Author Archive

Chartbeat, HealthCare.gov, and Personal Information

January 22nd, 2015 by Tony

Over the last couple of days, there has been a lot of talk about data privacy and specifically HealthCare.gov passing personal information (e.g., age, zip code, income) to third-party data sites. Chartbeat is paid by clients like HealthCare.gov to help content teams understand how people visiting the site engage with the content, so the folks behind these sites can create the best possible visitor experience.

With that in mind, I want to take a second to talk about what Chartbeat does and doesn’t do (since there are a lot of data providers out there and we all collect and measure different things), what happens when we inadvertently receive personal information in our data, and generally how anyone using data tools for their website can do so effectively while simultaneously taking care to protect their users’ information.

Chartbeat and the data we collect

First, there is a lot of legal stuff. I know, I know. But it’s actually all really important to know about us, what we care about as a company, and how we compare to other data providers out there.

  1. Chartbeat ONLY shares data about a specific client site or the visitors of that site with the owner of that specific client site. Under no circumstances do we share or sell that data to third parties, advertisers or otherwise. Specifically our Privacy Policy states: “Except as expressly provided otherwise herein, we will not sell, lease or exchange the personal information of our Customers or any end user (to the extent that we obtain such information) to third parties without first obtaining their express consent, unless required by law or to protect their status as a Customer.”
  2. Our JavaScript pings, which report information, only do so via HTTPS when client sites are HTTPS, to help prevent third parties from intercepting that data in transit.
  3. We do not ever intentionally collect personal information. As our Privacy Policy states: “Chartbeat does not collect any personally identifiable information from users of Customer Websites, provided that (i) Chartbeat does collect IP addresses from visitors to Customer Websites in order to show geolocation information, and (ii) the Customer configures the Chartbeat code on the Customer Website in accordance with the instructions and documentation provided by Chartbeat, so that URLs containing personally identifiable information of end users are not captured by the Service.”
  4. In our client contracts and Terms of Use, we specifically state that our clients need to scrub any personal information before passing it through to Chartbeat.

When personal information is passed through to Chartbeat

But the last point (point 4 above) doesn’t always happen. So then what?

If there is a time when we learn that personal information may have been passed to us from a website, we do the following:

  • Immediately get in touch with the client / owner of the site
  • Identify the location of the personal data (e.g., what’s the URL)
  • Advise the client on how to fix their code implementation issues in order to immediately stop the sending of personal data through to Chartbeat.
  • Determine the best way to purge our system database of this data and purge that data accordingly

It’s a quick, efficient, and effective reaction. But being reactive isn’t good enough. We’ve also got to be proactive.

In light of the concerns raised this week, we’re also performing ongoing audits of our entire network of thousands of client sites to see if we can identify instances of personal data to alert clients and ensure they update the data they pass to us immediately.

How we can all get better at taking care of our users’ data

The above is all specific to Chartbeat and we take the data we receive incredibly seriously. If I’ve gotten nothing else across at this point, I hope it’s that.

However, it’s important that we all, as website owners and data users, do our part to be better shepherds of data of all kinds—personal or not. A few ways to do so (and I’m positive you all have more suggestions, so please email me with them and I’ll update this post accordingly):

  • Never pass data in the URL itself. Because most analytics providers report at the URL level, the contents of the URL are likely to be stored by any analytics firm you work with.
  • If your web pages are served via HTTP then consider moving them to HTTPS. HTTP is insecure and data sent over HTTP could be read by a third party on the network.
  • Get to know your data partners. They are the experts in the data they collect, the way they collect it, how they store it, where they store it, and how it’s used. Ask them about it. Make sure you completely understand the terms of use, privacy policy, and any contractual language before putting their code on your site. And when you’re at the point of implementation, make sure you’ve checked with them to ensure you’ve done so properly. If you have any questions about Chartbeat implementation, our Chartcorps team is your go-to.

Chartbeat is in the business of building a better internet. As much as that means making sure the best content gets the most attention, it also means making sure we all, as users, fully understand the data that’s powering the web. We’ll do our very best to continue to be transparent about what we measure, how we measure it, and what that means for you.

On the Facebook News Feed Algorithm Changes and Why Short-Form Content Will Be Just Fine

August 25th, 2014 by Tony

Facebook announced today that is is making some changes to its News Feed algorithm to combat clickbait. Primarily, the social network will be looking at how much time people spend reading away from Facebook.

“If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.”

Focusing on attention and time is nothing new for Facebook. On its last earnings call, Facebook specifically spoke about the size of their market opportunity in terms of the available time and attention they were able to accrue. On a more practical note, Facebook has been factoring how much time people spend away from Facebook after clicking on an ad into its pricing algorithm for some time now. In some ways, the news today is simply a wider application of that action.

