I’ve fallen off the blog trail again (when life gets too crazy, I stop posting *and* stop reading) so missed the little dust-up over who’s got the name-your-superlative web analytics blog.
When I re-energized this site, I started putting a blogroll up, but quickly decided that was not scalable. Instead, I decided to use del.ico.us with the tag wablogger … and I used a very loose definition of “web analytics”.
It seems better to have a set of social bookmarks rather than trying to maintain one’s own. If you agree, please consider contributing … I encourage you to sign up for del.icio.us (they have a great Firefox extension that makes getting started insanely easy) and start tagging web analytics blogs with ‘wablogger’.
Like many bloggers, I use FeedBurner to distribute my RSS feed. They provide well-formed feeds, predictable performance, and a small amount of reporting so I can see how many RSS readers I have and what articles they click on. You might recall that FeedBurner acquired BlogBeat some time back, but I don’t think they actually integrated it into the main FeedBurner offering. In any event, FeedBurner’s reporting makes a decent supplement to Google Analytics.
Looks like soon there won’t be a need to supplement, as TechCrunch is reporting that Google has agreed to acquire FeedBurner. So it’s not out of the question that some kind of BlogBeat-FeedBurner-MeasureMap-GoogleAnalytics mashup is in the future.
Most of us live in a world where we’re focused on the Web, and we really want to optimize the investment being made – whether it be for our blog, our company, or our client. But are we too focused, and not seeing the bigger picture? Are we a slave to our tools, and not the business needs?
Read the CEO’s letter to Web Analytics, where Ron Shevlin (who’s not a CEO, but no matter) asks for a few concrete things out of his Web Analytics group. Note, he’s saying you are the experts, please enlighten us. Make sure you read the comments.
He recently followed it up with a response to a memo that “Web Analytics” (in the form of Eric T. Peterson) sent to the CEO.
Another Emetrics has come and gone. Many of the Summit’s highlights have been presented in other blogs, but I did want to point out a few personal observations:
Big News and Rumors: Eric Peterson strikes out on his own, a new Google Analytics, and WebSideStory changes its name to Visual Sciences. But the biggest question I kept getting was “how do you feel about having to work for Microsoft?”
Attendees: Wow. There were a lot of people. Many faces from Emetrics Santa Barbara 2005 and 2006, but lots of new faces as well. The surge in attendees meant I was running into a lot of people new to web analytics, but I also took note of people representing sub-specialties such as SEO and SEM, now as legitimate peers of web analytics. I don’t remember the number of attendees, but there’s no way all of us would have fit in the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara.
Kudos to Jim Sterne for having the foresight to move the Summit to a larger venue this year. The Palace Hotel kept up the high standards.
Hiring! Anyone who was hiring stuck a green dot on their badge. There were LOTS of green dots. If you’re interested in web analytics, it seems there’s a job for you, somewhere!
Special thanks to Eric Peterson for announcing on stage that the Yahoo! data team is looking to hire over 120 people. Eric, I owe you one – or several. For everyone else .. send resumes!
Vendors: All the vendors you’d expect were there, showing their latest. One vendor was even promoting a sniffer technology, so you didn’t have to manually tag pages – wow! Unlike Santa Barbara, where the vendors were in the same room as the presenters, in SF there was a separate “vendor room.” That increased the times available for product demos, but it did mean attendees needed to make a special trip to the room. The genius move was to put the mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks at the back of the vendor room, which no doubt increased traffic.
And no, the floor wasn’t really sloped.
Blogger’s Lunch: Unfortunately I was on conference calls until 1:30 Monday, so I missed the blogger’s lunch table. In fact, I missed lunch… and Jim’s keynote…
Google Analytics: You’ve no doubt already seen the buzz about the new Google Analytics. What you probably don’t know is that Jeffrey Veen gave a really great presentation. It took him a while to get his Mac projecting, but Brett Crosby did a good tap dance, and the eventual presentation was well worth it. I don’t know if he was using PowerPoint or Keynote or what, but the screen animations looked like somebody offscreen was doing a live demo.
