Wednesday 3 June 2015

What does Amazon's website structure look like?

While discussing the visual analysis of website structure with a Scrutiny user, he mused that it would be useful to see what a successful website such as Amazon would 'look like'. Well here it is:

The eyeball shape is completely unintended and unexpected, and I think really funny. (And slightly ironic.)

In fact this isn't the real picture at all. It only shows pages (of within 2 clicks from home, not because all pages on the site lie therein but because traversing 100,000 links and including 1,000 pages in this chart barely scratches the surface of the website. (There are ~120 links on the homepage, if every page has an average of 100 pages (it does) then given Scrutiny's top-down approach, it would need to include 10,000 pages in this chart just to reach the 'escape velocity' of the second level). This project is on the back-burner for another day in favour of some smaller commercial sites.

NB the placement of each page in this chart is based on 'clicks from home', not necessarily 'navigation by navbar' or directories implied by the urls.

Other sites

Here are a couple of sites, crawled to completion, to see how successful commercial sites appear.

The first is my favourite clothes retailer
There are a relatively small number of pages 4 clicks from home, but the vast majority of the product pages can be reached within 3 clicks. Based only on this blogger's history of using this site, it *is* more usual to browse than to search with this type of site.

Next up is my favourite shoe site. Again crawled in its entirety.
Very similar, especially if we take into account that it has fewer pages than the clothes retailer.

9 circles

Finally in this tour, for comparison, here's the site of a local authority (middle-tier local government). These are not commercial organisations and not generally renowned for the user-friendliness of their websites.

This '9 circles of hell' does extend outwards and outwards beyond this screenshot. Though to be fair, all of the actual website content is 6 clicks from home or fewer*. After that we're into pages of planning documents etc.

These graphs are analogous to browsing the site. (I have some experience in local authority websites and it is more common than you'd think for users to browse rather than search.) If, in the real world, the search box is used, then the user is 2 clicks from home. If the user starts with Google, then the user potentially lands on the page they need (assuming the page is indexed). But the object of this exercise is to see how successful websites are organised in terms of their link structure and see what we can learn. These three sites have a similar number of pages**

I'm working on some other ideas, so please keep an eye on this blog: besides the Amazon project I'd love to crawl the entire English content of Wikipedia to see whether the 'six degrees' game holds true. I believe this is feasible, I've now successfully made a crawl up to a million links (which included half a million pages in the sitemap) so I don't think the 4-point-something million articles is out of the question.

These websites were crawled by Scrutiny and the graphs generated by SiteViz, a tool I've been working on for a long time to view the .dot files generated by Scrutiny and Integrity Plus. SiteViz is very new and in beta. Other graphing applications can also open Scrutiny's .dot files.

If you have any other thoughts on what we can learn from these charts and figures, please leave them in the comments.

* to be clear, pages are shown here at the fewest number of clicks possible from the starting page (as far as Scrutiny was able to discover)

** in the same ballpark; ~3,000 for the shoe site, ~6,500 for the clothes and ~5,000 for the local authority

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