Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thoughts on WAA's Standards Committee's Web Analytics Definitions Document

I finally had the time today to start poring over this document, released by the Web Analytics Association (WAA) on August 16th. I haven't finished reading all of it in detail yet, but I have these thoughts (well, ok, they're rants) so far.

Let me start by saying that I'm excited about the publication of this document, as it represents a step toward the development of the set of standards for web analytics data collection and data definitions that will be required for true interoperability of web analytics products, and products peripheral to to web analytics that, together, create true business problem solutions. It's a small step, but a step nonetheless. In my dreamland, I see a standards-based library of vertical-specific business events that can be used as the basis for collecting, reporting, analyzing, and integrating analytics data. Web analytics has to move beyond simple counts and ratios of dimensions based on browser/client actions, toward standardized handling and reporting of high-value business events.

So, with that in mind, here are my unfiltered thoughts (rants).

Firstly, I'm left wondering what the purpose of the document is. Is it to put a stake in the ground as to what the standards should be, or is it to act as a sort of "meta user manual" that takes all the variant vendor behaviors into account, attempting to make any standard definition wide enough to include any vendor's product? In cases, it seems to be the latter. Consider this definition of Visit Duration:

The length of time in a session. Calculation is typically the timestamp of the last
activity in the session minus the timestamp of the first activity of the session.
Should not the purpose of a standards document be to declare the standard? Explaining typical behavior belongs in a book about web analytics, not in a standards document. That's not to say that you're going to get all the vendors to agree on the "right" way to calculate visit duration. But if there isn't a standard (or if you aren't declaring one) it doesn't belong in the document (IMHO).

Secondly, I'm a little disappointed that several of the definitions are self-referential (if you will) -- they use the word being defined as a core part of the definition. Sometimes the definitions are almost ethereal. Of course being a long-time practitioner, I understand what is meant, but I think this will make it difficult for new practitioners and managers to grasp the definition. Here's an example from the definition of Dimension:

A general source of data that can be used to define various
types of segments or counts and represents a fundamental dimension of
visitor behavior or site dynamics.

What? IMHO, I should be able to use a standards document to develop an entirely new web analytics product, based on the standards. This doesn't tell me what a dimension really is, so I can't develop the product based on a standard.

To be sure, there's lots that's good about this document, and I don't mean to minimize that. But I would love to see this pushed more toward true standards and have some of the core definitions crystallized even further.

That's all for now. More later (maybe).

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