2013 screenshot of Alexa.com home page
|Headquarters||San Francisco, California, U.S|
|Industry||Internet information providers|
|Products||Alexa Web Search (discontinued 2008)
|Parent||Amazon.com (acquired 1999)|
|Alexa rank||1,417 (April 2014[update])|
|Type of site||Web traffic and ranking|
Alexa Internet, Inc. is a California-based subsidiary company of Amazon.com which provides commercial web traffic data. Founded as an independent company in 1996, Alexa was acquired by Amazon in 1999. Its toolbar collects data on browsing behavior and transmits it to the Alexa website, where it is stored and analyzed, forming the basis for the company's web traffic reporting. As of 2014, Alexa provides traffic data, global rankings and other information on 30 million websites, and its website is visited by over 8.8 million people monthly.
Alexa Internet was founded in 1996 by American web entrepreneurs Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat. The company's name was chosen in homage to the Library of Alexandria, drawing a parallel between the largest repository of knowledge in the ancient world and the potential of the Internet to become a similar store of knowledge.
The company offered a toolbar that gave Internet users suggestions on where to go next, based on the traffic patterns of its user community. Alexa also offered context for each site visited: to whom it was registered, how many pages it had, how many other sites pointed to it, and how frequently it was updated.
Alexa's operation includes archiving of webpages as they are crawled. This database served as the basis for the creation of the Internet Archive accessible through the Wayback Machine. In 1998, the company donated a copy of the archive, two terabytes in size, to the Library of Congress. Alexa continues to supply the Internet Archive with Web crawls.
In 1999, as the company moved away from its original vision of providing an "intelligent" search engine, Alexa was acquired by Amazon.com for approximately US$250 million in Amazon stock. Alexa began a partnership with Google in early 2002, and with the Open Directory Project in January 2003. In May 2006, Amazon replaced Google with Live Search as a provider of search results. In December 2006, Amazon released Alexa Image Search. Built in-house, it was the first major application to be built on their Web platform.
In December 2005, Alexa opened its extensive search index and Web-crawling facilities to third party programs through a comprehensive set of Web services and APIs. These could be used, for instance, to construct vertical search engines that could run on Alexa's own servers or elsewhere. In May 2007, Alexa changed their API to require comparisons to be limited to three sites, reduced the size of embedded graphs shown using Flash, and added mandatory embedded BritePic ads.
In April 2007, the lawsuit Alexa v. Hornbaker was filed to stop trademark infringement by the Statsaholic service. In the lawsuit, Alexa alleged that Hornbaker was stealing traffic graphs for profit, and that the primary purpose of his site was to display graphs that were generated by Alexa's servers. Hornbaker removed the term Alexa from his service name on March 19, 2007.
On November 27, 2008, Amazon announced that Alexa Web Search was no longer accepting new customers, and that the service would be deprecated or discontinued for existing customers on January 26, 2009. Thereafter, Alexa became a purely analytics-focused company.
On March 31, 2009, the Alexa website underwent a major redesign, offering new web traffic metrics, including average page views per each individual user, bounce rate, and user time on site. In the following weeks, Alexa added further features, including visitor demographics, clickstream and search traffic statistics. These new features were introduced in order to compete with other web analytics services, such as Compete.com and Quantcast.
Alexa ranks sites based primarily on tracking a sample set of internet traffic — users of its toolbar for the Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers. The Alexa Toolbar includes a popup blocker, a search box, links to Amazon.com and the Alexa homepage, and the Alexa ranking of the site that the user is visiting. It also allows the user to rate the site and view links to external, relevant sites.
In early 2005, Alexa stated that there had been 10 million downloads of the toolbar, though the company did not provide statistics about active usage. The Alexa Toolbar for Internet Explorer 7 has previously been flagged as malware by Microsoft Defender. A third-party-supplied plugin for the Firefox browser served as the only solution after Amazon abandoned its A9 toolbar. On July 16, 2007, Alexa released an official toolbar for Firefox called Sparky. Originally, webpages were only ranked amongst users who had the Alexa Toolbar installed, and could be biased if a specific audience subgroup was reluctant to take part in the rankings. This caused some controversy over how representative Alexa's user base was of typical Internet behavior, especially for less-visited sites. In 2007, Michael Arrington provided examples of Alexa rankings known to contradict data from the comScore web analytics service, including ranking YouTube ahead of Google.
On April 16, 2008, many users reported dramatic shifts in their Alexa rankings. Alexa confirmed this later in the day with an announcement that they had released an updated ranking system, claiming that they would now take into account more data sources "beyond Alexa Toolbar users".
A number of antivirus companies have assessed Alexa's toolbar. Symantec classifies the toolbar as "trackware", while McAfee classifies it as adware, a "Potentially Unwanted Program." McAfee Site Advisor rates the Alexa site as "green", finding "no significant problems" but warning of a "small fraction of downloads ... that some people consider adware or other potentially unwanted programs."
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