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The Real Problem With Alexa

CmdrTaco posted more than 7 years ago | from the get-my-irk-on dept.

The Internet 372

Alexa drives me nuts. It uses a broken methodology to measure the internet and is, for reasons unclear to anyone, regarded as somehow definitive simply because it allows you to compare two sites with a single simple number. Its sampling methodology is flawed and the numbers it produces are meaningless. And if you want to help me prove this, please install their toolbar. Of course since most of you are Slashdot readers, most of you won't and that only helps prove my point. Read on for what I mean by all of this, and why it matters.

As the defacto 'Guy in Charge' of a reasonably large web site, I am routinely asked questions by a variety of people that lead inevitably to Alexa. It might be a question from my Boss at SourceForge about traffic. Or it might be a sales guy asked by a possible advertiser why some other random website is bigger or smaller than Slashdot. Most often it's a random reporter doing background for a story that has nothing to do with Slashdot. Why I'm considered an expert is very confusing, but why they always regard Alexa rankings as meaningful is even more so.

Here's the problem: Alexa doesn't work because of who will install it, and perhaps more importantly, who won't. Let's start with a place I'm very familiar with: Slashdot readers. Until recently Alexa didn't work on Firefox... instead only IE users participated. On the internet as a whole that's fine: like 80% of users run IE. But on Slashdot only like a quarter of you do.

What about re-installing the plug-in after you update your browser? When Firefox 2.0 came out, almost a third of Slashdot readers upgraded within a few days. You upgrade Minor Firefox releases overnight. Even IE users of Slashdot update relatively fast, from 6 to 7 or even minor revisions. New versions often break old plug-ins. When you get that alert that a plug-in is out of date do you just forget about it? I know I do. And that's not even counting clean OS installs. But if I went to random non-technical friends and family installations, I frequently see versions of software so dated it makes me cringe.

And that's not even talking about the fact that Alexa's toolbar is pretty much spyware. How many Slashdot readers are giddy to install spyware? You either? Big surprise. Because of who we are, and what it is, our population will self select out of consideration.

Did you know Alexa excludes SSL? How many etrade users do you think there are? Now personally I'm glad that they aren't tracking my browsing at my credit card company, but it's just another factor reducing accuracy.

Equally perplexing is the accounting of iframes. Let's look at someone like double click's alexa rating. Now it's hard to say, but I don't think I've ever visited their website. Have you? But according to Alexa, they have nearly a 1% share of the internet. I'd tend not to believe it... but they have iframes on zillions of web pages and counting those sure would account for this huge ranking. What about all those badges for the popular social networking websites? What influence are those iframes having on Alexa rankings? Alexa's FAQ says they don't count, but I'm skeptical.

In Fact, Alexa KNOWS that it is a flawed metric for measuring. Have you ever tried actually looking up alexa on alexa? Unsurprisingly, it is unavailable. Why? Visitors to Alexa.com would be the most likely of any user population on-line to have installed their plug-in. I don't know what their 'Rank' would be, but I bet it clearly would be an apples to oranges comparison against ANY other site on-line.

Of course who do you think actually will go out of their way to install something like this? I have a good guess... if you are obsessed with acronyms like SEO or terms like PageRank you are very likely to care very much about these things. I spend a real percentage of my week dealing with people flooding my systems with garbage content designed to screw with these ratings. And you know they all have the toolbar installed so their zillions of worthless spam websites are being counted.

This problem has parallels elsewhere of course: The Nielsen ratings struggle to account for PVRs. Since you got a TiVo, when was the last time you watched "Live" TV? This is part of why Science Fiction shows struggle on TV... scifi fans are early adopters. So we stopped getting counted and our favorite genres are butchered by networks and lost to the void. PVR users tend to be wealthy (those boxes are expensive) and educated. Now I'm not saying that the dumbing down of TV is exclusively the fault of Tivo, but it sure didn't help that we weren't being counted as excellent "Smart" TV shows get canceled while we keep getting more seasons of Survivor. Who we are and how we live causes us to not be counted, and this has unintended consequences.

So what do we do? I wish I had a good answer to this. My first suggestion would be that if anyone mentions Alexa to you that you freak out and go on a 5-minute rant about how Alexa is stupid and anyone who is using it to seriously make a business decision should be fired. It doesn't actually help, but i estimate that every time I do this, I burn the same number of calories as I might on an elliptical trainer. I assure you the beer gut ain't getting smaller on its own.

Alternatively you could just install the toolbar on every machine you can find and skew the numbers ridiculously towards people that are likely unrepresented. Of course, the conspiracy theorists amongst you will just bitch that I'm trying to fudge Slashdot's own rankings in a system I'm claiming to hate. But that only helps proves my point... the conspiracy theorist is a demographic strongly represented on Slashdot that is unlikely to trust this software. We all ignore a broken status quo "Gold" standard that would fail a 100 level college science class on the grounds of flawed methodology. And this only leads to us not being counted.

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Rant as news (-1, Redundant)

jshriverWVU (810740) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957179)

Will have to reread this, but it doesnt come off as news but a rant. And no I wont install the toolbar.

Re:Rant as news (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957261)

Re-read? Most likely read :) I guess you just posted as fast as you could just to get "FP!!!11!"

Re:Rant as news (5, Insightful)

tabacco (145317) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957271)

That's probably why it's filed under 'Editorial'.

Re:Rant as news (5, Funny)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957283)

Will have to reread this, but it doesnt come off as news but a rant. And no I wont install the toolbar.

"Rant" ?

CmdrTaco is being rebel, anti-establishment, rage against the machine, fuck the system! This is what he's done here, and he deserves *respect* old man.

Back in the days, when we were pissed about religion, wars and social injustice, we dressed like goths and sang bad rock and roll and emo music.

But today, thanks to the world wide web, we take the next level, and all this unrelenting energy in today's youth comes in the form of a rant against a toolbar that rates sites. And I say, bravo.

