Data is an important tool in managing your WordPress Multisite, ensuring its health, and communicating its success to others.
Usage data, as it refers to how actively your users engage with your multisite installation via their own sites and projects, is something that merits careful planning, requires ethical considerations, and is most sought-out by two main audiences: community managers looking at keeping the community active and manageable, and people needing to provide a funding narrative to outside administration.
There is no one-size-fits-all process or solution for usage data collection and assessment, as all institutions and projects are different. You can, however, apply some common techniques and strategies for getting the kind of data that works best for you and your purposes. For example, WPMS admins will want to look at general metrics like when a site in their network was created, when it was updated, how many posts and pages it has, and so on.
This article will take you through three main stages of obtaining and assessing usage data in WPMS: the goals you have for your WPMS and which usage metrics would best affirm those goals, the methods with which you will obtain and assess data, and how you will display, share, and communicate that data.
The first step in obtaining and assessing usage data in WPMS is to clearly establish what it is you're looking to prove with this data. . This is the step where you have to carefully consider your institutional needs as well as your ethical boundaries.
What are you trying to accomplish by collecting and analyzing this data? Who will be looking at what you find? How can you achieve what you need with the least amount of data collection?
Your answers to these questions will directly influence how the actual work of getting and assessing usage data will look as you continue.
Consider using larger institutional frameworks to help shape your language and goals. It can help to start with institutional strategic planning frameworks. Aligning your language and goals vertically will help create buy-in from administration.
There are a few basic methods for collecting usage data that are broadly applicable for a wide range of goals.
Please note that these methods are an overview of what’s generally possible and not an exhaustive list nor a complete how-to guide.
Information that exists naturally within WordPress
This method may require some extra footwork as you explore your network a bit to collect the data, but it can certainly do the job if you'd like a low barrier to entry for your data collection. You'll want to consider the following questions and locate where they live in your multisite:
- What kind of plugins exist and are turned on for each site?
- How many sites do you have running?
- How many users do you have?
A basic place to start here is your Network Sites List, which you can find by going to yourmultisite.com/wp-admin/network>My Network>Network Admin>Sites. Here, you’ll be able to see things like the network’s total site count, when sites were last updated, when they were registered, and how many users are associated with each site.
Hopping over to your Users tab, you will be able to find information about user count, registration date, and the sites associated with each user.
Of course, there are also many plugins that are offered on Wordpress.org to help discover some of this data collected in the background of WordPress. For example, Plugin Report can help you see how many plugins are installed on your network, as well as which are out-of-date or inactive. It can be tricky to implement this and most other plugins on very large sites, however, so that is something to consider as well.
Information that can be obtained via functions
Ram Pages at VCU is a WPMS giant, and its admins have written their own functions (really, lightweight plugins) to help them assess what's going on within their network. Below are some examples of network aspects they were interested in as well as links to their respective GitHub repositories if you want to download and use them for your own purposes.
Note: This method will require you to play around with PHP.
- Create a "data dashboard" where you can quickly and easily review information like user registrations, blog registrations, blog posts, and blog comments with the Ram Pages Data Dashboard plugin.
- Check out Ram Pages network activated custom plugin: Altlab Custom Ram Pages plugin, which has some functions you can cherry-pick depending on your needs:
Information that can be shared by users directly
This method requires some upfront work, but can also give you some of the best, most reliable data possible.
Upon signing up for their sites, you could include a simple data collection form that asks users to provide information like:
- What category the site belongs to (course site, personal blog, project, etc.).
- How many people are working on the site.
- If this is their first site on your multisite, or how many active sites they currently have.
And so on!
Remember, you'll want to come up with some sort of incentive for your users to answer these questions; make it worth their while. It's important that your users feel seen and valued, even when you're assessing how they use your network. Perhaps you could use the information they provide to connect them with resources and/or other communities that they would be interested in.
This step is where you become a compelling storyteller using the data. You want to bring people into the world being created by your project online.
Sound bites and quotable figures are a great way to capture the attention of administrators who need to understand the impact of your site in just a few moments. These are also easily shareable and memorable ways to communicate your site's impact.
A basic workflow when prepping for display is to revisit your goals, look at your data’s alignment to those goals, and create a scannable narrative. Then, consider how you can create replicable ways to gather and show this data on a regular basis, be it annually, or otherwise.A great example of this strategy is Ram Pages' digital pamphlet, which focuses on eye-catching layout and figures that are highly "scan-able" for institutional administrators of any level of familiarity with the project. This pamphlet also maps out a story about Ram Pages, in which there is growth, cost savings, high impact learning, innovations, and more happening all in this one ecosystem.
It's important that you think about communicating your WPMS's usage data as an integral part of your project process. You'll want to build out whatever is going to help feed these end-of-year reports before they come due.
A final note here on some basic ethical data collection practices:
"Collect as little data as possible, expunge as frequently as possible, keep it as disassociated with people as possible. Reassess often what kind of data you're actually using and get rid of what you're not, then stop collecting it." — Tom Woodward