After the presentation, I asked Somebody Who Would Know about MeasureMap, the blog analytics technology Google bought and then seemed to bury. Did the new Google Analytics contain all that MeasureMap goodness? With a wink and a smile, I was told that MeasureMap isn’t dead, but I got the impression that if I was told more, I would have to be killed. So I got a Google Analytics T-shirt instead.
The Sessions: Of course the sessions are the reasons most people go to Emetrics. As usual, some of them were fabulous and others were take-it-or-leave-it. Unlike previous years, there were so many presenters that much of the summit ran in four tracks. That made it a bit of a challenge to get to every talk I wanted to see. However, four presentations stood out for me.
First was Bryan Eisenberg‘s Persuasion Architecture talk. I love how Bryan brings reality into analytics. Persuasion Architecture focuses on outcomes, not activities. Amen to that!
Second was Joseph Carrabis‘ talk “Quantifying and Optimizing the Human Side of Online Marketing.” Honestly, the title sounded a bit dry and I wasn’t sure why I wandered into that particular room. (I’m sure Joseph could say!) But immediately, I was captivated. First, you need to understand that this talk had nothing to do with web analytics. Second, Joseph comes across like Robin Williams as a professor — he read his material from a script, but packed so many asides and ad libs into the presentation — all relevant — that it was fascinating to witness. He had five points to make, and after 50 minutes, had only covered the first two. He asked the crowd which of the final three we’d like him to cover, and everybody said “all of them! We’ll stay!” Keep in mind, this was the last session of the day and people were getting ready for Web Analytics Wednesday (read: free drinks). That’s how good he was – everyone stayed another 30 minutes. Since returning from the Summit, I’ve been looking up Joseph’s other writings, and my hope is to have him come speak at Yahoo! sometime.
Aside: check out the game. I have no idea what this is, but I hope one day Joseph reveals his findings.
Third was a talk from Seth Romanow and Chris Worland from Microsoft where they coined the term “personamous” to talk about personalized content to anonymous visitors. (During the talk, Seth said personamous.com was still available. A week later as I write this summary, it’s still available.) The reason why this session stood out for me was that they had three main lessons. Two of them (stuff interest/activity data in the cookie, rather than in a central database, and avoid a recommendation engine) were the opposite of what Yahoo! does. My hope is that they came to the conclusions they did based on the the time and available resources to get the job done. Yahoo!’s been doing this for 12 years, so we may be talking on a very different time/resource/focus scale.
Finally, Tim Hart of the J. Paul Getty Trust really nailed how web analytics can help you align your web site with your mission. While he was presenting, I was reminded of Xavier Casanova’s presentation last year where he used web analytics to help his startup figure out positioning, messaging and buzz.
Privacy / Ethics: I had more than a handful of people tell me they’ve been thinking about ethics of web data. During the WAA meeting on Sunday, Jim Sterne made a call for a WAA Ethics Task Force. Alex Langshur and I talked about how important privacy guidelines were to the public sector web sites – something I hadn’t previously considered. René Dechamps Otamendi brought in the European angle. I’m very glad to see an increased level of awareness and interest — and I’m looking forward to additional discussions.
Web Analytics Wednesday (on Tuesday): There was a great turnout for Web Analytics Wednesday, the social event for web analytics geeks – you know who you are. More recruiting ensued…. a number of us then migrated to the WAW after-party, which meant actually leaving the hotel. I don’t think we lost too many people along the way.
There’s an unwritten law that any post about Emetrics has to have a photo of either Jim Sterne or Eric Peterson. Since I mentioned Jim’s “Godfather” video already, and because Eric’s now on his own, here’s Eric, wondering when Andy Benkert (center) and I are going to get the hell out of the doorway:
The sign on Andy reads: “Web Analytics Wednesday (on Tuesday) After Party.” Many thanks to June Dershewitz for organizing this WAW!
