Calculating the Cost of Website Analytics Pollution Part 3

The biggest pollution of Google Analytics comes from data processing and analysis.

Assume that analytics data from each of the 50 million websites using Google Analytics requires 30 seconds of processing per day from Google’s servers. These servers tend to be very power hungry, using anywhere from 500 to 1200 watts of power. The daily processing of data from 50 million websites could thus generate 36,195,833 kg of annual pollution, requiring the planting of 3,619,583 trees.

Let’s assume that website professionals spend an average of five minutes a day reviewing and analyzing the data produced by Google Analytics, and they do so 250 days a year. Suppose they perform this analysis on a mix of laptops and desktops. A desktop computer with a monitor can have a power of 200 watts, while modern laptops have a power of around 36. This causes 33,040,000 kg of CO2 pollution, requiring the planting of 3,304,000 trees.

So we are talking about millions of kilos of pollution caused directly or indirectly because of Google Analytics. Why? What is the benefit of Google Analytics or any other analytics software? In my experience, 80% of websites would be much better off without analytics software.

Let me tell you a typical story. An intranet manager I know goes through a ritual of presenting analytics once a week to an internal communications team. This team is always looking for hits, traffic, volume, because that’s how they’re measured, that’s how they’re rewarded. They produce “news” that hardly anyone clicks on. They constantly talk about engagement and bounce rate.

The intranet manager knows that in the real world of work, no one cares about the happy “news” that comes to them. They can’t find anything useful on the intranet and that’s why many of them have stopped using it. Analytics, instead of helping the team understand that the intranet should be useful, perversely encourages communicators to publish increasingly useless content. This is by no means an atypical scenario.

It is not the fault of the analyses, one might say, but the fault of a misinterpretation of the data. But the cult of volume is strong in so many organizations. Analytics fuels the obsession with chasing the big numbers and often leads to a production-driven cult. Let me tell you, I was part of this sect. I was an analytics junkie for years, obsessed with how I could “raise the numbers”.

Then one day, during another analysis meeting, it hit me: this is a monumental waste of time. Nothing useful comes out of all this analysis of the data. And I thought about all the years I’d done this, how rare it was to get actionable and useful insights.

Digital technology encourages production, “creativity”, activity. Digital has produced more data in the past two years than in any previous civilization. Like a virus, digital data is growing exponentially. Much of the digital business is pointless, pointless. Ninety percent of the data is crap, never accessed three months after it was created. Most analytics data is a toxic drop in this ocean of shit that is suffocating and polluting our planet.

It is time to seriously review our digital work activities. Is it really necessary? Do we really need to do this? Does it have a real and useful purpose?

Read part 2 and part 1.

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the global authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.

Charles J. Kaplan