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By Published on .

What's the most popular site on the Web? It's a question everyone is asking, but the answer-at least a statistically reliable one-isn't easy to find.

A new company called Web 21 is out to make sense of the mess with what may be the first ranking of the most popular sites by traffic.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Web 21 (http://www.web21.com) bases its weekly rankings on data obtained from server log files, traffic samples at key points on the Internet and interviews with Webmasters. Its data represent the surfing patterns of 30,000 Web users nationwide.

Netscape Communications Corp.'s site (http://www.netscape.com) ranked first, followed by Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) and its sister site, Yahooligans. Search engines Lycos (http://www.lycos.com), Alta Vista (http://www.altavista.digital.com) and InfoSeek (http://www.infoseek.com) all also made the top 10.

"It's a gold mine of data," said Bert Fornaciari, president-CEO of Web 21 and a former Silicon Graphics Inc. executive. "One of the things it points out is if you want to be big, be a directory."

Web 21's rankings group sites that are operated by the same company. ESPNet SportsZone, NBA, Finals.com and Mr. Showbiz combine to rank Starwave Corp. No. 9; taken apart, none of the sites would have been in the top 10.

Web 21 also will provide clients statistical comparisons of Web site traffic for $420 per month.

Others are working on providing similar data; NPD Group operates PC-Meter, which measures Web traffic by monitoring computer usage in 4,000 households. Web tracking company Internet Profiles Corp. is interested in providing such information but it may be as much as six months away, said Ariel Poler, I/Pro president.

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