Metrics, numbers, hits, page views and clicks are what we seek! Especially when we are trying to measure the success of a website. The statistics have become a craze in the blogosphere. I wonder if they really represent success, or achievement, or the ego! I wonder how much is invested in the metric tools that monitor the web! I wonder how much do we invest in making sure that the metrics keep climbing up.
The abstractionist in you will apply this question to all kinds out there, including businesses. However, it paints a different picture in case of Web as it is much more than just technology. Web today is a publishing medium, it serves news, articles, advertisements and last but not the least it encourages participation by being available easily for the common man. It is considered to be an authoritative source of information, to an extent that google is now added in the English dictionary. All these are in the domain of art, of skill and of expression, of data integrity, of journalism and reporting. Isn’t quality more important than quantity in these cases? Can metrics do the justice?
I feel the metrics approach is inherently a flawed approach. With other mechanisms of increasing traffic the metrics can be artificially manufactured, without any indication to quality of the content or skill of the creator.
This flawed approach leads to comparisons between Digg and New York Times. Does it mean that Digg is better than New York Times and we can really live without professional journalism? In the comparison there is no consideration for quality or origination of the content. Don’t get me wrong, I am a supporter of participation and I like sites like Slashdot and Digg. However they cannot do what New York Times does. Whereas the same number game also creates an air of doubt about the basic model of Digg. Digg is one of the best social bookmarking sites not because of the numbers but because it represents a unique idea and provides ease of operation and communication between users. Digg is a culture rather than a site, and hence it is so popular.
The number game has kept us looking for better alternatives but ended up in the same model, now even page views are considered obsolete (via The Blog Herald). The numbers don’t guarantee interaction, they don’t guarantee usage, and they don’t guarantee participation. But they are still considered, because they are the easiest to measure. We try to measure a site by measuring its metrics. The numbers can merely indicate popularity. The three keywords being can, indicate and popularity. No quality!
The problem is not that we are using the numbers, the problem is that we are using only numbers. We should develop and use other mechanisms of analyzing sites which stress on quality, on integrity with the vision and achievement of the purpose for which it was set up. Unless the sole aim of a website is to get thousands of hits the numbers will not do justice. The Oscars, Grammys, Pullitzers don’t look only at numbrs, they primarily look at quality and creativity.
I am not sure if this is the solution, but we definitely need something for qualitative analysis of the Web. The biggest problem in qualitative analysis is that it can be subjective. I have no idea how this can be solved. Whether something like the Oscars would be useful or not is a debate. I believe there are some attempts but they are negligible. We cannot keep depending only on the quantity, we have to start considering quality along with it. We need to make sure that the numbers should happen because of the high quality, not the other way round.