Re:Rant as news (4, Informative)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957285)

Of course it's a rant, it's an editorial.
The tags were there before TFA.
Furthermore you will need to re-read it because of your race to FP you likely only read the front page blurb. /rant.
-nB

Re:Rant as news (1)

jshriverWVU (810740) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957341)

Nope read what he wrote. Didnt notice is was CmdrTaco though, so sorry. Guess as an editorial it's interesting and sums up a lot of feelings people here have. Just when looking for a news post it seemed out of place. There are to many "I hate X software" rants and seemed odd that the very application being told about suggests installing it.

Re:Rant as news (1)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957315)

It might not be news in the sense of something that just happened, but its still worth being reminded about once in a while.

Its true - the people who obsess over PageRank and SEO are the ones driving this - everyone already knows their own web stats just by looking at their server logs.

Re:Rant as news (1)

br14n420 (1111329) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957923)

And it's only a rant because the flaw does not swing in Taco's favor.

Re:Rant as news (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957321)

Don't worry, you'll be able to re-read it tomorrow when Zonk makes a dupe post.

Re:Rant as news (1)

Da Fokka (94074) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957371)

Re:Rant as news (4, Funny)

sinner6 (884407) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957613)

Yes the reason digg has a higher page rank on alexia is because the average digg user is almost universally less technically savy then the average slashdot user. No I am not being sarcastic, they are dumber.

A slashdot debate on bush and the war, for example, will use complete word and sentances and sometimes include facts. A crazy rant it might be but a crazy READABLE rant.
The same debate on digg...
bush = leet haxor
STFU, WAR IS BAD, OBAMA 08 WOOT.

Re:Rant as news (5, Funny)

Random BedHead Ed (602081) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957697)

You're telling me - rants drive me absolutely nuts, especially on this site. They don't make good reading, they pointlessly waste your time, and they use up valuable screen real estate that could be occupied by other, more interesting stories. The methodology behind rants us usually utterly broken but, for reasons unclear to anyone, are regarded as 'postable material' on all too many sites. I mean, let's not draw the line at Slashdot. Rants show up on:

  • Slashdot
  • Digg
  • Kuro5hin
  • Wired
  • People's stupid blogs
  • ... and like a zillion other sites I have to put up with.

That we obviously need to abandon rants is clear, because they're almost always pointless, but there are so many of them these days that it gets to the point where the only metric you're using to compare sites is the quality of its rants. This is entirely flawed and meaningless, and leaves me wanting a stiff drink. Still, don't get me started on their frequency on /. You're all Slashdot readers, most of you just go ahead and prove my point anyway.

So say you go to some random site and end up reading a rant. What have you learned. After you close your browser, are you any more complete as a person? Have you grown intellectually. Let me think: no ... no. I'm not some some expert on rants and why I'm writing about them is very confusing, but I think I have as much to say about the dumb things as anyone. And if that bothers people, at least I got the point across.

Here's the problem: rants don't work. If you RTFA, and start with a place I'm very familiar with (namely Slashdot) like a quarter of you write rants anyway. And that's not even talking about the fact that any rant, and not all posts are rants, is going to take up people's time and not get modded very well anyway. How many Slashdot readers would mod a rant up? You either? Big surprise. Because of who we are, and what it is, our population will self select out of consideration.

Did you know rants can get posted by ANYONE? How about Anonymous Cowards? Now personally I'm glad of that, free speech and all. But anyway, those are my (heavily edited) thoughts on this.

Re:Rant as news (0, Redundant)

atari2600 (545988) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957841)

I just read a rant.

Re:Rant as news (4, Funny)

sherpajohn (113531) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957849)

My irony meter just broke, and you owe me a new one.

Re:Rant as news (1)

Xybre (527810) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957873)

A rant about rants. How about that!

Re:Rant as news (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957891)

Best rant ever.

+1 Ironic.

Re:Rant as news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957945)

Hi there. I tend to like reading rants. At least good ones. Rants usually mean that someone is being stupid, and the ranter realizes this. Rant's also usually include why the other person is being stupid and how to remedy it. It's kind of like freedom of the press, but on a smaller scale. If you can't point out someone else's stupidity, then why bother to think that you yourself are a smart person.

To me, most rants are a wake up call by someone who sees a problem clearly.

Spyware? (3, Insightful)

xXenXx (973576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957201)

Isn't Alexa considered spyware?

It baffles me how people actually look to them for information, considering how they get it.

Re:Spyware? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957753)

I believe this [imageshack.us] comic sums it up best.

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957231)

I should install something that you claim is broken?

I love the smell of astroturf in the morning... at least it almost smells like that.

Re:So... (2, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957377)

He says install it, and then in the very next sentence says that he know you won't, because you're a Slashdot reader. The entire rest of the post is about why Alexa is flawed and shouldn't be used for anything by anyone.

Sure, from a purely mercenary point of view he'd like you to install it so that advertisers stupid enough to use Alexa will see Slashdot's traffic represented, but he acknowledges that you almost certainly won't. Taco has never had the kind of relationship with his readership to where he could tell them to do something and they would go out and do it, unless that "something" was "post goatse links to Slashdot," and I'm pretty sure he knows that.

Re:So... (1)

ShaneThePain (929627) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957737)

as opposed to say Lowtax and the SA goons?
Those communities are always more interesting though.

That was his idea? (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957861)

unless that "something" was "post goatse links to Slashdot,"
Bad call, CmdrTaco, bad call.

Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurts (5, Insightful)

Control Group (105494) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957233)

That's all true, but unless someone's got a better alternative, it doesn't matter.

It isn't surprising that people who spend money on advertising want to have some metric by which to predict (estimate, guess, what-have-you) the impact of each dollar spent on web advertising. Assuming the people spending the money are, as a class, either stupid or ignorant is a mistake. Odds are good that many of them know that Alexa is flawed, but also consider any information better than nothing. If nothing else, Alexa rankings demonstrate the relative popularity of a web site among Alexa participants - which is at least a concrete demographic, and the stats are inarguable on that basis.

What's being missed is that there's a fundamental problem, here. Populations which refuse to share information with such aggregators will always self-select against representation. It's no different, really, than stating that populations who do not vote self-select against being represented in government. That doesn't stop us from using elections as a way to select people into government.

