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Deceptive data: Website popularity statistics in Sub-Saharan Africa

January 16, 2010  »  Statistics & WebNo Comment

Gathering accurate and reliable Internet usage statistics has never been easy. Furthermore, the data we can obtain must be carefully examined before assumptions can be formed.

Despite limited Internet bandwidth, file-sharing websites appear relatively popular in Sub-Saharan countries. Or so it seems according to web traffic tracker Alexa. Based on lists of the top 100 websites in selected nations, it seems that the average African Internet user visits RapidShare more often than the typical web user in America or the United Kingdom. The only problem is that in the United States, these sites are often utilized to download movies, videos, and music albums. It’s hard to believe that African users are downloading such large files (50+ MB) over slow connections.


Rank of file-sharing websites for selected nations. Source:

Instead, we can assume there is more to the story than first meets the eye:

  • Africans use a smaller range of file-sharing sites than European and American users, so the few they use receive relatively more traffic and therefore rank as more popular
  • There are relatively fewer sites with local African content for African users than sites with American content for American users, for example. As a result, sites that transcend language and culture, such as those used for file-sharing, rank higher in African nations.
  • Africans may use file-sharing sites to transfer documents and other small files instead of movies

The chart below summarizes the data. Shorter columns correspond with lower site rank. Interestingly, South Africa only has one file sharing site in the top 100, but Sudan has five such sites.


Analysis of file-sharing website ranks for nations where data is available. Click to enlarge. Data source:

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