It was great to meet and/or re-meet so many people. The LinkedIn connections are flying, so we’ll all stay in touch — at least until October, when Emetrics moves to Washington DC.
Other Emetrics summaries (list is in no way complete):
It’s a good list, if not misleading (the iPhone will have a keyboard equivalent, for instance) but shows how designers should be ruthless in challenging assumptions, and cutting out what isn’t necessary.
Think about web analytics software. We’re overwhelmed by silly reports, useless visualizations, and bizarre multidimensional slice-and-dice capabilities that don’t answer the business questions.
Junk is the ultimate merchandise. The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to the product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise, he degrades and simplifies the client. — William S. Burroughs
Lars Johansson, the Swedish coordinator for the WAA, has a web site and blog. One interesting thing he does is ask questions of different people who are involved in the Web Analytics field, and publish the conversation on the site.
Today, Lars posted a batch of new interviews, including Phil Kemelor regarding industry differences across the pond, Avinash Kaushik about his book, and yours truly about web analytics ethics.
Two years ago, sitting in the airplane after attending Emetrics 05 Santa Barbara (and having to leave early), I penned a letter to organizer Jim Sterne, asking him if he’d bring up some issues around web data privacy at the first Web Analytics Association general meeting. Turns out he didn’t get my email until after the meeting, but it resonated with him and he circulated it within the WAA.
Nothing came of that initial email, but Jim didn’t forget it. A year ago, he asked if I’d be interested in a speaking slot at Emetrics ’06 Santa Barbara to talk about web privacy issues, which I gladly accepted. Not only did Jim invite me to speak, he put me on first – presumably in order to help set the tone for the summit. I got a good reception, but again, nothing really came of it.
This year I’ll be at Emetrics 07 San Francisco, and while I’m not speaking, I still think the issue deserves consideration. In fact, I think it’s more front and center than ever, with items such as Google’s recent announcement that they’ll be anonymizing their search logs after 18-24 months.
Against this backdrop, and in the spirit of keeping this alive, here’s the original email I sent to Jim, verbatim:
June 3, 2005, 05:24 AM
Greetings from Boston. Thank you for the wonderful Emetrics conference;
it exceeded my expectations and I hated to leave early.
I'm unable to attend the WAA meeting this morning, but I did want to
have you possibly bring up for discussion the role that WAA wants to
play with respect to privacy of data collected/used by the WAA members,
and, in a larger context, some of the ethics around using and
protecting access to the data.
My current mental state (it's 4am California time, and I haven't had
any sleep) prevents me from presenting a coherent case, but here are
With the recent news on personal privacy leaks, and even Citibank
running ads highlighting identity theft, I suspect it is only a matter
of time before the government decides it's time to step in and
legislate on the issue. If that happens, I'm convinced that the strong
arm of the legislature will come down with a set of guidelines and
regulations that will rival Sarbanes-Oxley. Just as SOX has spawned an
entire compliance industry (and fattened the wallets of lawyers,
accountants and auditors) and caused a massive re-engineering effort, I
think a parallel will emerge around data access and security - where
procedures need to be meticulously documented, controls need to be put
in place for every piece of data, and systems will need to be built to
Web analytics as an industry has largely ignored issues of data access,
modification, sharing and integration, having (rightly) focused on
getting the most use of the data.
But there are practical questions to ask. Some examples:
- if you are surfing books at Amazon and not logged in, and later in
the same visit, you log in and look at kitchen appliances, should
Amazon add to your interest profile the books you searched while logged
out? I think most consumers would say no, they are unrelated.
- what if you were at Amazon putting books in your shopping cart, and
then went to check out and said "yes, I have an account"? I think most
consumers would say yes, the convenience is worthwhile.
