The Hits Keep Coming at Recovery.gov

U.S. CapitolEarl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, has a tough job – bringing transparency to the government outlays mandated by the recently-passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The main vehicle envisioned to bring this information to the public is Recovery.gov, which is administered by Devaney’s board.

Last week, Devaney was before Congress touting the demand for this information.  His testimony was picked up by several news outlets, including these stories at CNN, Federal Computer Week, and the L.A. Times.

In his testimony, he described traffic levels at Recovery.gov to be about “4,000 hits per second” (emphasis mine).  This means that in a day, the site would get about 350 million hits per day (4,000 * 60 seconds/minute * 60 minutes/hour * 24 hours per day).  To most people, this would imply a traffic level equivalent to every internet user in the United States visiting the site more than one time, every single day.  However, this statistic is misleading.

A “hit”, commony confused with a “page view” or a “visit”, is a single HTTP request from a web server to a browser for a specific resource.  HTML pages, images, flash objects, CSS sheets, external scripts, and other other files requested by a browser to render a page each generate a single hit upon their request.  The net effect is that single pages can generate several hits for the display of a single page to an individual user.

In the case of Recovery.gov, the home page loads 30 files to fully render.  If the 4,000 hits statistic is accurate, then there are really about 11.5 million page views per day.  Assuming that the average visitor views 5 pages on the site (which is a big assumption), the true number of visits to the site is more like 2.3 million per day, or about 27 new visits per second.

27 is a lot less impressive than 4,000, but it may be a much better picture of the true nature of traffic to the site.