In the specific case of slashdot selecting against itself, it's debatable whether we're a demographic many organizations would even want to target (with web advertising) if they could. How many comments on how many stories have included someone claiming that he's either unaffected by or negatively affected by advertising? That he's less likely to buy a product he sees advertised? Broader yet, how do you suppose the median number of lifetime banner ad clicks for the slashdot user compares to that of the web-using population at large?

I posit that we pose a particularly galling challenge to marketers. On the one hand (if you'll allow me a bit of net-cultural hubris), we're a demographic of above-average intelligence, above-average income, with an above-average tendency to spend money on brand new technology, and who have an above-average impact on what other people will buy. On the other, we refuse to share our habits with "big brother," we're easily offended (eg, we hate proprietary formats solely because they're proprietary), comparatively hard to bamboozle, and have a cultural predisposition towards "free" (both beer and speech). That is, on the one hand, we're a fantastic demographic to succeed with, but on the other, we're a tough nut to crack.

The point is that Alexa is flawed, without a doubt. But it seems more flawed from the point of view of a group which deliberately makes itself all but impossible to measure. And frankly, if we're not willing to provide the information necessary for advertisers to make informed choices, we're going to continue to be ignored, both on the web and on television. (Yes, I do realize that Nielsen is specifically flawed with respect to DVRs - but even if they weren't, how many members of this site would voluntarily install habit-tracking software on their TiVo? How many members of this site would call for a boycott of TiVo if it installed it for them?)

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (3, Interesting)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957385)

I hate to say it, but that really proves not as much that "The only way advertisers can get accurate data as people opt in", as it proves that they have not elected to find new methods to track data properly/independantly. If you were able to develop a way to get honest and accurate data of the number of hits on a site to site basis, would even that be more accurate? (assuming you started to collect an enormous list of sites). Say check all the news aggregator websites language by language (I'm sure there's thousands in each), but rank them by who is getting the most unique hits in a day, etc? Of course a site could skew their own results which creates its own problem but would this not at least be more valuable than alexa data?

Asked and answered (2)

Control Group (105494) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957549)

Of course a site could skew their own results which creates its own problem but would this not at least be more valuable than alexa data?

No, it wouldn't, and you've already stated why. Everyone knows that web site logs are the single most accurate way of measuring web site traffic. And no one uses them anyway - not because they think Alexa collects better data, but Alexa doesn't have a vested interest in making a given site look better than it is.

A system which counts on the person selling to give you an honest evaluation of the worth of their product is never going to be more accepted than one involving a third party.

You're right, however, in that what's really needed is a better way to track visits to web sites. The problem is that we can't trust the buy-in of the owners, because they're (obviously) biased. Also, we can't trust the opt-in of the visitors, because so many of them don't opt-in. So the question becomes, what sources of information do we have?

I don't have an answer to that question. And, based on the lack of third-party ratings systems other than Alexa, I don't know that anyone else has that answer, either.

Re:Asked and answered (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957761)

You're right, however, in that what's really needed is a better way to track visits to web sites.


trends.google.com confirms [google.com] it, Slashdot is dying.

Presumably Taco trusts Google data a bit more? Alexa is a non-issue and just gives him a convenient though incorrect excuse for his failure to adapt his blog.

Re:Asked and answered (4, Interesting)

Mandrake (3939) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957845)

On larger sites, doing things like collecting / reading web site logs (like your apache log files) is completely unrealistic. We don't even have them turned on here anymore, because they generate so much disk i/o and flood so much disk space (each of our web heads when we last had logging enabled over a year ago produced over 8 gb of apache logs every day - multiply that times 30 and that's a hell of a log parse every single day...) - so we tend to gauge traffic more in megabits per second than anything else.

I am not saying that Alexa is good for looking at traffic trends either - their numbers vary WILDLY from what our actuals are. Oddly enough, Hitwise does a much better job, but I suspect that is a lot of blind luck on their part as I think they take data in a similar fashion.

I'm not sure I had a point, except that web logs aren't really feasible when your traffic crosses a threshold - I'm sure /. has similar logging problems.

Do it to ourselves, and that's what really counts. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957625)

"I hate to say it, but that really proves not as much that "The only way advertisers can get accurate data as people opt in", as it proves that they have not elected to find new methods to track data properly/independantly."

And one of his points is that this audience would resist it. So no there's no uber-method just waiting to be found. The price for not being part of the system (like illegal down loaders)* is to basically have no influence.

*"Voting with one's dollars" vs no vote with anything.

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (4, Interesting)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957447)

"It isn't surprising that people who spend money on advertising want to have some metric by which to predict (estimate, guess, what-have-you) the impact of each dollar spent on web advertising."

There are several easy ways:

  1. as an advertiser, host the ad on your own server, and just look in your logs ..,
  2. as an advertiser, get access to the server's banner administration system for your ad account (postnuke allows this on a per-advertiser basis)
  3. as an advertiser, just be skeptical as all hell and don't believe 99% of the stuff you hear - its all BS anyway

If you're so naive as to not insist on hard numbers for actual views (the log files are best , you deserve to get hosed - you can analyse the log files and factor out multiple views per host ip to get the actual number of real views, and reduce fraud; ditto with geolocation of ip addresses to factor out bots in 3rd world countries; ditto for bots that crawl every link on a page; ditto for pages that are loaded then immediately dumped for another page).

As an advertiser, I'd want unique eyeballs - real human eyeballs - that can be verified.

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (3, Insightful)

Control Group (105494) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957629)

Sure, but that all presupposes you've already bought ad space on the site in question. When you're trying to select which web sites to purchase ad space on in the first place, you don't have access to any of those metrics. If we were talking about a handful of key sites, that wouldn't be a problem - test the waters, go with what works.

But given the huge number of web sites out there that run ads, you need some way of doing an initial selection of which ones to pay. Hence Alexa.

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (1)

jsdcnet (724314) | more than 7 years ago | (#19958007)

You missed the point - you're only talking about impressions and clicks AFTER the ad buy has been made. Obviously those are easily tracked. The point of "tools" like Alexa is to help the advertisers figure out which sites to buy from in the first place.