- if you are searching Yahoo Personals and not logged in, and later
log in to read your Mail, should Yahoo add to your interest profile the
personal ads you looked at while logged out?
I think most users expect that logged out behavior is treated
where is the line?
- should consumers have access to the information collected about
them? Can they opt-out of such collection, or change the data? How
would one control access (and make sure we were showing information
only to the correct people)?
- should data collection policies (e.g. downloadable toolbars, "web
accelerator" proxies, etc) default to "opt-out" for data collection,
and have consumers explicitly opt-in before data can be collected?
- should there be an acceptable use policy for cookies? e.g.
duration, standard naming convention describing use, when cookies
should not be used, when cookie data should be encrypted, etc?
- how do these policies impact targeting, computation of unique users,
visit lengths, user value, etc?
- how long should we keep data about users?
These issues impact all of the WAA: advocacy, technology, education,
standards, research, etc. These kinds of questions guide what the WAA
does, and should "baked in" to the DNA of the organization. Thus I
think it's appropriate to have a discussion about it.
I've spoken with several people about this issue, and the immediate
reaction is that this is a job for lobbyists. I don't agree. The WAA
advocacy team will no doubt do a fine job lobbying lawmakers on best
practices, once the Association formulates its stance.
data privacy laws that governments may pass will only be the lowest
bar. While as analysts and marketers, we'd like to see the bar be up to
us to set, I don't think that will last long-term. I think we should
assume that a bar *will* be set. However I don't think that's what we
should shoot for. Consider - as practitioners, we want to practice
"safe data" and stay above the bar. One way to do that is to layer
policies on top of the laws. Another is to layer values on top of the
I suggest that the WAA take up the discussion of what values we stand
for. Should web analytics practitioners, especially ones that have the
good sense to join the WAA, take an oath similar to the hippocratic
oath that doctors take? Should practitioners be held to an ethical
standard for the privilege of having access to the data?
We are not dealing with life and death issues here, but we are dealing
with issues of trust. We've seen that one of the reasons we have data
quality issues is that people delete cookies and they delete cookies
because they don't trust web sites to use the cookies responsibly. We
also know that if consumers have more trust, they will use the web
more, and transact more, so it's in our best interests to increase the
trust that consumers feel.
While a larger "data access oath" may be out of scope for the WAA -
indeed, I can see an argument that an umbrella data ethics group emerge
- I don't want to try to boil the ocean. But is it worth having a
discussion about what values the WAA holds, and in turn, expects from
I look forward to the thoughts that will come out of the meeting.
I boiled the essence of this letter into a PowerPoint presentation that I used at Emetrics last year. The presentation is purposefully without any fancy design in order that the message be front and center. You have my permission to do what you want with it. During the Q & A after the talk, I said I could imagine a cataclysmic event that would set into motion things like congressional hearings on data privacy. I referred to it as the Chernobyl of Data. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened, and of course I hope it doesn’t. But I continue to be concerned about a head-in-the-sand mentality within the web analytics community, and what it will ultimately mean once the hammer comes down – in any form.
I’m interested in your thoughts. Is it time to join together as an industry to tackle this?
I’ll get excited about these “people delete cookies” stories when somebody comes up with a better method to track ANONYMOUS visitors. Heck, I’ll even get excited if WA vendors come up with “cookie deletion metrics calculators” that automatically measure and compensate the reported numbers. (Don’t get me started on panels.)
True, from an advertising perspective, sure you can’t accurately determine reach and frequency. Unlike the precision you get offline … oh wait.
Once Upon A Time, I left the web analytics field for a brief respite. While I was away, a new competitor emerged, and everyone was talking about them, and I had to go figure out what made them so special.
Once Upon A Year Ago (or so), I stopped reading web analytics blogs. Now I return to find all these whippersnappers — people who actually Analyze Web Sites, not just write software that does analysis! Here, according to Technorati, are the number of blog postings in the last year that contain the phrase “web analytics”: