First the obligatory not dead statement.
Ranks. If you raid for long enough you are going to encounter that raider who goes on and on about ranks and how well they rank and /FLEX epeen power!!!
But what the pickle are ranks, and more over what good are they?
But first a bit about logs.
TL;DR - Ranks, when properly filtered, give us a list of people to examine who may be able help us find ways we can improve ourselves.
When you log in to raid your local computer is connecting to the world server that houses all the information about what is going on around you. Your computer sends packets of information to the server, the server then looks at these and makes some calculations and finally sends back some information to your computer. Off topic but the time it takes for that transaction to complete is what we refer to as lag, sort of but that's a good enough explanation for now.
Early on someone figured out that you could tap into the local file stored on your computer and use it to measure a few things. DPS of course but there were some mods that would watch the log to give information about what was going on in the encounter. As time went by we got more sophisticated monitors that could give greater amounts of and more accurate data about what was happening in raid. Being an internet based game it was natural that people would want to upload and share these logs and eventually human competition took notice and the ranking system was born.
Today's logs are detailed enough to show where a player was standing and where they moved to and almost everything in between.
The problem is these logs are not very informative in their raw form. In order to get the information out of them so that we can begin to analyze and compare them we need a program to parse the log. Again time has seen some wonderful improvements in how this information is presented. The newest parser on the block, MrRobbits, has fancy info-graphics and all sorts of other nice little enhancements. Still, a log site needs lots of logs in order to create higher detailed pictures of what raiding looks like for a given tier. Mr. Robbit, while present fairly well, simply has not received the volume of logs that warcraftlogs has, and WCL had to fight a battle against WoL in order to take away enough raiders to create a meaningful ranking system.
Ok....whew, but what does all of that have to do with rankings?
Ok, so we can take the damage, or healing, or any other stat from a whole bunch of logs and compare them to see who did the most and who did the least, or whatever it is we are interested in. Current logs are able to sort players by all sorts of criteria. You can look at all DPSers, all Warrior DPSers, all Fire Mages, all Fire Mages with certain range of ilvls, and then for fun filter out everyone who is not on your realm.
This is where the power of logs begins to show through.
If we take a look at say.....Holy Priests, just pulled that out of thin air there, on the Hellfire Council fight and focus in on say.....this one priest, we can look to how well they performed on several levels:
Worldwide, all healers, all ilvls - 22743
Out of the 44k rankings this looks about average, a bit lower but close enough.
This isn't very informative though. Lets filter the list down a bit shall we, say limit to just Priests since that's what class we are:
Worldwide all Priests, all ilvls - 6083 out of 18028
Still, we have logs here from Disc priests and Shadow Priests. Not very helpful still. So let's limit it further to just Holy Priests:
Worldwide Holy Priests, all ilvls - 687 out of 2919
So, are there? Is this helpful? Well, it could be. The catch is that there is an awful lot of noise there and a daunting number of logs to dig through. So perhaps we could filter down some more:
Worldwide, holy, 718-720 ilvl - 141 of 1009
Still a large number of logs BUT if we really want to dig deep this would be a good place to turn. Lets get some more immediate help though. The next filter will take us to our priest's own realm and see how they compare there:
Realm, holy, 718-720 ilvl - 2 of 8
So one log to look to for some tips on improving. Hmmm, that isn't that many. This is really only good for epeen strokage and since we've done that lets do something more useful. If we drop the ilvl filter but keep the realm filter we get this:
Area 52 Holy priests - 7 of 20.
Ok so that is a useful amount of information, and remember we can always go back out to world to get even more information.
Fine but what are we trying to do?
By filtering down rankings to a list of very similar players and noting where we are on that list we can search out fights with other similar attributes (encounter length, comp, raid ilvl, etc) and we can look at the logs of the players above ourselves to see what it is they are doing that we may not be.
A big caveat here is that shorter fights producers more inflated logs in terms of DPS, HPS, etc. So do be aware of that before thinking that the top guy who is doing 5 billion DPS is doing something so revolutionary as to change the class and produce such mind bending numbers.
Like any scientific study you would like to reduce as many variables as you can so that all we see is good solid information that we can use to help ourselves.
So, TL;DR - Ranks, when properly filtered, give us a list of people to examine who may be able help us find ways we can improve ourselves.
I hope to follow this up with some words on comparing logs and reading logs but no promises....might be another century before I decide to write again ;)
I briefly mentioned epeen stroking. Ranks are by nature competitive and as such will have similar effects on the ranker as any other competitive activity. Some of us can get rather addicted to this and our enthusiasm can overtake us. You don't have to want to be the best to find use in rankings, you simply have to want to look at your peers and find things that may help or inspire you to do more of whatever it is you do.