What Is Research?

October 31, 2009

Math websites falling into disuse?

Filed under: Uncategorized — vipulnaik @ 3:06 pm
Tags: ,

Since I recently blogged about Math Overflow website, I’ve been wondering what happened to various other math websites that once looked promising, and how they’re faring. Some of them seem to be going strong, but none of them seem to have been exploding in popularity.


I blogged twice about Tricki, the Tricks Wiki, which went live in April 2009 (see the annoucement by Tim Gowers). Tricki held a lot of promise. Of late, the enthusiasm seems to have slowed down, though this might be a temporary phenomenon. The most recently created article and the most recent comments appear to be two weeks old as of today (October 27, 2009). According to Alexa data, the site has a rank of 1,200,000+ worldwide and about 550,000-600,000 in the United States. For comparison, subwiki.org, which I run, has Alexa data showing a site rank of 500,000-550,000 in the world and 150,000-200,000 in the United States, while Math Overflow has Alexa data showing a rank of 350,000 worldwide and about 60,000 in the United States (the numbers you see clicking on the links may be different if you don’t view this post within a few hours of my writing it).

Tricki also hasn’t been mentioned on Gowers’ blog since June 25, 2009 and on Terence Tao’s blog since August 2009.

Is the Tricki falling into disuse? Clearly, the initial spate of interst seems to have subsided, but it might well regain a slower and steadier momentum in some time.


I remember a time when Wikipedia had much less mathematical content than planetmath, which was one of the first places to check mathematics on the Internet. Planetmath appears to be going strong, though not as strong as before. While their message forum seems reasonably active, their latest addition was about a week ago, and they seem to be getting somewhere between 0 and 2 new articles in a day, and around the same number of revisions a day. Not exactly dead, but not bubbling with life. Their Alexa data indicates fairly steady performance with a traffic rank of around 130,000 over the last six months, but a decline over a longer timeframe — setting the drop-down parameter to “max” below the chart shows that their traffic rank and daily pageviews have been following over the longer run. Why? Decline in quality? Probably not — it’s more likely that people are increasingly using Wikipedia.



  1. A very quick comment: I’ve been too busy recently to do any work on the Tricki, and I don’t think it’s got to the stage where it is self-sustaining. But I haven’t given up on it and do intend to get back to it when I’m less busy with other projects.

    Comment by gowers — November 4, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

  2. You really should stop using Alexa data as being in any way meaningful. The Alexa toolbar is considered spyware by many, so especially when it comes to technically proficient computer users, the selection bias makes results highly skewed, possibly irrelevant.

    As for PlanetMath, I don’t know what they changed with their jsMath, but their pages take awfully long to load and often just don’t work for several of us. (Speed matters for websites. šŸ™‚ )

    Comment by Shreevatsa — December 8, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  3. Hi,

    What you’re talking about is a bias in the user sample, but I’m not convinced the bias goes in the direction that you talk about. I think that computer-unsavvy people are less likely to have heard about Alexa, and hence less likely to use it. Computer-savvy people may be more likely to know of the risks of “spyware”, but may trade this off against the benefits.

    Also, unlike the Google Toolbar, which is often offered to large numbers of people whether they are actively looking for it or not, I don’t think the Alexa Toolbar is “offered” to people not actively looking for it. I’m sure there is some sort of bias in the user sample. Perhaps, it is used more by people who are website proprietors or SEO people for whom the value of seeing a usage rank exceeds the costs of having spyware. Nonetheless, I don’t think the bias is as simple as you suggest.

    In fact, most tech sites, that tech-savvy people are likely to visit, seem to be ranked pretty well. Slashdot has a rank of 1270 compared with a rank of 1091 for MIT, 4724 for Princeton, and 2081 for Hindustan Times. If the tech-savvy crowd that visits Slashdot is less likely to use the Alexa toolbar, then it would seem that Slashdot’s “true” rank would be substantially higher than what it already appears to be, a proposition that I doubt.

    I do think that Alexa ranks are not very reliable indicators of inter-site comparison beyond the top 100,000, even in the absence of any general direction of user bias — because a small amount of variation in who has a toolbar could have a large effect on the rankings. Nonetheless, when we are looking at the same site over a period of time, I think it does give some sort of picture. I’ve looked at Alexa statistics for a number of websites and compared them to other indicators of activity, and they generally seem to tell a similar story.

    Despite the limitations of Alexa data, I use it in conjunction with other data to paint a general picture.

    Comment by vipulnaik — December 8, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

  4. No, that’s not quite true. IIRC, Alexa used to get installed on the computers of many people who didn’t want it, until there was the big privacy lawsuit against them (which they lost… in 2000 or so). (But this may be wrong.) And for a long time, it worked only on Internet Explorer.
    With Slashdot specifically, there have been people from time to time spoofing Alexa with fake hits etc., so the numbers may be off, but I’m not sure that Slashdot isn’t more popular than the MIT website, say. (Here‘s an example with “I get about twice the pageviews of mattcutts.com, but his Alexa pageview ranking is about 25 times more than mine”.)

    Is it reasonable to assume that the subset of visitors to a website who have installed the toolbar is a representative one for most purposes? I guess it’s up to you…

    Comment by Shreevatsa — December 11, 2009 @ 2:11 am

  5. […] — vipulnaik @ 10:59 pm Tags: Mathworld, Planetmath As I’ve mentioned earlier (such as here), it has seemed to me for some time that both Planetmath and Mathworld are losing out as […]

    Pingback by Planetmath and Mathworld losing out to Wikipedia « What Is Research? — May 28, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

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