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (4, Interesting)

zarkill (1100367) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957501)

And frankly, if we're not willing to provide the information necessary for advertisers to make informed choices, we're going to continue to be ignored, both on the web and on television.
This is one reason that I actually like Amazon's recommendation system. I can provide information about what I like and don't like, and the site will then suggest items that I may be interested in based on that. If it suggests something that I'm not interested in, I can click "not interested" and it never presents that item to me again.

I would LOVE to have a similar scenario for other ad-driven media. Imagine if I could flag TV commercials with "not interested" and then never see that commercial again, or any commercial for a similar product. Once it got a good feel for what I really like and don't like, I probably wouldn't feel the need to skip commercials. The same could be said of web ads. If I could cherry-pick which ads I was interested in and which I wasn't I might not be so inclined to block ALL of them.

Ads are useful to me sometimes, but picking the signal out of the noise is usually such a hassle that I'd rather just skip the whole process. If everyone could make a very personal statement about what they want to see ads for and what they don't, I think the benefit for both parties would improve.

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (2, Interesting)

RetroGeek (206522) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957611)

That is, on the one hand, we're a fantastic demographic to succeed with, but on the other, we're a tough nut to crack.

And add to this mix that we collectively HATE advertising. So we all use ad blockers, flash blockers, script blockers, image blockers, and anything else we can find which reduces or eliminates advertising which gets in the way of reading the content of a web site.

So even if we do get "counted" and the advertisers can determine what it is that we browse, the current method of "in your face" ads will quickly push us towards a way of either blocking the ads, or simply not going there any more.

And I DO click on ads, but only if they are:
- NOT in the way of the content
- NOT blinking, flashing, moving
- NOT trying to distract my eye towards them

If ANY of the above happen, I am gone from the site, and will NEVER go there again.

(Hey, this is my 1,000th post. Woo Hoo!)

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (3, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957671)

As a statistician, I can reassure you that the only thing that's worse than no data is flawed data. When you have no data, you know something is wrong and you start correcting that. When you have flawed data, you don't. Instead you use that data and build on it, never knowing that what you measure, calculate and estimate has nothing to do with reality. In other words, it can be dangerous, to your job and the company you're working for.

Imagine the (flawed) data you have tells you that almost 100% of the people visiting your geek-gadget page are fans of some rock group. Why? Because they use a proxy that was written by some fan of said rock group whose proxy subtly alters the meta information sent by your browser to tell everyone you surf to how much you like said rock group. You analyze it and invest heavily into marketing crap from said group, hoping that your customers will buy it since they all appearantly love that group.

Result? Big desaster. Nobody buys it. Nobody even knows that group. They just all used the same proxy/plugin/younameit, not even knowing that whoever wrote it wanted to advertise his favorite band.

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (3, Insightful)

Control Group (105494) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957819)

That's true if the person using the data is unaware that it's flawed. But an educated decision can be made to use data that's known to be flawed, if one evaluates what those flaws are, and what they'll mean to whatever it is you're doing.

In fact, as I think about it, I'm not sure "flawed" is the right word. The information is incomplete; whether that's a flaw depends on whether or not you recognize that you don't have all the information.

I think that assuming all the people using Alexa rankings to make purchasing decisions are stupid is misguided. I think it's a much safer assumption that the distribution of stupid, average, and intelligent people among that population is fairly close to that of the population at large. Many of them are making decisions based, in part, on having information that they know to be incomplete, which they judge to be preferable to making decisions based on having no information.

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957935)

As someone who isn't a statistician, but uses statistics on a regular basis, the first question you always need to ask is can I trust the data. You need to run statistical tests on the data to see if it makes sense. You need to understand the problem first, and that data second.

If you can't tell if the data is fooling you you shouldn't be doing statistics on it.

So I guess I'd amend your proclamation to read: "The only thing worse than no data is data that the statistician couldn't tell was flawed."

Re:Do it to ourselves, and that's what really hurt (1)

xtracto (837672) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957855)

Equally perplexing is the accounting of iframes. Let's look at someone like . Now it's hard to say, but I don't think I've ever visited their website. Have you? But according to Alexa, they have nearly a 1% share of the internet. I'd tend not to believe it... but they have iframes on zillions of web pages and counting those sure would account for this huge rankin

I think the editor left out some kind of link... that or slashcode ate their URL.

And yeah I also think Alexa is broken... although for me it is completely meaningless. I believe a better ranking would be possible if Google, Yahoo and the likes published statistics of "most clicked page" or the like... at least the statistics would be OS independent.

Alternative... (1)

joseph449008 (1121209) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957899)

is called compete.com

whine, whine, whine (-1, Troll)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957243)

Want a little cheese, Taco?

This is no different than the Nielsen ratings ... users opt in, and results are based on those who choose to opt. Unfortunately you are part of a minority of sites that gets negatively affected by Alexa ratings, due to your audience's reluctance to participate ... just like certain TV shows that get affected by Nielsen, regardless of how good they are. Suck it up and find a better metric for your boss.

Re:whine, whine, whine (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957333)

Better metric...

I wonder if Google publishes the click-through rate for keywords to sites in the search index?
you know they have the numbers from adwords, but still....

Re:whine, whine, whine (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957495)

It's very different than the Nielsen ratings. Nielsen does not let random users join their system. They seek our a statistically valid sample population, and pay them for using the system. That is extraordinarily different.

Re:whine, whine, whine (2, Interesting)

Erskin (1651) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957551)

This is no different than the Nielsen ratings

I'd argue it is rather different. TV is one way. Your television browsing habits are slightly less revealing than say, your banking activities or the blog entries you post.

Also, Alexa claims to give you some value in exchange for letting them piggy back on your browsing. Nielsen is more public and more respected. This helps mitigate the sampling problems.

Suck it up and find a better metric for your boss.

If his "boss" (or any of the other scores of people who accost him about the popularity of websites) would let him pick the metric, he wouldn't have this problem.

The point of the article is that he has to defend someone else's choice of metric.

Or perhaps, the point is more of an "Ask Slashdot" sort of thing...