Second, the decision to enable greater previewing of links, effectively giving the visitor more information to decide whether the content is interesting to them, potentially confirms a theory that Chartbeat’s data science team has held. On average, traffic from Facebook spends about 60% more time reading than traffic from Twitter. While there are likely a number of factors in this, the more sophisticated previewing in Facebook is a clear differentiator that we think affects this.

Take together these two actions confirm that Facebook is taking its users’ experience incredibly seriously and are leaning more and more on the fundamental concepts of the Attention Web to do so. That’s good news for quality publishers everywhere.

But what does this mean for great short-form content? The one potential challenge to this was raised by Matt Galligan of the excellent news service Circa:


It’s utterly logical to be concerned that content designed for brevity would suffer under this algorithm. However, I think this underestimates the comparative wealth of attention that even content designed to be brief gets. The depressing truth of the Internet is that short-form content hangs out on the same end of the distribution curve of the Internet as long form when it comes to attention.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the majority of pageviews on the internet get fewer than 15 seconds of engagement. Facebook is looking for those incidences when people come ‘straight back’ to the feed, suggesting that the threshold they’ve set for clickbait may be rather low. If your content matches the intent of your headline (ie. you’re selling what you’re promising), then you’re highly likely to beat Facebook’s threshold even with short form.

Bottom line: Focus on creating quality content, match it with an accurate headline, and you’ll be fine.

Funding News: Investing in the Future of the Media Industry

May 14th, 2014 by Tony

I’m excited to announce that Chartbeat has accepted $3.1m in additional funding led by existing investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Index Ventures with participation from Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Freestyle Capital, LAUNCH Fund, SoftTech VC and Lowercase Capital. From two guys around one desk to today, Chartbeat is now a company serving 80% of the top publishers in the U.S. with clients in 35 countries around the world. Our ability to do this is because of the consistent incredible support we’ve had from a stellar group of investors.

What will you be using the money for?

HIRING! We’ve now got multiple product lines that touch content creation, promotion and monetization, including Chartbeat’s new paid content service, which we launched today! That’s a lot of moving pieces that require multiple engineers, designers, and product people to lead us forward. If you’re interested in building a web where quality content and good design can make money; if you want to work with one of the most interesting data sets and some of the weirdest people in the world, we want to hear from you.

Why only $3.1m?

To be honest, that’s all our finance guy told me we needed. We intend to raise a larger Series C towards the end of 2014 to fuel our expansion in the longer term.

Why not do the Series C now?

Because if you’ve ever raised a financing round you know it’s a pain in the arse and distraction from the job of building a company. Right now, we’re heads down on developing new products and working with our partners on some stuff I’m utterly in love with and I didn’t want the distraction of a second full-time job taking me away from the maelstrom.

DFJ and Index told us almost nine months ago that if we ever wanted to build more of a war chest without having to go around the houses raising money they were keen to put money in at a healthy valuation. Given the product line expansion that’s been happening at Chartbeat, it made sense to make that call now. I’d like to thank DFJ, Index and our other investors for making this the easiest fund raise in history. You guys rock.

What should we expect from Chartbeat in future?

I made our position pretty clear in an article I recently wrote for TIME. We believe that for quality content to thrive on the web we need to value people’s attention as much as their clicks. We’re going to make that happen. We’re building an ecosystem of SAAS tools that enable people through the media/advertising world to do more with less and value content more effectively. If we succeed, then content creators can charge more for quality and advertisers can buy media based on their actual goals not proxies. It’s going to be a long road, but we’ve got the right partners with us and that’s half the battle.

Important Note to Our Clients: Chartbeat Phishing Attack

August 22nd, 2013 by Tony

This week, Chartbeat was subject to a phishing attack as part of an ongoing campaign from the Syrian Electronic Army that recently affected OutbrainSocialFlow, and a number of other sites.

Let me say first that no client’s site was affected. No action was taken on or from a client site. However, four Chartbeat Publishing clients’ dashboards were viewed by unauthorized parties and a handful of  passwords were reset by these wankers. I’ve been on the phone with every one of the partners whose dashboards were viewed as we continue to investigate this. If I have not contacted you directly, we don’t feel there’s a need for concern at this point, but if you’d like and it would make your more comfortable, feel free to reset your password.

Though it appears this incident only involved a few clients, we’re sharing this information publicly because we believe in transparency above all else and have our clients’ data and security as our absolute top priority. In the next day, our development and web ops team will be writing a complete post on all of the security measures and updates we’ve had in place, put in place and will put in place.

That’s the gist, for those who want to know more, here’s what we know:

So what happened?

We’ve been investigating this intensively since the phishing attack and, as of now, we’ve found that there was unauthorized access of a Chartbeat employee account. No client sites were accessed. Chartbeat Publishing dashboards for four of our clients were viewed and attempts were made to set and reset passwords for a handful of their Chartbeat accounts. As soon as we found out, we disabled access. In addition, the Chartbeat Twitter account was hacked for less than five minutes on Thursday early morning. This is what we know and we will continue to share more with you here and in future posts as we learn more.

