Open Source Web Analytics with Piwik

A few weeks ago I was doing some research on web analytics tools. On the search for a open source alternative to the commercial web analytics packages I came across Piwik, which is the successor of PHPmyVisites.

It is still beta and there is still a lot room for improvement, but it works quite well for me and is pretty stable. It looks like a really promising open source alternative to Google Analytics. Google offers its web analytics tool for free, but the data will be stored on their servers and you do not have access to the database. For some it might be interesting to get some data from the database to connect it with other databases, etc.

I will follow the development of Piwik. While the name sound quite weird 😉 I see a lot of potential for Piwik. I hope they will get the heatmap tool from PHPmyVisites back into the tool and they really should consider to offer click paths, so that you can see how visitors navigate through your website. It can give you a lot of feedback about the usability of your website, for example.

As soon as I have a little more time I will write a more comprehensive review about Piwik. So far I can only suggest to download the latest version (0.2.3) and give it a try. It is well worth it.

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  1. This is a good example of what is wrong with open source code.

    1) A quote from their site:
    “Piwik is the successor to phpMyVisites and has been created by the same team. Supporting both projects is not scalable, so there will be no future development, bug fixing or new releases of the phpmyvisites project”.

    This includes not fixing a know security bug in phpmyvisites.

    2) Next quote:
    “We aim to make it as easy as possible for phpMyVisites users to upgrade to Piwik and keep all their data. ”

    They opened a ticket on 1/4/08 but it has not been assigned and has been pushed from one milestone to the next in the development timeline more than once.

    So we have a Beta product with “a lot room for improvement” and no support for the previous product and no migration tool to move data from the old product to the new. You choice is to keep the old product with security issues or move to a Beta product and lose your data.

    Although source code is available if you are not a php developer that means little. Documentation on the database does not seem to exist so it is difficult to even know if migration of historical data is a posibility.

    I hate the idea of my data being in the hands of google or anyone. At the same time I hate that information needed to run my business is subject to the whims of a faceless php developer that may or may not decide to finish the beta.

  2. Hi Jeb,

    Thanks for your post. I can somehow understand your frustration. However, as you said: this is open-source, some people work on this in their spare time (in this case the main developer seems to be sponsored by OpenX) and they offer it to you for free. A open source project could always be canceled because developers might be not interested in going on, etc. However, similar can happen to you with other products in the web analytics area. The company has to close down, your data is stored on their server and you do not have any access. And then?

    On the other hand: do you really need your old data that much? The first weeks could be frustrating, because you do not have data to compare to. But from then on?

    On the other hand: you could always opt for a commercial web analytics tools. Some are also open source and thus offer free access to the database, you just purchase the software license. But you are not protected from the company stopping development.

    If you go with the big ones (like Omniture, etc.) chances that they stop to develop their tools are little, but you might have to make a serious investment.

    I would also prefer to see Piwik in version 1.0 sooner than later, but I am realistic enough that this will be still a long process. If I could not wait any longer I would have to find a solution and go with an other provider. By the way: currently I do run Google Analytics, as Piwik still is far from perfect. Especially the usability is not the best. Navigating through the statistics is a pain in my opinion. But I hope they get that fixed or offer the chance to fix it your own.

    In my opinion the real problem in open source is the missing designers willing to contribute. There are a lot of nice projects, that just look so unprofessional, because the design of the interface was made by programmers. That is the real problem. 😉

  3. P.S.: Sometimes software projects are getting really messy. Someone started to program it, others add code, the project isn’t that well organized and soon you have a really messed up source-code that can cause a lot of troubles. New techniques arise and everything could be better and easier, if you could start from scratch. However, a lot of small projects do not have the resources to develop the new version clean and up to date AND maintain the old project and offer bug fixes. So developers have to decide in which direction the project should go. In this case the decision was not ideal for you. At least not right now. But maybe you are happy, once you see the final result of this decision. Who knows.

  4. I am not aware of something similar like Piwik in Java or .NET. But especially .NET tends to have less open source alternatives available in general. For PHP I only know Piwik and to some extend Slimstat looks interesting too. looks promising too, but last time I tested it there was something that I didn’t like (can’t remember). So I have to go back and have a new test. 😉

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