As in, "Hey all you /. geeks, what's a better way to do this?" Taco's comments on the flaws in Alexa's system and Control Group's comments on some of the particular challenges against this demographic in general support that.

Heck.. it seems like an interesting enough problem to me, but then again, I don't have a sig like yours:

/.: "Anti-Microsoft Rants, Apple and Google d*ck sucking." Pathetic.

If you hate it that much, why are you hanging out here?
(Sorry, I really need to stop feeding the trolls...)

Re:whine, whine, whine (1, Funny)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957633)

If you hate it that much, why are you hanging out here?

I'm this close to leaving. I keep hoping things will make a turn for the better. But it sure doesn't look like it will.

I must be stupid... (2)

nonos (158469) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957275)

... but what is Alexa ?

Re:I must be stupid... (4, Informative)

mmxsaro (187943) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957433)

Alexa [alexa.com] is a ranking system to measure how popular a certain website is on the Internet. A user, however, must have the Alexa toolbar installed for Alexa to measure site rankings accordingly. As of right now, Slashdot is ranked 558 out of 1 million+ sites that Alexa tracks.

Note: you don't need to install the toolbar to figure out Alexa rankings. Check out the Search Status [quirk.biz] extension for Firefox. I have mine sitting at the bottom right corner of the browser to display me PageRank and Alexa rankings.

Re:I must be stupid... (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957487)

... but what is Alexa ?

Good point.
As or me, I didn't know what it was, and now that I know, I don't care)

But really, this article shows the truth, and might be cited as a future reference in say... wikipedia (wiki editors, go go go go go!) about Alexa.

If you want my opinion, site-popularity measurement sites are just another "on the way to extinction" part of the dot-com bubble. Some jerk just said "hey, let's install this spyware and get rich with it! We'll just say it's a site measurement tool and we'll also become FAMOUS!"

In other words, Alexa is just one of many companies that get rich by exploiting the users' ignorance and stupidity... just like Microsoft.

Re:I must be stupid... (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957719)

What I want to know is who is it who does install Alexa? Is it only webmasters obsessed with, as the cmdr put it, pagerank ans seo? Or does it come preinstalled on some systems, or does it offer something of "value" i.e. screensavers and sparkly pointers, to the "average" user?

I've heard of it, and always just wondered why I'd want something like that.

Just when you think Slashdot is in the crapper... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957287)

...comes along a story that proves you wrong not.

*I* figured out why Taco's on a rant! (5, Funny)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957311)

...because digg.com is beating slashdot.org :)

Re:*I* figured out why Taco's on a rant! (1)

mmxsaro (187943) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957547)

So you're saying the majority of Digg readers are idiots for installing a toolbar that is considered spyware among the community? :)

Re:*I* figured out why Taco's on a rant! (1)

Osurak (1013927) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957643)

Isn't it the same content these days anyway?

Pfft, screw that. (2, Interesting)

oGMo (379) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957741)

If digg is "beating" slashdot, let it win. Maybe the YouTube popularity blog can suck away the idiots from slashdot.

Re:Pfft, screw that. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19958025)

I dunno, you seem to be posting here. Slashdot is probably the dumbest community that thinks its smart on the internets. If all the idiots left slashdot, there'd be 2 stories posted a month and 3 people commenting on things.

Alexa's Spiders (3, Interesting)

Garridan (597129) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957319)

When I used to administer a website (b2b, you've never heard of it) my boss loved Alexa. I told him time and again to uninstall it, and even did so myself a number of times... but he'd put it back every time. Then, one day, all dynamic content on the main page just vanished. I brought it back from backup, and chocked it up to a bug. Then, it happened again a little while later. I started snooping around our logs.

Turns out, Alexa's spiders were ignoring the robots.txt file, and capturing usernames and passwords. It logged into the administrative area, and followed the "delete" link for every entry. My dumbass boss still didn't want to uninstall Alexa. Could have strangled the man.

Re:Alexa's Spiders (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957481)

why were usernames and passwords able to be captured in the first place...

chroot httpd

Re:Alexa's Spiders (5, Informative)

captnitro (160231) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957521)

I'm just ragging on you unnecessarily here -- but was Alexa following POSTed form actions or something? This is why there's a completely different verb for the alteration or deletion of a URI object (POST) vs reading one (GET). (And shame on somebody for sticking usernames and passwords in GET variables, if that was the case.) /nitpick

MOD PARENT UP (2)

bluej100 (1039080) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957653)

Quite right. Not Alexa's fault.

Re:Alexa's Spiders (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957527)

It seems someone is too lazy to use POST instead of GET for links that modify server state.

Re:Alexa's Spiders (2, Interesting)

_xeno_ (155264) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957867)

The HTTP spec clearly says that GET requests should only be used for idempotent [wikipedia.org] actions. Technically, deleting an entry is an idempotent action, so using a GET link for a delete entry is - well, brain-dead stupid. But it doesn't break the spec.

See, an idempotent action is simply an action which has the same outcome the second time you attempt it. Deleting an entry twice doesn't change the final state of the system - the entry is still deleted. That makes it idempotent.

Of course, anyone with an ounce of sense would realize that what they really meant was that GET requests shouldn't change state and that POST requests should be used to change a system's state. (Or PUT, or DELETE. But no one ever uses those.) Which was the point of the parent poster in any case.

But before someone pulls out the "GET is supposed to be idempotent" part of the HTTP spec, remember that deletes are, technically, idempotent. They're safe to attempt multiple times, and leave the system in the same state afterwards.

mod parent down (1)

Kill all Muslims (845937) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957545)

If a spider can capture usernames and passwords for your website and delete all your content then that is YOUR fault.

Re:Alexa's Spiders (1)

El_Muerte_TDS (592157) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957733)

Why are there "delete" links? Shouldn't that be buttons, or at least demand a confirmation after following a link.

Blame anything but your system? (2, Insightful)

a16 (783096) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957745)

I don't think that your story is a very good indicator of how rubbish Alexa is, it just highlights issues with your own system.

