Jan 20, 2016

Le Defi - crunching numbers the wrong way

Every end of year, Le Defi usually publishes an article to proclaim that it's the most visited only newspaper in Mauritius. 2015 was no exception. According to the article posted on their website on 29 December 2015, they remain the most read news website in Mauritius. This article was also posted in their print edition and I was planning to blog about this since then. Unfortunately, a combination of the festive season, booze and laziness meant I never got around to it.

L'Express however had a short article on their website in response to these claims and it's hilarious. I have taken that as a sign that I should get around to publishing my opinion on the matter before it gets way too old to warrant attention.

The Alexa way

My main gripe about Le Défi's assessment is that they are using Alexa as a benchmark. The article title itself clearly states that Le Défi ranks first according to Alexa rankings. There's however a main problem with Alexa rankings and this is stated on its official website:

"Alexa could not exist without the participation of the Alexa Toolbar community. Each member of the community, in addition to getting a useful tool, gives back. By using the Firefox, Chrome and IE toolbars, every member contributes valuable information about the web, how it's used, what's important and what isn't. Alexa returns this information to the community as Traffic Ranks, Related Links, and more."
In other words, Alexa-related information is entirely dependent on its toolbar which needs to be installed by users. As it turns out, most people will never install Alexa and this means we need to be careful when interpreting the data. In this situation, the one conclusion we would be able to make is that Le Défi is indeed the most visited news website by users who have the Alexa toolbar installed.

Let us not forget that online browsing behavior has also changed a lot over the recent years. Most people who use Alexa have it installed on their desktop/laptop. Moreover, many of those are usually literally conned into using it while installing other software. However, as everybody knows, a lot of web users now stay updated through their mobile phones and tablets and not just traditional computers. In these cases, people are even less likely to use Alexa, which means a lot of important data is not being captured by the Alexa algorithm.

Top sites in Mauritius

Alexa's unreliability is actually sort of obvious from its Top Sites in Mauritius page. Le Défi claimed that it was the sixth most visited website in Mauritius on 25 December 2015 according to Alexa and that it was ranking above L'Express. However, as of 19 January 2016, L'Express is fifth and Le Défi is only ninth, which means Le Défi lost an amazing three ranks in less than one month.

In addition, consider the case that both Google.com and Google.mu are included in Alexa's Top Sites in Mauritius list. However, if you are in Mauritius, going to Google.com automatically redirects to Google.mu unless you use the no-country redirection. Most people are not even aware that the no-country Google redirection exists and will head straight to the Google.mu page.

This means that:
1) Google.com has no business being in the list
2) In real life, Google.com cannot rank above Google.mu

And this is what Alexa is showing:

Web rankings. Serious business.

Let's supposed we were actually interested in determining which newspaper was the most popular in Mauritius. There are actually many parameters that should be taken into consideration in addition to the number of website visits (provided these are provided by a reliable tool such as Google analytics):
  • number of Facebook users since it's the one social network everybody use in Mauritius - and L'Express has more than 350,000 followers compared to Le Défi's 93,000 users. In this case, Le Défi is not putting enough emphasis on its social profiles via its website. I actually had to look for the icon twice before I found it.
  • number of app users - L'Express has Apple and Android apps; I have not seen any such platform for Le Défi. It could be that those users who are using these apps have no need for the traditional website.
  • number of subscribers to the L'Express e-paper - it is my understanding that these users will not bother reading the online editions since the e-paper is available even before the print version comes out in Mauritius.

Personally, I could not care less which newspaper website ranks first in Mauritius whether it's according to Alexa or any other ranking provider. However, I take offense with bad reporting of news, especially when it's being done by a news website.