How Do You Measure the Size of Your Website?

And, does it really matter in every case?

One of my favorite things to blog about is probably the Caves of Narshe, because it's been something that I've worked on for nearly twenty years, and because it's something that I've worked on that I can always have attached to me publicly (unlike my actual job, which deals with enough proprietary code that I don't want most of it out there). I consider it to be a pretty big site within its fairly small niche, and in the places where it's not that big I still tend to think it does a lot of things better than its "competition."

So, when poking at some things in the CoN database the other day, I noticed that suddenly the core RDB that powers the site (not the discussion forums or any of the ancillary projects like sports or gaming competitions put on for the community) crossed into having more than 200 tables. Of course, some of those tables are quite small, and some are larger, but 200 is still quite a few, and it got me to thinking about how large the site really was. The amount of data stored in those tables is under 100MB, but that data is the underpinnings for well over half a million pageviews a month, which obviously ain't nothin', but at the same time the site hasn't sniffed the global top 100k in Alexa for many years. We do fare far, far better once you drill down solely to Final Fantasy sites, which is not a surprise because we do have better data, a better user experience, and a less childish community than anyone else in that sphere, but again, pretty small niche.

So where do you define what a "big" site is? Is it the amount of data contained therein? The amount of users accessing that data? A factor of both combined? Does it matter beyond being a simple thought exercise? (The answer to that last one is obviously no, unless you're one of those big sites in the first place.)

Because correlation is not causation, you can't draw a straight line from any of these rhetorical questions to an actual answer. In fact, the answer becomes an exercise in frustration because I think the only true answer might be qualitative as much as quantitative. Grey areas are gross, but here's my general take on this realization: the only way to measure how the true size of your site is 100% subjective and requires the kind of detailed knowledge that you only get from having access to all of the data and the people that factor into the site. It's about how much data you have, and that is true in virtually all cases regardless of what kind of data it is. Very few companies make their money primarily based on just the raw quantity of data they have. What matters more is the quality of that data, it's the number of people to whom you can provide that data, and it's the way those people feel about that data. That last one is really squishy, but it's completely integral to the process, in my opinion, and PAX really sold me on that addition to the measurement scale.

For most of the first fifteen years or so of the site, I didn't have a lot of face-to-face interaction to help me reinforce its place in the canon of all similar fansites. I got briefly interviewed by a few years back - alas, the feature seems to have been totally scrubbed from the internet since 1up's demise, leaving only the unabridged version I kept of my own portion - which is a good indication of the general reach, but I also got pretty well buried in the depths of that feature in the end too (I'm probably just too boring to get more column inches, to be fair). My circle of offline friends doesn't tend to include many folks who play or have played the games my site covers, either, so that doesn't help. But, once I went to PAX East, the largest gaming convention in Boston, a couple times, I started to get a grasp for it. Taking a stack of cards and handing them out to cosplayers, artists, and anyone else who would take them I started to get a lot of feedback that sounded like "Wow, I used your walkthrough for ! It was great!" and "Whoa, you guys are still around? I visited you in high school!" - okay, that one is less reassuring, but any press is good press, right?

That small but real cultural connection to other folks in the fandom gave me a new way of thinking about it. It's easy to get lost in the numbers, especially if you're a revenue-driven site or community, which I certainly don't have. But if you're doing something just as a hobby because you really enjoy doing it, or even if you just aren't looking to let down the fanbase you've built over the years, what makes your site big might just be as simple as the number of people who, when they hear something about your site, sparks recognition in their eyes. 100MB of data powering the site? Cool. 200MB powering the forums? Also pretty cool. But all that really does is show how much work you put in, not what that work really means to people, and it's the latter that makes a site big. You can apply that metric to any site you want. Facebook and Google are massive to an incomprehensible scale, but what makes them money is not just that scale, it's the fact that the scale and the impressions it leaves on users are constantly flowing from one to the other.

Of course, in my case, adding in some revenue on top of that good feeling would make me pretty happy. So feel free to get on that.


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