This is why you shouldn't use HTTP GET for 'delete links'. Anything that changes content should be POST, which will stop bots crawling your site just by following links from breaking things. We have standards for a reason..

As for alexa crawling your site as a logged in user, what? As far as I know the toolbar itself doesn't do any crawling, only reporting. Maybe it was providing links to Alexa that later got indexed, but if they were properly secured then you wouldn't have any issues. The fact that you seem to be relying on a robots.txt for security indicates bigger issues. The only time I've heard of a 'Toolbar' doing this kind of thing is when Google released their proxy service (which they later withdrew), as it automatically preloaded all pages - and again poorly designed pages using GET to modify data encountered problems just like yours.

Re:Alexa's Spiders (1)

knewter (62953) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957827)

MAKE DELETE A POST! (Or a DELETE, meh, stupid browsers...POST it is)

We're past this problem on the web. Everyone knew it was stupid to be making a ton of delete links, and we still did it. If we'd just made 'em posts in the first place, these bugs never would have happened. I built sites that were vulnerable to a robot like that, but luckily it never actually bit me. Nothing I build now deletes from a GET. You should follow suit.

In other words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957359)

"I have to come up with an excuse for why Digg is 'beating' Slashdot." LOL.

Re:In other words... (1)

denverradiosucks (653647) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957493)

As far as I am concerned, Digg can beat slashdot from here on out. Slashdot caters to a specific crowd, one that happens to cross over and be smaller than Digg, which is fine by me :)

Been complaining for years (4, Interesting)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957367)

My first suggestion would be that if anyone mentions Alexa to you that you freak out and go on a 5-minute rant about how Alexa is stupid and anyone who is using it to seriously make a business decision should be fired.

I've been doing this for years. The problem (or actually just what marketers perceive as the problem) is that there is no generic public way to compare web site traffic. The only true way to get traffic metrics is from the web site owners. And they could easily make it up to take in more advertisers. So people in advertising look to Alexa as the only third party source.

The biggest sites don't have as much of a problem because they can work closely with advertising partners. Medium and small sites, however, don't get as much personal attention. So proving themselves as worthy web space for ads is more difficult.

The only people I've heard of that install the Alexa toolbar are web site owners because they want to see their rank often. Ironically so few people have the toolbar installed that they drastically boost their own rank.

We need to convince marketers that Alexa is pointless. But I'm afraid that without a good replace they'll keep using it.

Count me in! (5, Funny)

customizedmischief (692916) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957383)

Come on folks, it's time to be counted!

Now where can I download the Alexa plugin for lynx?

Proprietary Software (4, Insightful)

saibot834 (1061528) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957389)

So Alexa says they are not spying on the user. Big surprise.

How can I verify what this toolbar is really doing unless I have the source code? IMHO the problem lies there: There is no trust for Alexa because nobody can really say for sure how it works and that it doesn't harm the user.

Re:Proprietary Software (2, Insightful)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957757)

While you cannot verify what the software is actually DOING, you can monitor/verify what the software is saying.

In many cases, not only is the latter more effective, from a cost/time/benefit perspective, it's also easier and provides far more useful information.

And we care...why? (3, Insightful)

Itninja (937614) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957429)

How is Alexa different than any other selective-survey system? The Nielsen ratings are acquired via 'diaries' (or occasionally set-top boxes). Radio 'listener share' is determined similarly by Arbitron. The NY-Times bestseller list is based on books sold to distributors, not books sold to the public (millions of unsold 'bestsellers' get pulped or donated to libraries every ear).

Just come to terms with the fact these organizations are in bed with advertisers and move on with you life.

The REAL real problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957435)

"Hi boss, I've ordered that new Expensive Server, it arrived, and I installed it on our network."

"But Taco, you've already had Expensive Server installed three days ago! I thought the Purchasehose was supposed to eliminate dupe servers!"

"Boss, this one is like, totally different. Ask Zonk and kdawson, they know."

From the summary (5, Funny)

UbelievablyLame (962303) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957439)

"Of course since most of you are Slashdot readers..."

hm... given the context I would say 'most' is an understatement

Re:From the summary (4, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957525)

He's hoping to get crossposted on digg.

DoubleClick (0, Redundant)

saibot834 (1061528) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957451)

The reason why DoubleClick has so much traffic is because it's an ad company. And afaik every time you load a page with ads (and you don't use an adblocker), some content from DoubleClick's page is transfered. This way DoubleClick gets so much traffic.

Re:DoubleClick (1)

gsslay (807818) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957569)

Erm, isn't this exactly what the article says?

Business? (3, Informative)

19061969 (939279) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957473)

In my experience, a lot of PHBs are only too happy to have information. They don't really care if it's valid information or not, just so long as it's there and that it sounds good.

It was a massive wake-up call to realise how many middle-managers and the like will quite happily swallow any old crap as long as they perceive that it's authoritative. Has anyone ever tried to tell them about how bad the information is? (real question btw - I'm interested in seeing if other readers experiences were as bleak as mine).

Alexa is useful (2, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957479)

It clearly has biases, and (worse) these seem to change slowly with time, but for the web sites I host, there is a nice correlation between their Alexa reach and their
hit count.

It is certainly good for a crude ranking of sites - Slashdot's rank right now is 558, and that clearly means a lot more traffic than some site than a rank of 5 million.

So, like many other measures on the Internet, it is flawed, but it has value.

toolbar passes the url for tracking, just mimic it (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957489)

I forget the url just now (something like data.alexa.com) but all you have to do to skew the alexa stats is pass your redirects or ping a certain url with your url at the end.

Then alexa thinks the toolbar has tracked you to a site. Your stats go up.

No install needed. Just check a firewall to find the hidden url.

