Tuesday, September 11

Webometrics Ranking (South-East Asia Strikes Back?)

Methodology used: http://www.webometrics.info/methodology.html
Best Practices: http://www.webometrics.info/best_practices.html

After yesterday's shocking Webometrics Ranking results findings for South-East Asia (with the exception of NUS and perhaps NTU), what should we do? Blame it on the rain? Blame it on the methodology used? Blame it on the English language preference? Take a 'Who cares!' attitude? We could actually blame it on a million things, but let's for one minute blame it on ourselves and do something about it. If not do something about it, we should at least understand a bit about the methodology used and explore the best practices provided. Here it comes:

Methodology Used?
The Webometrics Ranking (WR) formally and explicitly adheres to the Berlin Principles of Higher Education Institutions. The ultimate aim is the continuous improvement and refinement of the methodologies according to a set of agreed principles of good practices (Meaning that although the methodology is perhaps flawed or weak now, it will improve as they learn)... The unit for analysis is the institutional domain, so only universities and research centres with an independent web domain are considered...University activity is multi-dimensional and this is reflected in its web presence. So the best way to build the ranking is combining a group of indicators that measures these different aspects... the four indicators were obtained from the quantitative results provided by the main search engines as follows:
  • Size (S) - Number of pages recovered from four engines: Google, Yahoo, Live Search and Exalead. For each engine, results are log-normalised to 1 for the highest value. Then for each domain, maximum and minimum results are excluded and every institution is assigned a rank according to the combined sum.
  • Visibility (V) - The total number of unique external links received (inlinks) by a site can be only confidently obtained from Yahoo Search, Live Search and Exalead. For each engine, results are log-normalised to 1 for the highest value and then combined to generate the rank.
  • Rich Files (R) - After evaluation of their relevance to academic and publication activities and considering the volume of the different file formats, the following were selected: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf), Adobe PostScript (.ps), Microsoft Word (.doc) and Microsoft Powerpoint (.ppt). These data were extracted using Google and merging the results for each filetype after log-normalising in the same way as described before.
  • Scholar (Sc) - Google Scholar provides the number of papers and citations for each academic domain. These results from the Scholar database represent papers, reports and other academic items.

The four ranks were combined according to a formula where each one has a different weight:

WR (position)= 4*RankV + 2*RankS + 1*RankR+ 1*RankSc

Alright, that was easy, but what can we do to improve our ranking? Let's explore some Best Practices we could take, which is discussed on the WR site (This is the extracted juice version. Please read the full version, too) .

Best Practices?

  1. URL naming - Each institution should choose a unique institutional domain that can be used by all the websites of the institution.
  2. Contents: Create - A large web presence is made possible only with the effort of a large group of authors. The best way to do that is allowing a large proportion of staff, researchers or graduate students to be potential authors.
  3. Contents: Convert - Make them all available on the Web (if possible), including past activities reports or pictures collections.
  4. Interlinking - If your contents are not known (bad design, limited information, or minority language), the size is scarce or they have low quality, the site probably will receive few links from other sites.
  5. Language, especially English - Language versions, especially in English, are mandatory not only for the main pages, but for selected sections and specially from scientific documents.
  6. Rich and media files - Bandwidth is growing exponentially, so it is a good investment to archive all media materials produced in web repositories. Collections of videos, interviews, presentations, animated graphs, and even digital pictures could be very useful in the long term.
  7. Search engine friendly designs - Use directories or static pages, and avoid cumbersome navigation menus based on Flash, Java or JavaScript that can block the robot access...
  8. Popularity and statistics - Number of visits is important, but it as much as important to monitor their origin, distribution and the causes why they reach your web sites.
  9. Archiving and persistence - To maintain a copy of old or outdated material in the site should be mandatory.
  10. Standards for enriching sites - The use of meaningful titles and descriptive metatags can increase the visibility of the pages (e.g. Dublin Core).

They reject the use of abusive positioning techniques that can generate misleading indicators (How they monitor this aspect would be interesting to know).

Reflection Time!
Coming to think of it, whether we rank high or not on the WR is not really important. The real importance to me is our passion and desire to learn, reflect and share/discuss our ideas, knowledge, expertise, and experiences beyond our University borders (or even between faculties avoiding the 'faculty clan knowledge only' phenomena), and participate/collaborate in the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement (or any meaningful knowledge sharing movement). The Internet provides us with an amazing channel(s) to connect and contribute to the world of learning (well, at least to more than one billion people). In general, we can only gain by sharing our knowledge and expertise to the world (marketing, awareness, social responsibility, networking, collaboration, rewards, appreciation, recognition, etc.), and by doing so interestingly our WR rank will improve, too.

We might be thinking now, if we share our ideas, knowledge, expertise and experiences to others, we might look stupid or loose our power (Hoarding knowledge is power!). If we are thinking like that, I suppose we are ... :)

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