How Valid Are Statistics from Alexa.com?
I finished reading a recent article by Terry Chay regarding Ruby on Rails and PHP. Aside from the fact that he is comparing a framework with a language, I think his rant misses a few things. He was arguing that PHP is more scalable, and that sites built on the RoR framework seem to die under heavy load. He used the example of Twitter by comparing statistics from Alexa.com. This is where I began to get skeptical (remember, I am a PHP programmer and love the language (and frameworks such as CakePHP)—but I also work with RoR). I have never seen Alexa as a valid source for statistics. After all, I am a Mac user and don’t use IE, so apparently I don’t count. A large majority of people I know that use Twitter are on Macs as well—they don’t count either. How about those users who don’t have the toolbar installed? I digress. I asked these same questions in a recent post by Chris Shiflett in regards to Twitter and its slow speed:
Does Alexa track any of the following?
- RSS Feeds. Twitter makes heavy use of RSS feeds to keep users up to date. Now users can check their statuses from their favorite feed reader—never having to access the website directly.
- IM services. Again, Twitter makes heavy use of IM so people don’t even have to visit the website to get their fix.
- API services. There are many people out there making use of the Twitter API on their personal websites. Some are caching the results—others are giving the load to the Twitter servers. This is not an explicit visit to the Twitter website (so far as Alexa is concerned).
- SMS. Twitter allows you to send and receive updates via your cellphone.
This is not in support of Twitter or Rails, it’s just questioning the validity of the attack by use of Alexa statistics. Unless Alexa tracks any of the above, then I think it is a poor comparison to say Twitter is low on traffic and slow. The speed of Twitter is a whole other discussion that has been covered many other places, this is not to re-hash those discussions. Also, this is not to take a stance against Terry Chay and his article. And finally, this is not a stance of PHP versus RoR. There—all of my disclaimers are out of the way.
So as we move to more (semi-transparent) services on the web, is Alexa going to be able to hold much water with it’s traffic statistics? Personally I think it misses way too much behind the scenes.