Spyware yup. (4, Interesting)

crabpeople (720852) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957507)

Symantec corporate flags the alexa toolbar as spyware, so I couldn't run it if I desired to.

http://www.symantec.com/security_response/writeup. jsp?docid=2004-062410-3624-99 [symantec.com]

more specifically, (2, Informative)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957747)

trackware, not spyware, from your link: "is a program that installs a toolbar and gathers Internet browsing and search information." which is EXACTLY WHAT IT IS SUPPOSED TO DO in order to aggregate site popularity.

ad-block page-views (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957509)

I imagine ratings like these are mostly of interest to advertisers. Thanks to a little firefox plugin this means the ratings are even more skewed. Or maybe the two cancel one another since people reluctant to install Alexa is also the users likely to install ad-block, thus giving advertisers exactly what they want. It is effectively a number which says where naive fools that will opt in to stuff like this can be found... In either case slashdot need not care since page-views do not translate into ad's viewed anyway. Especially not among slashdot users. In particular, thou I guess slashdot has ad's ( there is a big white space at the top of this page ) I wonder how many slashdot readers actually see them.

Stupid is a stupid does (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957535)

Alexa targets a demographic which are more likey to click on banner ads and buy the junk which they advertise. So for the advertisers targeting those demographics I'm sure it works out ok.

Substitute Alexa for Neilsen (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957543)

Alexa drives me nuts. It uses a broken methodology to measure the internet and is, for reasons unclear to anyone, regarded as somehow definitive simply because it allows you to compare two sites with a single simple number. Its sampling methodology is flawed and the numbers it produces are meaningless.
Just read my .sig

Re:Substitute Alexa for Neilsen (1)

Merk (25521) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957897)

I'm sure it's glorious, interesting, insightful and apropos but many people have sigs turned off. Sure, they could turn them on to see if your comment had any worth to it, but it probably doesn't so they probably won't. I know I won't.

Re:Substitute Alexa for Neilsen (0, Offtopic)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957955)


I'm sure it's glorious, interesting, insightful and apropos but many people have sigs turned off. Sure, they could turn them on to see if your comment had any worth to it, but it probably doesn't so they probably won't. I know I won't.

Speaking of worthless comments, who the hell cares if you read sigs or not?

And here I thought this was a public rant... (1)

ucla74 (1093323) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957553)

about your S.O.!

Waste of energy (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957589)

FTA:

So what do we do? I wish I had a good answer to this. My first suggestion would be that if anyone mentions Alexa to you that you freak out and go on a 5-minute rant about how Alexa is stupid and anyone who is using it to seriously make a business decision should be fired.
I think it would be far more economical to respond to the mention of Alexa as some people here already have... which is to say "Alexa? What's that?"

Nielsen Ratings (1)

DrXym (126579) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957593)

I thought Nielsen ratings were done by installing boxes in selected homes, monitoring viewing times and then extrapolating an overall rating from programmes watched in those homes to apply to all views. Unless these Tivo enabled sci-fi nerds are in the programme, what damned difference does it make to the ratings whether people use Tivo or not?

Besides, can't Tivo gather viewing data, aggregate it and then tell the networks what shows people are watching? Can't Nielsen factor Tivo into their calculations? Shouldn't the Tivo actually mean more sci-fi, not less if the people who own such boxes are more likely to be recording sci-fi on it and therefore tipping Tivo's gathered data in their direction?

Anyway, perhaps the upshot of all this is that maybe Nielsen need to expand out into web browsing. Alexa is just a poor man's Nielsen with no control over who installs their spyware. Perhaps there is a need for an industry trusted source that installs browser monitors on a representative sample of the population to gathers stats in strictest of confidence.

Re:Nielsen Ratings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19957853)

> Besides, can't Tivo gather viewing data, aggregate it and then tell the networks what shows people are watching?

It does. In fact, it can aggregate all the playing data, like pauses and rewinds, and where they occurred. Right now it's all aggregated and hardly a privacy concern, though the way TiVo is going, who knows if that will last.

The Rant and the Slashdot problem. (3, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957609)

Slashdot is an extremely popular website with great demographics. It should be a huge money maker but it probably under performs.
It doesn't show up all that well in Alexa because very few people that go to Slashdot use or would use the Alexa toolbar.
It probably doesn't show up all that well with the advertisers because Slashdot readers are technically very sophisticated.
What percentage of Slashdot users are blocking the ads on Slashdot? 80%? Slashdot should be the "Myspace" of the technical crowd. Heck it had the friends list long before Myspace was around. We have our Journals "aka" blogs so yea it is a little Myspace full of bright people with money to spend. But it doesn't make that much money. Slashdot should be worth many millions but it isn't. The real problem isn't Alexa but how can Slashdot live up to it's potental for that evil word. Profit. After all I am sure the Slashdot crew would like to make the big bucks.

Re:The Rant and the Slashdot problem. (4, Funny)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957839)

There's no better path to profit than courting an audience of people who's explicit goal is to destroy the monetary value of software.

"Spyware Suspected" (1)

The_Chicken_205 (723443) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957623)

This says it all: my work web proxy blocks access to alexa.

Reason - "Spyware Suspected"

It has uses (1)

oo7tushar (311912) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957833)

Alexa is definitely not a good way to compare all websites with regards to traffic but it definitely has uses (for us to look at but not to install and help populate). Since the average type of user that visits a website stays constant looking at Alexa stats is a good way to determine trends with regards to content. When the whole HD DVD key fiasco hit Digg you can see the immediate spike as well as the slight depression in number of visitors afterwards. Alexa is great at helping those running high traffic websites and absolutely useless for my blog/blag.
Alexa is also useful for comparing websites that cater to the same sorts of folks. So you should compare Digg and Netscape's version of Digg or compare CNN to Fox to ABC to NBC (with regards to websites) and you should see somewhat accurate comparison numbers. What CmdrTaco is really getting at though is that for niche sites (and it is still niche) like Slashdot Alexa falls well short of capturing true traffic numbers.

Check for Cancer. (0, Offtopic)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957837)

i estimate that every time I do this, I burn the same number of calories as I might on an elliptical trainer. I assure you the beer gut ain't getting smaller on its own.

Stress causes weight gain, not loss. It also sets you up for disease. In this way, M$ and other stupid bullies are litterally killing us all [slashdot.org] . Sudden weight loss or gain is a bad sign. Keep riding that bike.

