On Monday, around 1PM Pacific Time, Facebook had an issue with their comments and the counter for their Facebook Like button that made it appear for many people–including TechCrunch–that they had lost all their Facebook Likes.
Unfortunately, this was out of our hands since the problem happened on Facebook’s end. But I thought this would be a good time to explain how counter values work, and where those values are stored.
How counters work
Counter values for all services are stored based on the URL of the page. So, for example, the URLs http://www.example.com/index.html and http://example.com/ will have different counts because the URLs are different, despite the fact that they’ll display the same page.
Take a look at this image:
If there is a difference in anything from the protocol or green sections, the counts for those URLs will be different.
There are ways around this; for example, you can set a canonical link tag or set the URL to share to be different, but if you do that, the counters will be the same regardless of the page you’re on.
So if you have the Facebook Like button on several pages of your site, and you don’t have any other configuration telling AddThis to use a specific URL you designate, each page of your site will have different count values.
Many people make the common mistake of thinking the Facebook Like button should have the same number of fan Likes on their Facebook Page. This isn’t true. The Facebook Like button doesn’t count Likes for your Facebook Page just like the Tweet button doesn’t count your Twitter followers, and the Google +1 button doesn’t count the number of people who have +1′ed your Google+ Page.
The Like/Tweet/+1 button counters specifically show the number of times the URL (the one you’ve configured to share) has actually been shared to those services.
The Facebook Like button counter also includes activity not tracked by AddThis analytics, such as likes, shares, and comments that happen on Facebook.com. Here’s a screenshot of what you’d see about your Facebook-related activity from your AddThis analytics page:
Counters are also served from cached servers to improve performance. So, for instance, you share something to Twitter, and then immediately refresh your page, the counter won’t be updated until Twitter’s counter server updates its cache.
AddThis counters work a little differently. We cache the values, but we also store the counter value in a cookie on your computer after you share, so users are reassured their share was registered.
Where counter values are stored
Each service — whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, or AddThis — stores its counter values separately. This means that the value you see in Facebook’s Like counter is only stored on Facebook’s servers, not AddThis servers. The same goes for the Tweet, +1, and all of our third-party buttons. So when you see that your counter reset without having made any changes to your URL, it’s almost always something that happens outside of the AddThis tool.
The only counter values AddThis stores are the ones used in our compact menu and our pill-style menu. That is, for:
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<a class="addthis_counter addthis_bubble_style"></a>
Our Individual Share Counters use the services’ APIs to get the counts, so we don’t store those counter values either.
I hope this answers all your questions about counts, counters, and what happens when you see your counter rest. If you have any questions for me, feel free to post them in the comment section below, or look for me over in our support section!