Please get your facts straight!

So traffic can be roughly compared to Google PageRank: something that measures “popularity” but can be easily “gamed”. It isn’t a valid metric to determine who was indeed online doing something. In effect, if you’d add all “traffic points” in Second Life, what exactly would you find out? How can you truthfully compare two sites, one that has 40 people on camping chairs all the time (who are not even logged in with that alt but simply have that copy of SL minimised), and another that throws live events several hours per day and is crammed full with people during these events? Which one is truly “more popular”?

Still, a lot of self-proclaimed experts in Second Life routinely use that same metric, and the reason is simple: it’s the only one that we have in-world, provided by a relatively neutral party (Linden Lab has really no interest in promoting a virtual presence over another), it’s easy to look up (all parcels show publicly their traffic), and although its calculation is totally obfuscating, people don’t really care: get more avatars on your land, and traffic goes up. Like “square metres of land” are an abstraction of how much CPU, hard disk space, and bandwidth you’re allowed to consume, “traffic” becomes a quick-and-dirty metric to keep marketeers and business owners happy.

What is the major issue with “traffic” then? Well, similar to Google PageRank, it doesn’t really measure anything worthwhile except a very relative and subjective sense of popularity. If you’d made a colour-coded map of Second Life, with, say, different colour shades, each representing a range of traffic (ie. deep scarlet, 4000+; blood red, 3000-4000; brick red, 1000-2000; warm orange, 500-1000; mustard, 100-500; lemon, 0-100), and looked it from above, you’d have a rough way to figure out where people are being attracted to. It would make for a nice global picture. Some Firefox extensions do the same for PageRank. Even Google is honest enough not to use PageRank as “real” metrics, and perhaps it’s not surprising that Google Analytics does not show PageRank (but more established metrics) as part of its statistics.

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