Tikkataulu, a finnish (nordic) game that is similiar to darts.I’ve spent most of my career working with and for large companies and clients. I watched the 90’s .com boom mostly from the outside, and only recently got involved with the startup ecosystem. So far, I’m finding it exciting and appealing, but there’s one aspect that flat-out confuses me.

Alexa is, in brief, spyware. It’s not sketchy like Gator or any of the other horrible things nerds have been cleaning off their mom’s computers for years, but it basically tells a server which websites you visit. In return for this, you can view some meta-information about the site you’re on, find related sites, etc. It’s been around for a while, and is now part of Amazon’s otherwise benevolent kingdom.

I have never, ever seen anyone use it. Anyone who is tech-savvy with a modicum of concern for privacy wouldn’t even think about installing it. I’ve even experimentally explained it to some non-techy people in neutral terms, and gotten negative responses.

The thing that confuses me is that it seems to be practically gospel in the startup/VC community, especially those who sit in the bleachers and offer commentary about the sector. This is largely due to the fact that it’s the only way to compare traffic between two sites, but its results are more than inaccurate, they are misleading, and dangerous.

I have available to me (not shareable, sorry) the traffic information for two sites. Site A has a mainstream audience and no revenue. Site B has a somewhat more technically-oriented audience, and is barely profitable. Site B gets twice as many visitors (and far more traffic) as Site A. Site A’s metrics on Alexa are twice that of Site B. I don’t even think a margin of error this vast has a name in statistics.

So I guess what I’m trying to say here is don’t use Alexa “until something better comes along” or “just for another viewpoint”. Just don’t use it at all.

  • Yuval

    Hey there,

    You are so on the money here about Alexa! I actually wrote a Wall Street Journal reporter who used Alexa on how bogus and stupid it is. If you put a bunch of monkeys in front of machines with Alexa installed, I bet you can sway its ‘statistics’.

    Because I work with ad people now, I actually checked with them whether more respected rating services have better techniques. I am talking about Nielsen TNS and comScore. The answer, flatly, is no. EVERYONE of the ranking services uses the same shoddy methodology, using what they see as ‘exhibitionist’ web users. The reason that they do not follow better techniques, like putting code on the server side (like Google Analytics does) is that they get *demographics* information about the users this way. So people who are on the Nielsen rating system give Nielsen their age, location, favorite color, etc. and in turn they make people believe that they actually vouch for this data.

    This is really a problem…