One week with Piwik

One week ago I mentioned Piwik, an open source web traffic analysis tool you can install on your server. Not that Google Analytics isn’t a good alternative, but, considering the recently worsened concerns about Google’s privacy policy, we’d better start considering other options. (See also: FastMail.fm as an alternative to Gmail.) To be honest, I never used Google Analytics, so if you really need a direct comparison you’ll need to do that for yourself, or (if you happen to know Spanish) read Diego Calleja’s comparison. I can only compare Piwik to Clicky Analytics (which I used briefly a few years ago) and WordPress Stats.

Chances are you are going to have to install Piwik by yourself, because there’s no public service like Google Analytics, Clicky and WordPress Stats. The installation process is very simple, though. It requires a little FTP and/or SSH, but installing Piwik is even simpler than setting up a MySQL database for it. In order to feed Piwik with data you must insert a JavaScript code in each page of your website. This is best done automatically, as with the Piwik Analytics plugin for WordPress. (There’s also a WP-Piwik plugin, which brings Piwik stats to WordPress’ dashboard.)

Installing Piwik will not only give you better privacy, but also much more control of your data. If Piwik doesn’t perform by default some analysis you want, you can activate an existing extension or write a new one by yourself, or even directly access the MySQL database you set up for Piwik.

If the reader disables JavaScript, the data won’t be fed to Piwik, just like it happens with Clicky, WordPress Stats and Google Analytics. If you are concerned about that, please consider Awstats, which by the way is free software too. The unique visitors count of Piwik relies primarily in cookies, but if the client refuses cookies (e.g. because you installed Piwik on a different server) then Piwik will use the IP address, screen resolution and other information.

The information collected by Piwik is grouped in widgets, which are grouped in pages. You can select your preferred widgets to show up in the dashboard, and Piwik also lets you display widgets inside your regular website pages, eg for advertisers. The most common form of widget are tables, which can be also presented as tag clouds, bar chats or pie charts, or even exported as pictures. Another common form of widget are the famous time series, where the value of the variable you are interested in is a function of time. Piwik has a very clever way of combining many time series in one page, but I’ll let you find out by yourself. Every page (including the dashboard) can display information about today (in real time), another day (the default is yesterday), or a week, a month or an year. Again, there’s a very clever way to switch the time periods, just go clicking around and you’ll find out.

Although Piwik is only a few years old, it’s very clear for me that they are building something to the real world. You can see, in example, how much time visitors spent on your site how many visitors you had, the mean number of actions per visit, and the average time spent on the blog, all that grouped according the the referral site type: search engines, websites, and direct. You can also see the evolution of user loyalty, measured by revisits, and there’s a “campaign” feature but I didn’t explore it yet.

Using Piwik has been a very instructive experience so far. I activated it short before I published my first article about it, and I could follow the reaction to that particular post. I received several hundreds of visits from Planet GNOME and Google Reader in the first day, most of them to my article about using FastMail instead of Gmail. A lot of people follow Planet GNOME and read my Piwik article without showing up in my stats, but when they clicked on the link to that article, voilá. Most of those visits happened on work times, specially in the morning, which means a lot of Planet GNOME readers use computers at work and can (or manage to) read news in their work time. (Did I mention Piwik tracks both server time and client time?) There was a significant number of Firefox 3.6 users (if you are reading this in the future, please notifice that Firefox 3.6 is still under development and was not released yet), and Google Chrome surpassed Internet Explorer 8.0. Most of my visitors were from the USA, but I received visits from 53 different countries. I could carry on writing about the days around New Year, and about when I was slashdotted in Spanish, but I think I it is already clear that, with Piwik, I got to know my readers much better than with WordPress Stats.

You don’t even need to install Piwik to give it a try. Please visit the Piwik demo site and tell me what do you think of it.

4 respostas em “One week with Piwik

  1. Pingback: Piwik: an alternative to Google Analytics « Leonardo Fontenelle

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