Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/8/04
In the middle
of last year someone suggested I check out a site called Alexa.com. It was a
website that ranked other sites for popularity. The catch was you had to
download their toolbar. The toolbar itself is pretty neat- with a really good
popup blocker. The downside is that the Alexa folk can track your websurfing-
although this matters not to me since I assume my life is an open book. Alexa
also has a review system where you can rank websites from 1-5 stars with
comments. A few months ago Amazon.com bought out Alexa & really screwed up
the reviews section- but the web rankings of Alexa toolbar users is pretty good,
in that it is updated every week or so, and gives a 3 month ranking average.
The problem is that because Alexa uses some Google-like algorithm it skews the data. Also, Alexa only works on pc’s with Windows systems & with the Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser- not Netscape or Opera, further skewing its data. Plus, it only ranks URLs with domain names- not websites that are built on sites like Tripod or Freeservers. Another problem is that it undercounts websites that have multiple page views by a single user in a day. For instance, if you are reading this on a page on my website Cosmoetica.com, and then come back 2 or 3 times in the day to read it again it’s only counted as 1 ‘hit’. Also, secure websites- those beginning https: are not counted. For this reason Alexa says that the higher a site ranks to #1 on its rankings the more reliable the ranking is. Still, it does give you a ballpark figure outside of counting your own webhits to figure out where your site stands in relation to other websites.
Still, I was not satisfied with Alexa’s ranking system alone. I found another website called Ranking.com that also has a toolbar. Its ranking system is fairly in sync with Alexa’s on probably about 80% of its rankings, but it claims to be less limited than Alexa because it does not rely on its toolbar for information. But it also skews things, and I have no firm grasp of how it operates, save that it seems to skew towards those sites which take the time to fill out its survey. A major limitation is that its rankings stop after the Top 900,000 sites. Why it stops at this # is beyond me. A site lower than that threshold comes up with a ‘No Data’ status.
Anyway, as of 2/10/04 I have seen my poetry & essay site Cosmoetica.com climb from an initial Alexa ranking of 7 million+ (still not bad in a cyberworld of 500 million sites & counting) to a 3 month cumulative high of 131,524. In the last week or 2 it’s slipped to 134,551. It’s been under 150k for the last 3 months or so. Considering that Cosmoetica is a non-commercial & unaffiliated website about mostly poetry- that’s amazing! Especially considering that it has started to best some of the most well-funded & affiliated poetry & literary websites out there- more in a moment. As for the Ranking.com rankings Cosmoetica started out about 3 months ago being ranked at about 524k (after 100,000 Ranking.com just rounds the rank off to the nearest thousand)- but I noticed it was lumped in with a lot of other websites that started with COS. It took me emailing Ranking.com and then filling out a questionnaire for my site to be differentiated from the other COS sites. A couple of weeks ago it had zoomed up to about 66,000 and now it has reached 10,309.
Ok, as much as I’d like to believe that ranking I tend to doubt it- the Alexa ranking seems a bit more realistic- but if I take the average of the 2 rankings I get 72,430- which seems to me to probably be more accurate than either ranking system’s algorithms. To give you an idea of the sort of traffic I get let me give you the cumulative hits I had on Cosmoetica’s main home page on its 1st 3 anniversaries- by my own web host’s counters. In year 1- ending 1/8/02- Cosmoetica had 31,236 hits. A year later the total was 333,117- meaning over 300,000 hits in the year- or a nearly tenfold increase in traffic. By Cosmo’s 3rd anniversary- 1/8/04- the home page had recorded 6,432,801 hits- or over 6 million hits in a year- a nearly 20 fold increase. Just a couple of days when I last uploaded to the site & updated the figures Cosmo went over 7 million hits- or about 600,000 in a month- or a 7 million+ hits year looming. This would be an increase, but not an exponential one. In short, unless something major happens publicity-wise Cosmoetica seems to have found its level. So, I can see how both ranking sites’ increases have taken place. Why there is such a discrepancy between the two seems a mystery.
