Allen Stern of Center Networks asks the question "Who will be the first to sue Alexa?"

Alexa, oh Alexa, how you kill thee. I've written and spoken about Alexa since they began operations nearly a decade ago. I've watched agencies pitch advertising based on Alexa charts. There are still ad networks that use Alexa rankings as a baseline for pricing Web site advertising.

Considering how wrong Alexa is, I've wondered for a long time who would be the first one to sue Alexa for an incorrect ranking. For sites that drive revenue from advertising, an incorrect ranking can impact their direct ability to generate revenue.

He goes on to cite Compete.com and Google Trends as more accurate alternatives. 

A couple things here.  First I don't think Alexa is in danger of being sued because they are open about their process which means people know what they are getting in to when they check the site.  Beyond that I'd have to challenge his support of the other traffic measurement sites in that I've found them all to be pretty unreliable.

For those who don't know, I make a point of not checking statistics on my site so they won't skew what I post.  But every 6 months or so I take one day and pour over all the stats from the last 6 months just for curiosity's sake.

The last time I did I was downright shocked at just how inaccurate both Alexa and Compete.com were.  They seemed to pick up on very broad trends but other than that they were next to useless. 

Since then I've talked to other web masters who have confirmed those observations.  It seems everyone knows these sites don't work.

Yet what's amazing to me is that we continue to cite them.  Even though we all know the numbers are completely inaccurate.  I'm not playing holier than thou here, I've done it too. 

It seems we have such a human need to rank things in relation to each other that we're willing to treat any measure as authoritative even when we know those numbers are wrong.

If you think about it you'll realize we see this a lot on the web.  Sites like Rottentomatoes.com make a business out of creating pseudo authoritative rankings based on skewed information (rottentomatoes is a site that surveys movie reviewers to rank their approval of new films but being included seems to require little more than having a web site).

We're not talking about wisdom of the crowds here we're talking about wisdom of the randomly selected elite (be it random movie reviewers or an unknown algorithm).  Not surprisingly this method doesn't seem all that wise. 

But that brings us back to Alexa, a site that is known to be bogus but which people continue to cite.  It seems to me the problem isn't with Alexa it's with all of us who continue to fixate on comparison even though it holds little bearing.  Advertisers, readers, and others of importance don't really care how your blog ranks in comparison to those around you so maybe it's time we all followed their lead and put all these sites aside. 

Addendum: Todd Cochrane of GeekCentralNews points out an unintended side effect of this faulty data that I'd never considered before.