Under The Microscope

Following Trends, Even More Poorly

Last week, I posted an article on tracking popularity using Google’s Trends tool. For a long time, I’ve used another tool to track website and traffic trends: Alexa. If you don’t know Alexa, they’re a useful resource for traffic rankings and charting the popularity of sites (among other tools). For example, you can see the top 500 sites on the internet.

There’s a slight problem with Alexa though, and that’s that it only runs on Windows, under Internet Explorer. As a Mac software company, this doesn’t provide for particularly good data. As Alexa notes:

“The Alexa Toolbar works only on Windows operating systems. Although a large majority of the Internet population currently used (sic) Windows, traffic to any sites which are disproportionately visited by users of other operating systems will be undercounted.”

So, that’s “good”. To be fair, there are third-party extensions for Firefox that appear to also collect data for Alexa, but few people are using these and few of these are Mac users. In addition to the problem of the user base of Alexa, the data are really only useful for sites in the top 100,000. When I started tracking this, Rogueamoeba.com was around 950,000. So, I quickly realized that simply checking our ranking wouldn’t be terribly useful. We can compare one week to the next, but the actual number isn’t very useful.

Alexa Graph

Clicking above, you can see Rogueamoeba.com’s traffic over the past two years (from this link). Here, we see many islated spikes, but for the most part, our ranking was under 100,000. We did track this number from week to week, watching it fluctuate. Perhaps the most interesting thing to see was the huge jump around the end of 2004. Our bet is that something changed at Alexa, because the spike in our rank was huge.

The other method of comparison we’ve used is looking at the rankings of several other Mac software companies. Below, you can see a chart showing our ranking since July of 2004, along with the average of these eight other companies.

Alexa-based Graph

Here we can see that the Mac world has been doing pretty well (low numbers are best), and that Rogue Amoeba has broken in to that over the past year or so. Of course, we could have predicted that pretty well based off press coverage, user recognition at Macworld 2006, sales, or any of a dozen other factors. But it’s been nice to follow our ups and downs, and connect them to events such as Macworld 2004 where we won a Best Of Show award, or March of last year when Airfoil was released.

Unfortunately, Alexa’s outlived its usefulness to us, at least as far as the above data are concerned. Between March 11th and March 14th, our rank improved 5000 places for one simple reason – the release of Airfoil for Windows. With this one release, we’ve skewed our results for months to come, and our comparisons to strictly Mac sites no longer carry any meaning.

If nothing else, the site was fun and easy to follow. Perhaps other Mac developers can continue use it to gauge their own traffic and popularity, provided they take it all with a large grain of salt. Meanwhile, we’ll keep following the data, and see if they lead us anywhere useful.

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