Was your dashboard accessed?
Our investigation shows that only four dashboards have been accessed, and we have directly contacted those four clients. If I haven’t directly contacted you (phoned and emailed), our investigation indicates that your dashboard was not accessed. If you see anything unusual however small, please email support@chartbeat.com (which goes to all of us) or via Twitter at @Chartcorps. We are continuing to monitor and investigate around the clock.

Is there anything else for you to do?
Nope, but if you feel more comfortable, you can reset the passwords to your Chartbeat accounts — as a precautionary protective measure.

How will we keep you informed?
We’re continuing to investigate, and if we learn anything new that directly relates to you, your account, or your site we will contact you immediately. If we learn anything new that’s worth sharing more broadly, we’ll update this post.

One more thing from the whole Chartbeat team…
We feel terrible about this. That’s an understatement, really. We are taking this incident incredibly seriously, and we’re here to answer any questions you have, whenever you have them. Please do not hesitate to email us with any question or concern you have. You and your security is our absolute number one priority.

Chartbeat: The Next Generation

April 11th, 2012 by Tony

Three years ago this month, Chartbeat launched at the web 2.0 summit. Today Chartbeat is beating under the hood of sites across 37 countries and takes the pulse of around 5 million visitors across the web at any one moment. Fantastic clients like ESPN, Fox News, The New York Times, Forbes, Fab.com, and Gilt Groupe have partnered with us and helped us to understand the contours of this new world of data.

Today, I’m excited to announce the next chapter in Chartbeat’s history: a new round of funding, new look, new dashboard, and a whole bunch of new features. That’s a lot to get through, but I promise to be brief.

Chartbeat: Next Generation from Chartbeat Video on Vimeo.

A New Round and A New Partner

We’ve just closed a $9.5m Series B round of funding led by Josh Stein at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Saul Klein at Index Ventures, and they’re joined by some of our favorite Angel investors.

Saul has been a constant friend and guide over the last three years and helped us take the time to find the right partner that will continuously help us push Chartbeat and the real-time revolution forward. We found that partner in Josh Stein. Josh took the time to get to know us over the course of a year, has incredible experience of building great SaaS companies like Box and SugarCRM. Most importantly, Josh just plain got it. Thanks Saul, thanks Josh, we’re going to make you proud.

A New Look

The first thing you’ll notice when you hit Chartbeat.com today is a very different look. We’re growing up. And growing up means making sure we’re as good looking on the outside as our dashboards are on the inside.

We’re also making things simpler. Newsbeat has become Chartbeat Publishing: the command center for all serious publishers of media and content.

A New Dashboard

We’re also rolling out a brand new dashboard with advanced functionality to all Chartbeat users over the next few days. When you get your hands on it, you’ll see a few key elements that we’ve focused on:

1. Real engagement

Common understandings of engagement have always relied upon explicit actions (a like or a share) taken by a few people or traditionally inaccurate guesstimetrics like “time-on-site.” At Chartbeat, we wanted to accurately understand how engaged each person who visits your site is, not just the people who hit the like button.

So we built Engaged Time. Window open in another tab? Doesn’t count. The visitor isn’t actively viewing, reading, commenting on the page? Doesn’t count. With Chartbeat’s unique way of measuring, Engaged Time counts the amount of time someone spends actively interacting with your site and enables you to see your site from a completely different perspective.

For the very first time, you can finally go beyond eyeballs and clicks and understand which content is making an impact, what’s engaging people’s heads and hearts.

2. Data in context

When you’re looking at your data – whether Chartbeat or otherwise – I bet the first question you ask yourself is “Is this good?”. You generally know if you’re doing well compared to yourself, but what about your competitors — those that are fighting for the same eyes and hearts that you are?

We’re introducing Peer Stats, which does just that.

Now, you can see your data, put in context with the anonymized, aggregated stats of your sites like yours all in real time.

Are we getting as much social traffic as we should? Is our page load speed fast enough? For the first time you’ll have a frame to understand your performance in the context of the wider web, so you know where to focus and when to celebrate.

3. Your data wherever you are

When something important happens, you want to know about it — whether it’s on your site, your iPhone or iPad app or across the social web. So why should you only see real-time stats of who’s on your site? You shouldn’t.

Chartbeat is going beyond the site. From now on you’ll be able to get real-time data from your iPhone or iPad app as well as your site. This feature is currently in beta so we’re going to need your feedback, but we’re super excited about it.

We’ve also launched a new Social View that brings the social data you need into one dashboard. You’ll get loads of insight into not just who’s talking about you where, but how that’s affecting your site traffic.

We hope you like all the new things we’ve been working on. The only thing we ask of you in return is your feedback. Let us know what you think about your new dashboard as you’re rolled into it over the next few days.

We can’t thank you enough for the love and support thus far. We’re excited to get to work and take this thing to an even higher level.