This suprises you how? (1)

dbhost (1129727) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957865)

Hmmm. Marketing and metrics having a distinct diconnect from reality... For those UF readers out there (and I KNOW many Slashdotters are UFies as well), if you've ever worked with marketing people, Stef will look WAY too familiar. Something being better on technical superiority isn't going to catch the attention of the drones dazzled by shiny, flashy ads, and marketing slogans that tell us that we will be worthless in the gene pool if we don't have the flashiest car, freshest breath, and designer XYZ suits... And those of us in the knowledge professions, are not immune to a certain amount of stupidity. How many times have we performed upgrades on our own software or hardware, not because the old stuff didn't work well, or do the job we wanted, but because the new stuff is, well, new... Now if you'll excuse me, the latest release of my favorite Linux distro is out, and I need to do an upgrade whilst sipping my Frappuccino...

Stop whining. Learn how to manage your boss. (5, Funny)

gru3hunt3r (782984) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957885)

Let me save you some breath, I deal with non-technical small online business owners all day, every day, and I have for the last 7 years - they are obviously concerned with Alexa rankings.

I *HAVE* been telling them that the stats are bullshit, not only for the reasons listed above but a few others - but eventually I gave up and developed a better strategy:

Don't bother explaining highly technical concepts to a monkey, it frustrates you and annoys the monkey.

If your pointy haired boss wants your Alexa ranking to improve I would suggest you:
1) Call a meeting, invite as many department heads as you can.
2) Make the problem your own, and phrase it as *MASSIVE*, *DIRE*, *EXTREME* (e.g. if we don't fix this, we could all be out of a job soon)
3) Suggest IMMEDIATE ACTION be taken, suggest hiring an offshore team of workers (China $0.37/hr) to install the Alexa toolbar and surf around your site.
4) Recommend that the company consider an immediate payout a Ukranian hacker with mob ties named "Ivan" who will pwn machines and install alexa and then randomly pop your site on his botnet for a reasonable fee.
5) Finally tell them that bribes to key employees in Alexa may be necessary - tell them you may have a contact and tell them to be ready to authorize six digit sums of money in a 24 hour period if necessary. [this can be useful for other reasons]

Trust me - as soon as the first mention of money (and specifically who's budget it will come out of) is made the general attitude toward how important Alexa is will change. They'll backpedal, claim you're being overly-proactive. They'll produce some rant they found on a website called dot-slash saying how Alexa rankings aren't important.

Tell them it's all propaganda, proceed to ignore whatever they say -- pronounce your undying love for Alexa - and it's relevance to the web.
DEMAND THEY RESPECT YOUR AUTHORITY.
IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS THE BIG DOG OF TECHNOLOGY.
ASK WHO ELSE GRADUATED FROM DEVRY LIKE YOU DID?
WHO ELSE IN THE ROOM IS A CERTIFIED NOVELL ADMINISTRATOR?
IF CHALLENGED BY ANYONE TAUNT THEM AND SAY THEY PROBABLY DON'T EVEN UNDERSTAND BIG "NETWORKING" CONCEPTS LIKE SECURE SOCKETS LAYER, TRANSPORT CONTROL PROTOCOL, AND .NET FRAMEWORK.
Then proceed to tell them that (in your professional opinion) your company won't be able to recruit good people because of your poor Alexa ranking. Tell them that search engines will stop spidering your site, and eventually your traffic will drop to zero. Without a good alexa ranking your email will get caught in more spam filters and you'll appear on blacklists and phishing filters more frequently. That means the SSL locks won't show up on browsers anymore. This will cause packet loss on your routers to increase. If it's not fixed immediately it's possible eventually your domain won't even work if somebody enters it directly into their browser. ALEXA IS THE MASTER OF THE INTERNET THEY ARE ALL KNOWING WE MUST SERVE THEM WITHOUT QUESTION.

ps> I *seriously* did have one customer who hired an offshore Indian firm to boost they're rankings (no bullshit) - feel free to mention that your competitors are already doing this, and the clock is ticking. WE NEED A DECISION NOW.

The next topic: PAGE RANK (umm.. wash, rinse, repeat)

I won't install Alexa; the market needs to adapt (1)

eudaemon (320983) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957887)

Nielsen ratings depended on statistical sampling to measure what your "average"
consumer was watching. The "market" needs to do what Nielsen did and pay consumers
for information. Alexa, Doubleclick, Yahoo, Google and everyone else who seeks to
track your browsing habits do it for one reason: information is marketable and it makes
the consumer marketable.

The average slashdotter probably has the same bag of tricks to opt out of marketing:
All phone numbers on the DNR, one or more DVRs, use of flashblock and adblock, regular
cooking dumping, spam blocking/filtering on e-mail. Different classes of web sites have a
different user id, password and e-mail address if those things are required.

And yet out there somewhere must be slashdotters willing to install a tool, utility, whatever
to track their preferences for cold, hard cash. When marketers figure out a way to shell out
micropayments for each datum discovered along with an enforceable opt-out and expiry system,
let us know; some minority will install it. Until then we'll be the un/underrepresented technophiles.

There are worse fates.

My proposal (and questions) for traffic-measuring (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 7 years ago | (#19957951)

Make a firefox add-on that collects anonymous info on what sites you've visited. Of course, it must be open source. It simply stores the count of visits on a table, where instead of storing the site's name, it stores the SHA-1 (or to be on the safe side, SHA-256 or SHA-512). (Note: Only the domain is stored, not the full uri). After a period of one week of data storing, it connects to say, "slash-rank.com" (i made up that name) using SSL and sends the data. Finally, the data is deleted from your hard drive. To prevent someone simply bombarding slash-rank with fake data, you're given a ticket and your slash-rank toolbar chooses a random password for that ticket (the password is stored at slash-rank.com and in your local configuration. When the data is sent, slash-rank dot com verifies that your password is coherent with your ticket number. If not, it just ignores the data.

The only problem that has to be solved is how to assure that users aren't generated automatically (captcha?). If you provide real life information, how to assure that the site won't track _YOU_ down? And it shouldn't be installed in servers, because it would become a traffic sniffer - and the iframes problem appears again.

So, accuracy is in conflict with privacy. How to solve this? It's an open question, it seems.
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