Ranking system for websites

Ranking systems are used in a multitude of forms in the internet. Either to evaluate the customer service of a commercial site, the product quality or the user created content of a hosting site. They are also tools to grade one owns website for analysis and to rank the site in comparison to others.

Such systems are used for self promotion, to improve the website and formulate new strategies to address new users. In addition they are used to navigate the internet. Search engines rank internally web pages to find matches with the inquiry of the user. Lets look at two examples of ranking systems.

One of the most well know commercial system is the Alexa rank, which counts the visitors of the site and provides every few months a new list of at least 100.000 websites ranked. It is also a highly criticized system. One of the point of criticism was the method of survey of the data, which only came from users, who used the Alexa-toolbar. Peter Norvig, current Director of Research at Google Inc., addressed this problem in detail and showed that Alexa didn’t sample randomly enough for a true representation of the internet. (1)  A point which, according to Alexa, has been remedied through acquiring data from other sources, but the company doesn’t reveal what and who those sources are. Additionally the system was and can be manipulated either through Add-ons in the browser or JavaScripts for example. (2)

The other system is Ranking Web of World Universities. It is a system only concentrating on universities and their web domains. The chosen process to rank here is a composition of visibility, such as links from other sites to the university, size of the pages and documents, publications in repositories and other factors. A great advantage of this service is, its explanation is open of the methodology, the sources it uses for the data and it even addresses some of the weaknesses of the system. (3) Research showed that the ranking in it self is similar to those of conventional university rankings. (4) But why rank universities based on their web performances at all, isn’t the internet already a widely used tool at these institutions? Sure, but any educational organization has to be evaluated at some point and its presence and use of the tools in the web have to be included in such evaluations, especially since web indicators are still used rarely in assessments.

To wrap it up, any system that ranks a website with some amount of data has to be transparent and can’t exclude any data that is accessible, expect maybe from side by side comparison of a single fact, for a thorough analysis. Its process of gathering data should also be independent of any specific software and should use a wide variety of sources.

But ultimately the providers of websites should put their rank in any system always in context of certain assertions such as, what their user base is and how large those was to begin with, do they get complains that their site doesn’t provide the necessary service, they promised, do they get entirely new user and so on. Also the bias of a ranking system can not be forgotten, where Alexa rank tries to show the most visited and one might conclude popular websites, Ranking Web of World Universities already analyzes  a very narrow portion of the web. Based on the bias, ranking system should always be taken with a grain of salt in regards of its conclusions.

Sources:

(1)   http://norvig.com/logs-alexa.html

(2)   http://blog.seibert-media.net/2010/03/05/alexa-rank-ein-wertloses-aushaengeschild

(3)   http://www.webometrics.info/en/Methodology

(4)   http://www.akademiai.com/content/k7403201200nv504/

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