It seems that Internet surfers are most interested in the personal--and the universal. A recent ranking shows that Web pages created by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)--home to useful medical information--and space-exploring NASA are the most popular government-sponsored offerings among home-based computer users. The numbers come from Nielsen/NetRatings, which has attached monitors to over 57,000 home computers to track their owners' Web wanderings. The company points out that ratings tend to fluctuate: The Internal Revenue Service's hits shoot up in April during tax time, while NASA dusted the competition during the July 1997 rover landing on Mars.
Surprisingly, only 20% of NIH's hits are on the National Library of Medicine, which runs the PubMed abstracts database. Institute pages with fact sheets on diseases also attract lots of traffic from the public, says NIH Webmaster Dennis Rodrigues. Like a NASA spokesperson, he says his agency doesn't take the ratings too seriously. But "if we dropped off the top 10, we'd wonder what we were doing wrong."