Early August 2009, it was quite difficult to not hear about WebTrends Analytics 9 launch. The new release generated a lot of buzz in the Web Analytics community – mainly about the new “revolutionary” user interface that “reinvented” Web Analytics (Cough! Cough!). Well, I had the opportunity to get my hands on the new baby and to test it. To be honest, what excited me the most was not the new UI (which is good I must admit) but the integration of REST URL’s, the latest WebTrends data extraction API.
What are REST URL’s?
REST acronym stands for Representational State Transfer – in case you want to know. It relates to a style of software architecture for distributed hypermedia systems such as the World Wide Web (thank you Wikipedia!). But let’s put aside the technical aspects. What is important is what you can do with REST URL’s: extract data from the Web analytics system in a easy and structured way!
A REST URL will return a data set whether in XML, HTML or JSON format. One can not only retrieve report data but also profiles list, reports list or even report properties. WebTrends people are so kind that they even provide a REST URL’s generator that helps you to generate the URL’s you need.
The URL can be used in whatever application that support Web requests. First one that comes in mind is of course Excel - the most widely used spread-sheet application in the world. Just imagine that you can build self-refreshing dashboard & tables in a very easy way. You can find an example on WebTrends Developer Network site.
With a bit of programming expertise, you can use REST URL’s to feed other data systems. Or you can integrate data in a website like an Intranet site and display key web statistics to the whole company for example. Or develop a Flash desktop dashboard that retrieves & refreshes data automatically, giving direct access to key infos to your stakeholders in one double-click.
Well, you get the idea, REST URL’s offer a lot of possibilities to better communicate Web data!
Free the data! Communicate them!
With REST URL’s, Webtrends finally opened this 'closed box' that contains all your precious Web data. Analytics product is really good at what it is designed for: convert Web data logs into (plenty of) reports. But Webtrends Analytics like any other Web Analytics tools is NOT a communication tool. Period.
Data needs to be communicated to the people who need or use them in order to turn these into “intelligence”, “knowledge” or “insights” (pick your favourite one).
To quote Dennis R. Mortensen, “providing people a login and password to the analytics interface, is in most cases more harmful than good”. I can’t agree more with that! No one can expect business users, managers or executives to log in the tool, to start learning how to use it, to find their way in the enormous pile of reports, to figure out how to extract the data they need... And in the end, what they get is just data, still have to transform these into insights.
Web activities are often only a part of the whole picture. Being able to get your web data out of the 'closed box' allows you to integrate them into your reports/systems with other data sources.
Data must be freed from the analytics system so you can communicate them in most appropriate way according to your stakeholders. For that, openness is key. WebTrends REST URL’s are maybe not revolutionary (other tools also have very good API’s to extract data – just look at Google Analytics & Excellent analytics plug-in for Excel) but WebTrends certainly made a huge step in the right direction towards data openness. Finally!
I want it! I want it! Pleaaase!
Unfortunately for me, my company is a software customer, so no REST for us as it is currently only for On-demand customers. Boohoohoo (me crying)!
Such flexible API is terribly lacking in current WebTrends Software offering. Yes, the software version has the ODBC driver, which is good and useful. But it is showing limitations as it is not meant for retrieve huge amount of data. So when we generate differents (automated) dashboards on a monthly basis for more than 30 countries and two brands, I can tell that our server suffers!
Moreover, implementing good ODBC dashboards require some expert programming skills. In our case, our former Web Analytics agency had such expertise and did a very good job (thanks to you Guillaume! :-)). On top of that, the ODBC driver needs to be installed & configured on every client computer, format is not real SQL... All in all ODBC lacks the flexibility that REST URL’s offer.
So I am dying for the day when Analytics 9 will be released in Software version with, I hope, REST URL’s support. Please Mr. WebTrends make sure it will be there. It is so so important. Otherwise it would be a huge disappointment.
And don’t make us, software customers, wait to long, pleaaaase!
Related resources & references
- "Now available: WebTrends Analytics 9" - post from WebTrends official blog
- "WebTrends data extration is live!" - post from WebTrends developer Network
- "Excel, VBA and REST url's - a sample application" - post from WebTrends developer Network
- WebTrends REST URL's generator (for WebTrends customers)
- "Tomorrows Web analytics technology and example" by Dennis R. Mortensen
- Representational State Transfer (REST) definition from Wikipedia