Wouter on the Web draws attention to the latest webometrics ranking of world universities, rightly noting that "at the moment we have to take these results with a spoon full of salt rather than a pinch".
I have to agree that this measure, whatever is doing, is hardly likely to be a measure of academic quality. Can one really believe, for example, that Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College in the UK are really no where in the top twenty on the basis of quality? Or that the University of Minnesota ranks 34 places above the California Institute of Technology?
So, what is this webometrics ranking doing? Well, a number of measures are taken to identify the extent of the Web presence of the University: the size of its presence in Web pages, the extent to which external sites link to it, the number of so-called 'rich files' (i.e., pdf, ps, doc and ppt files) on the site and the number of papers and citations in Google Scholar. In other words it is simply a composite measure of the size of the institution's Web presence.
The danger, of course, is that as in the case of citation measures, university administrators will see the magic word "ranking" and assume that there is some need to rise up the ranks. Quite the opposite is necessary; they should ignore this kind of thing - quite how anyone can find the time to devote to it, instead of doing something useful, I'm at a loss to understand!