No, not the boat race – which has the most popular Web site, Oxford or Cambridge University? We don’t know, has been the traditional view. The data is only available on the institution’s Web server and there’s no point in making such data publicly available.

But this isn’t quite true. If you go to the Alexa traffic ranking service you can view traffic data for public Web sites – and you can compare the traffic data across a range of Web sites.

So who has the most popular Web site? Well if you visit the comparison page you’ll find the answer is …

Oxford and Cambridge University Web Site Usage Statistics

too close to call 🙂

Now the obvious response when discussing Web site statistics and making comparisons with one’s peers is to point out the limitations of the methodology – unless, of course, your Web site is on top 🙂 In this case we might discuss the limitations of Web traffic metrics (caching, etc.) and point out that an organisation’s Web site isn’t the organisation and need not reflect the quality of the institution’s teaching and research. But we need to remember that the people who have an interest in such figures are typically civil servants and policy makers – they’re like the so-called ‘Google generation’ – they don’t explore issues deeply and will dismissive of explanations of the limitations of such figures 🙂

The rest of us will be aware of such limitations. And we’ll also know when such league tables are inappropriate in many contexts and not just within the Web environment. or example the New Stateman magazine on the 21 January 2007 has an article entitled “It’s wrong to publish league tables” in which Peter Wilby argues that “News scores tell parents nothing about schools“. The next thing we’ll hear will be suggestions that football should be judged on a single metric such as the number of points obtained during the season – we know that this is more of a indication of the bank balance of your team’s Russian, American or Thai billionaire and factors such as the number of African players your team may have who may disappear in January and the quality of the players and their countries (an inverse relation as, if they’re too good, they’ve stay away for longer period) :-).

Even so, it can be fun using the Alexa service to make comparisons with your peers. And, of most interest to me, when did usage traffic stop growing? And what has been happening since 2006? Have all the users of university Web sites moved to Facebook or even Second Life? Joking apart, there are some interesting questions to ask. Why has Web usage traffic been in decline since February 2006?