Let me now compare Cosmo’s figures with some other poetry websites figures as of 2/10/04. Let me first look at some of the websites for the largest poetry organizations online. The Academy of American Poets website comes in at 35,436 according to Alexa, but 25,032 according to Ranking.com. While these figures are fairly coherent to each other I wonder how the Academy can be nearly 100,000 ahead of me on Alexa (or over 4 times as popular), yet be 15,000 behind (or 2½ times less popular than) Cosmoetica? The Poets & Writers website is even goofier in its rankings- it clocks in at 183,453 on Alexa & 171,200 on Ranking.com. Again, fairly consonant with each other, but as much as I’d like to believe Cosmoetica tops them, I have a hard time believing Cosmo is 17 times as popular as P&W (according to Ranking.com).
How about the 2 most popular strictly online poetry sites? Poetry Daily beats Cosmoetica by about 60,000 on Alexa (71,045) but only scores a 22,371 on Ranking.com. In other words, one system has it twice as popular as Cosmo, & the other ½ as popular. The Electronic Poetry Center is a bit more consistent- coming in at 6411 on Alexa & 5387 on Ranking.com. Plagiarist.com, another highly visited poetry website, comes in at 78,844 on Alexa & 40,756 on Ranking.com. As it is one of the few other websites that makes its hits known it’s worth a look to see how it compares to Cosmoetica there. Cosmo debuted on 1/9/01 & just eked over 7 million hits a few days ago. Plagiarist debuted in 8/01 (7 months later) & claims 18,360,901 visitors (i.e.-hits). If it has racked up hits at over 3 times my pace how can it be behind me on Ranking.com- even if one concedes that Cosmo may have surpassed its daily hits totals in recent months?
Let me now examine Cosmoetica vs. some of the terrible poetry and literature websites out there. One of the biggest is Web Del Sol. This puerile multi-zine has slipped out of Alexa’s top 100,000 in recent months. It has now fallen out of the top 200,000 (perhaps as a result of a feud it started with me- readers and reviewers on Alexa apparently sided overwhelmingly with Cosmoetica)- as of 2/10/04 it clocks in at 201,701- but still tallies at 52,719 on Ranking.com. Yet, its publisher claims over a million hits a month- or about twice Cosmoetica’s traffic. If they are lying about their hits- which would not surprise- there is still a wide discrepancy between the 2 rankings. But if what they claim is true then how could they be so far behind me in both rankings? Another hack-filled literary zine is Rain Taxi- they come in at 893,678 on Alexa and 366,400+ on Ranking.com. Ranking.com seems to have consistently higher rankings- this may mean that Alexa toolbar users are not that into poetry, or something else. But some discrepancies are huge. Hack poet John Amen’s terrible little tool for Academic advancement is called Pedestal Magazine- on Alexa it gets a 797,879, but on Ranking.com it comes in at 89,696. Another well known, but mediocre online poetry site- the Alsop Review clocks in at 832,337 on Alexa but 200,700+ on Ranking.com.
Two sites that affiliate with Cosmoetica, however, seem to skew against the rule of a much higher Ranking.com ranking. StorySouth, run by Jason Sanford, clocks in at 929,528 on Alexa and you’d think that would mean a slot in the top ½ million on Ranking.com. No- storySouth comes up a ‘No Data’- out of the top 900,000 on Ranking. Another site that craps out on Ranking.com with a ‘No Data’ is Sursumcorda.com- where my Omniversica online radio show is housed. But it comes in at 1,229,156 on Alexa. Why these two sites don’t skew higher on Ranking.com is puzzling.
Yet, Hackwriters follows the routine by clocking in at 173,808 on Alexa, and 30,874 on Ranking.com. What this all means is anyone’s guess. Why it’s so difficult to determine simple website rankings is baffling. I mean- a hit is a hit. Granted, I can see how an algorithm could not tell you if someone is studying an online article in depth, but is it really THAT hard to tell how one site compares against others? Apparently, for hits seem to matter little in these ranking systems. Anyone out there who can do better please let me know, for that’s one cyber-venture that could garner big bucks- and I’d be willing to get in at the ground floor.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the 2/04 Hackwriters website.]
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