Posted by: Ken Brown | July 18, 2009

The Accuracy of the Biblioblog Top 50

The subject of the accuracy of the Biblioblog Top 50 has come up again, this time at Tolle Lege. I noted in the comments on this post that Alexa’s traffic ratings (upon which the Top 50 is based) are only loosely correlated with actual pageviews, since they rely heavily on visits by Alexa Toolbar users, which make up only a small minority of Internet users. In response, Rob asked Are Alexa’s Ratings Suspect?:

Is Alexa’s system suspect and should it be used?  Or do you find that many people do indeed have the Alexa toolbar installed and so its a good way to evaluate statistics? OR, is all this really a ploy from Alexa to get people to install the toolbar, and truth be told the toolbar doesn’t really matter?

I agree with those who suggested that the higher a blog’s traffic, the more accurate Alexa’s rating is going to be, while the lower the traffic (and thus, the smaller the sample size for Alexa to work with), the less reliable they will be. That’s why the top 25 or so tends to be more stable in each month’s rankings, while those of us lower down the totem pole can see our Alexa ratings jump by several million up or down, even when our traffic remains steady.

If we really wanted as accurate a listing as possible based on Alexa’s numbers, we’d probably have to limit it to a Top 10, or start measuring pageviews at the blog level. Theoretically, this could be done by integrating a statistics package into the Biblioblog banner and getting everyone to install it. But someone who knows a great deal more about programming than me would have to build such a widget and pay for bandwidth and server space to collect all that data. There would also be privacy issues and who knows what other headaches.

Is all of that really worth it to have a slightly more accurate measure of the most frequently visited biblioblogs? As has been emphasized ever since N.T. Wrong began the thing, the “Top 50” was never about an objective measure of the best or even the most popular biblioblogs. It’s simply a fun way of highlighting some of the better blogs out there–and it certainly does that, even if there will always be others that could have been included but weren’t. Of course, even if it did reliably measure popularity, it still wouldn’t tell us which blogs are “best.” As their own disclaimer insists:

In Biblical Studies the ability to write meaningful pieces that only you and, maybe, one other person in the world understand is the zenith of achievement. The Biblioblog Top 50 is thus no indication of the worth or otherwise of the blogs involved. As Jesus the Galilean once said, “Οὕτως ἔσονται οἱ ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι”.

In a way, the volatility of the list is actually a good thing, as it ensures that more blogs turn up in the list than might otherwise. As long as everyone understands that the relative rankings are, at best, merely a rough snapshot and not an objective measure, taking drastic measures to make it more “accurate” would only obscure the fact that the value of a blog is not measured by its traffic but by the quality of the conversations it fosters–whether between two people or a hundred.

Whatever it’s failings, the Biblioblog Top 50 has certainly sparked its share of worthwhile conversations, and not just about its accuracy, so it would be a shame to ruin all that in some misguided quest for accuracy. Besides, this way even the lowliest among us can hope that this will be the month Alexa accidentally inflates our numbers and thrusts us into the blessed realms known only to James McGrath, Ben Witherington and Jim West… or else casts us down into obscurity.



  1. ! Nice site
    Keep posting, and mate thanks.
    there is nothing in the world I enjoy more than learning. In fact, i’d rather be learning now!

  2. We note that Alexa’s statistics are only partly based on their toolbar statistics – other measures are also used. But we quite agree with your comments, Ken. The Top 50 is a fun way of advertising blogs and building community. Indeed, we agree it would be quite wrong to engage in some “misguided quest for accuracy.” The statistics are accurate enough at the top end to place some degree of reliance on the stats, but maybe some people aren’t getting th inherently humorous and light-hearted aspect of a ‘top of the pops’ for biblical studies blogs.

    • What, you mean #1 Biblioblogger isn’t the zenith of academic achievement!? I mean, they might as well give Jim the Nobel Prize and tenure at Sheffield if he wins another month!

      BTW, those are quite the avatars WordPress assigned you and marem. It must be nice having such big brains… 😉

  3. Nice post. I agree that the Biblioblog Top 50 is really just for fun. I very much like it the way it is. The technical hurdles of more accurate statistical tracking really aren’t worth jumping over.

    However, I’d dispute that the Top 10 is accurate. There simply aren’t enough readers of Biblioblogs that use the Alexa toolbar. The sampling is too small. But, that is neither here nor there. The Top 50 is about having fun, and that’s how it should remain.

  4. I don’t know why the Sheol anyone comes to my blog anyways…

  5. No, Calvin, it is not about having fun. First and foremost, it is about beating, neigh, destroy, scratch that, obliterating, Dr. Jim West. Then and and only can we have fun!

    If I may suggest something, Ken, for a more accurate hit stance – change your RSS feeder option. I read you blog in my RSS reader and rarely come here, so while I read all of your posts, you simply do not get the hits for them. Not fair to you – especially since I have the Sparky.

    • Many people, myself included, are more likely to read a post if the full text is available through RSS than if they have to click through from an excerpt. I care more about people reading what I write than I do about stats (or, at least, I try to care more! ;)), so I’m more than happy to trade the pageviews for an increased chance of being read.

      P.S. What’s “the Sparky”?

      • True enough, Ken.

        Sparky is the little add-on for Firefox. Since 3.5, I’ve been running Safari, but use my Firefox to visit most blogs.

  6. P.S., Alexa keeps those who use referrer sites, like Alpha Inventions from running over everyone.

    • Does it really? That would explain why my rank actually went down in the one month I got a bunch of traffic from AI. That raises my confidence in its accuracy somewhat.

      • I’ve been comparing WP-Stats, Google Analytics, and Alexa. AI provides hits, but nothing that is measured by G.A. or Alexa, or least from what I’ve noticed.

  7. Alexa certainly has some advantages. But overall it is not very accurate. Still, that could work to your advantage in your quest to overcome Jim West.

    • I’m not sure any stats package is all that accurate, even those that operate at the blog level. I’ve had both Sitemeter and Google Analytics (as a standalone when I was on Blogger, now integrated through WordPress) running in parallel from the beginning and one or the other is constantly catching visits that the other one misses. I can only guess how many they both miss. So while I don’t trust Alexa either, it is not as though there is an of objective standard to compare it against. Granted, sometimes it seems way off from what I would expect, but I can’t assume all discrepencies are Alexa’s fault.

      It’s all a bit arbitrary anyway. When you start out you’re excited to have 10 visits in a day. A few months pass and 10 visits is depressing. A bit longer and 50 visits is depressing. After a while 500 might seem like a slow day (if only that day would come!). Why? What has changed except your expectations? Of course we all want to have an impact, we want the time we spend on here to be as effective as possible, but does it really matter if we’re writing for 25 people or 250, does it really matter if our stats under or overestimate our actual visits? Would we blog any differently even if they were perfectly accurate? Should we?

      • You are right, Ken. Hits self really to feed the ego, I suspect, but I admit, I write for others to read. Frankly, it’s nice to know that others read it. Sometimes, blogs are considered ministries, personal or otherwise, and it is a welcome thing to see x number of people are reading this or that post.

        Of course, most people choose to read the controversial posts.

        I do not look at the over all numbers, but I do enjoy the fact that even a handle full of people from around the world, according to Google, are taking the time to read something that I have written. It’s well, cool.

      • That’s what I appreciate most as well, seeing such a wide variety of people visiting, especially when they stick around long enough to join in the conversation!

  8. […] on another blog somewhere (here, here and here for starters), the question of how accurate the Alexa ranking were erupted into a firestorm. Well, […]

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