If you’ve ever wanted to monitor usage of a website, chances are you’ve come across, and probably used, Google Analytics – Any why not? It’s easy to setup an account and start getting some page tracking rolling in with the immediate satisfaction of reloading page on your website and seeing the live result in the GA console.
Google Analytics’s interface has a fresh, breezy design with relaxing, soft blues and greens so you don’t even need to understand how to interpret it all to enjoy using it. Why would you ever need to change? You probably don’t but there are many alternatives and like the kid says in that taco ad ‘why don’t we have both’.
Here’s where Piwik comes in. Why try Piwik? To be honest, it’s not as flashy as Google Analytics but it does give you the opportunity to roll your own web analytics tools, be free of using Google as a service (if that sort of thing appeals to you), and just get some good ol’ fashion experience using something new. Did I mention it’s free? Oh yes, it’s open source and licensed under GNU General Public License Version 3 – a license type that more than covers downloading and installing for free.
How’s it different to Google Analytics? First, it’s not a service that someone’s providing. Unlike Google Analytics where you register an account with Google as the analytics service provider, Piwik is a solution that you can deploy and run on your own server e.g. for my own evaluation I launched a new Amazon Web Services EC2 instance running linux but you can install Piwik on Windows and OS X too.
How’s it similar to Google Analytics? Piwik has a dashboard to give you a quick overview of what’s happening in your website with a number of high-level reports. If you’re familiar with Google Analytics, you will immediately see metrics that are familiar to you.
After giving myself a bit of time to get to know Piwik, here’s a few highlights
- Installation is simple. Piwik’s documentation covers-off well on installation and has a ‘5 minute installation guide’
- Piwik uses a typical software stack – MySQL database, runs using Apache or Nginx etc.
- The Dashboard can be customised. Out of the box, the dashboard is crammed full of reporting widgets but with a few clicks you can delete all but the most useful widgets and drag-and-drop them around the screen.
- Piwik’s API is not too complicated and documentation is reasonably good. A major difference to Google Analytics is how API requests are authenticated. Google Analytics uses OAuth 2.0 which has a bit of a learning curve for first-time users (and for some second-time users), while Piwik uses the age-old authentication-token-in-request-header method. The implication being that securing your Piwik site with HTTPS is advised otherwise that auth token is going to be sent in plain sight.
- Third party software, Google2Piwik is available to migrate Google Analytics data into Piwik
- Mobile apps are available for iPhone and Android which connect to your Piwik instance
So there’s my endorsement of Piwik as a web analytics tool. It’s quite neat and you get a warm-fuzzy feeling from using open source software (we all feel that right?)
Solutions Consultant, XVT Solutions
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