other, and different from StatCounter. Together, these three services provide me with basic information about visitors to the website, such as: how you navigated to my website, what pages you visited, how long you browsed the website, and information about your location and device (screen size, operating system, and browser). If you are interested, all three services provide a complete listing of the data they collect at their respective websites.  I do not get any information that would identify you personally, nor would I ever want to seek out that information.

Why do I want this basic information? Part of my motivation is simply curiosity. After years of having this website, it’s still thrilling for me to see that someone visited from very far away. Another part is to ensure that your experience on the site is a good one. Is the site coded and formatted in such a way so that your device can load it properly? Page views specifically help me determine what puzzles are popular and how people navigate the site. For example, featuring puzzles on the homepage unsurprisingly results in far more visitors to those puzzles. Knowing how people navigated to the site helps me understand how people find out about Knossos Games. Most traffic used to come in via links from CTY and Imagine, along with a few third-party blog posts that were highly ranked in Google searches for triangular or isometric graph paper. Now, almost all traffic is from the organization Hoagies’ Gifted, which links to Knossos Games under brain teasers and puzzles. (Much of this shift in traffic is due to broken links to the old website, unfortunately.)

What do I do with this basic information? I use it to make the site better. I only check it occasionally, most often when I need to make design decisions about the site. I would never use this information to advertise (see part 1), nor would I ever sell this information to others for them to advertise to you. If you are concerned about your information being collected through these means, from my website and others, I would encourage you to use internet anonymization tools.

Part 3: Is JavaScript necessary?

With so much obtrusive advertising and traffic analysis on the web, JavaScript ad blockers and people turning off JavaScript altogether are becoming more prevalent. This has been possible from the desktop and Android for some time, but Apple’s iOS 9 has raised the collective consciousness surrounding ad blocking. Regardless of whether this is good or bad, or the effects it will ultimately have, I’m trying to move away from relying on JavaScript wherever I can. I want to provide a baseline, excellent experience on my website using HTML5 and CSS3, only adding JavaScript to further enhance that experience.

This is why I chose a few months ago to add Webalizer and AWStats analytics in addition to the free StatCounter service I had been using for years. These two new services get their data directly from the server and do not rely on JavaScript whatsoever. Another example: in recently tinkering with the splash page, I embedded a link to the homepage within the graphic, in case the automatic JavaScript forwarding fails. Yet another example: I found a clever CSS technique to create step-by-step slideshows for the Space Pods solutions that completely avoids JavaScript.

It is unclear to me how this situation with JavaScript and ad blocking will shake out in the months and years ahead. But I will continue to look for ways to create a complete experience solely through HTML5 and CSS3, only then adding JavaScript for additional features.