Friday, September 25, 2009

Dear WebTrends, I need some REST!

REST logo
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!

WebTrends REST URLs generator
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!
Get data out into whatever format you want
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!
Please, I am begging you!
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

7 comments:

  1. You're welcome! ;)

    Those REST URL's sure seem interesting. No more plug-in to install, which can be really useful in a big company like a car manufacturer or a bank for example...

    Of course it means that we have to wait for the integration of the functionality in the software version, and upgrade the servers!

    But anyway this is going in the right direction.

    Guillaume.

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  2. Hi Michael,

    have a look at Palo. It's a commercial open source OLAP server. You can import data, integrate it with other sources and display it in Excel.

    I really like it, because it's flexible and easy to use. Businesspeople can start easily and the IT crowd is just needed for bigger tasks.

    http://www.jedox.com/en/home/overview.html

    Cheers,

    Peter

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  3. Michael,
    I've been meaning to reply for the past week. I sincerely hope you are not still crying! I can't think of too many things worse then seeing you cry.

    First, your sentiments about the data extraction API exciting you more than the introduction of our additional interface, Insight, is a fairly common thread. While we have gotten great customer feedback about Analytics Insight and the new capabilities such as the RSS overlay, at the end of the day the true value of web analytics is the data itself and using that data to make smarter business decisions. That is why we added the REST-based data extraction API to our Analytics 9 release and why there are no additional fees for our customers to use the API to get access to this data.

    As you clearly state, this capability is only available in our hosted solution right now. But we developed the services (and the Analytics Insight interface) knowing that it will be deployed on-site at our software customers. Before we release it in software, we need to be absolutely certain that it will run as seamlessly in customer data centers as it does in ours. We are working on this, and ask for your patience for a short while. We will talk a bit more about this in general at our Engage conference next week in London, and I'll contact you offline to discuss one-on-one in more detail.

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  4. @Guillaume: I just hope that the next upgrade will go better than last time :-)

    Your past work is still extensively used.

    Cheers,

    Michael

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  5. @Derek,

    Sorry for being a bit slow to moderate this. I had to recover from all the emotions. Yes, REST will be in Software! So still crying but tears of joy this time. :-)

    I have been told that it will be there but still wanted to express my interest in this great feature. And to make sure that it won't be discarded for whatever reasons.

    I understand that Analytics 9 is such a change (and there are still work going on on the On Demand) that making of stable & robust Software version must be a challenge. One that takes time.

    So thank you for your reply. Really appreciated. And more and more looking forward for the new version. But when? :-)

    Cheers,

    Michael

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  6. I don't think webtrends 9 has a releasedate for software yet. But rumours say around september-october 2010.
    It will indeed be a day of joy :-)

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  7. @Nikolaj: Well, a while ago, I asked someone at WebTrends and target date was more like Q2 2010 but nothing official yet.

    However as target dates are meant to slip, I wouldn't be suprised if more like Q3 2010.

    Indeed it will be a day of joy- even if I think it will be quite late (more than 1 year since launch of Insight).

    And thanks for commenting.

    Michael

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