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January 31, 2007


Apologies for the lack of blog posts of late... has been a little busy round here. In the meantime, here's another humorous site which warmed the cockles of my geeky heart.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

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January 24, 2007


Ian Thomas So it transpires that Microsoft has offered to pay someone to update a Wikipedia entry about open source software standards. Since Wikipedia's whole foundation rests on the fact that its contributors are doing so out of the kindness of their heart, and the Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has explicitly stated that paying for Wikipedia content is a no-no, this is not smart. A colleague of mine remarked in an internal e-mail thread on the topic:

"In a company of such smart people... I can't believe we do such incredibly dumb things."

Not that I can't sympathize with whoever it was who was trying to get the entry changed - if you believe that a Wikipedia entry is wrong or biased, it's incredibly infuriating to watch it get cited and treated as gospel. My own entry on Wikipedia, for example, is full of inaccuracies. But you have to suck it up, unfortunately.

The story exposes an interesting loophole in the Wikipedia rules, however: it's rumored that the Wikipedia article in question was being marked up by IBMers, and the Microsoft mark-ups were being removed. These IBMers are being paid to advance IBM's cause in the market (so, for that matter, are the 'Softies) - does this count as paying for entries? Would the distinction hinge on whether someone's job description included "maintain accuracy of Wikipedia articles about xxx"? Surely some of the content about, say, DB2, or SQL Server, has been contributed by the companies that created those products.

This is surely desirable, since the most expertise on these products comes from those working for the companies that build them. Yet even the most dispassionate of prose about something like DB2 has the benefit of educating the market about its benefits. Murky.

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January 22, 2007

The deleting-your-Google-cookies industry

I'm always amazed by the economic niches that grow up around the periphery of big companies and industries. It's a great demonstration of the Darwinian roots of capitalism. So I was delighted to discover (in a purely academic sense, of course) via GoogleWatch that a little industry has grown up around the business of managing (and deleting, if you want to) your Google cookies.

Of course, the effects of anti-spyware programs such as Adsgone on third-party cookies have been understood for some time, but this more recent development of utilities that specifically target Google is interesting - and more than a little worrying for those of us who use cookies for very similar purposes.

The reasons that Google (and Microsoft, and Yahoo!) set persistent cookies are broadly two-fold:

  1. To make it easier for you to log in the next time you come back to the site
  2. To recognize you the next time you come back, even if you don't log in

Of these, no. 2 is the most important for the search engine; if you can start building up a profile of people's search (and other) behavior, and tie this to some registration information that they may have provided, you gain the ability to offer much more targeted advertising to that person.

So, for example, perhaps I spend a day online searching for all things Chrysler-related - Chrysler dealerships, Chrysler reviews, etc. Then, a month later, I come back and search for "Auto repair shop Seattle". It might be useful if the first paid results shown were for auto shops which specialized in Chrysler cars, wouldn't it? The auto shop in question would probably pay a little more to get to the top of the results in this situation - and anything that drives up the price of ads is good - good for Google, good for us, good for Yahoo!.

Of course, this sort of second-guessing of people's preferences makes people nervous - what else is Google keeping about me? Hence the deleting-your-Google-cookies industry, and things like the recent FTC complaint against Microsoft (seems a little harsh to single us out, but I guess that's what you get for being a huge and not-particularly-loved target). But people need to remember that it's advertising revenues that fund the cool stuff they get for free; including Gatineau.

So there's a balance to be struck, and a lot of education still to do. And we need to be at the forefront of that education process, or this time next year I'll be blogging about the deleting-your-Microsoft-cookies industry.

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January 19, 2007

Omniture swallows Instadia

The latest news from the carnivorous world of web analytics is that Omniture has snapped up Instadia, a Scandinavian web analytics firm. Instadia's main claim to fame is that their web analytics solution features integrated survey capability - a lead that the rest of the industry has been slow to follow, perhaps for fear of souring relations with independent survey firms.

However, Omniture's press release cites the two companies' complementary customer sets as the reason for the merger. I can understand this - with Omniture's vastly superior resources, they should be able to recreate the survey capabilities of Instadia fairly easily - but if I were an Instadia customer, I'd prepare myself to bid a brisk farewell to ClientStep and say hello (or perhaps hej) to SiteCatalyst.

Update (1/20/07): Neil Mason has written an interesting post about the acquisition.

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January 18, 2007

Today's poll: Power vs. Simplicity

In an effort to add a little interactivity to this blog (and now that I have a reasonable number of visitors, following last week's kiss-and-tell revelations), I'm going to be running an occasional poll on this site, for my (and hopefully, your) edification.

Today's inaugural poll asks the time-worn question: in a web analytics tool, which is more important to you - power (segmentation, filtering, data import/export, fancy visualizations, etc) or simplicity (just the numbers you need - maybe even something your boss could use)? I know that in an ideal world, you'd have both; but if you had to sacrifice one for the other, which one would win out?

Use the voting box to cast your vote (you'll see the results so far once you've done so). If you want to add some more detail, feel free to leave a comment.

I'll post the results in this post after a respectable period of time has passed (i.e. I've had more than 3 responses).

Create polls and vote for free. dPolls.com

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January 16, 2007

No, not Gastineau: Gatineau.

Amusingly, some of the blogs and newswire services that are reporting on our Gatineau alpha have the project name down as Gastineau. Perhaps the confusion is caused by a hankering for the glory days of the New York Jets and their legendary defensive end Mark Gastineau. Or perhaps it springs from a deep and abiding respect for the weighty and serious TV work undertaken by the Gastineau Girls.

Either way, our project name is shared with a town in Canada, not the substance-abusing ex-fiance of Brigitte Nielsen. I think we made the right choice.

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WikiSeek - new Wikipedia search engine

Via an article on TechCrunch, I learn that a new search engine front-end for Wikipedia, WikiSeek, has just launched. Major features are:

  • Nice, Google/Live-style results page (rather than the crappy results page that the Wikipedia search produces)
  • Results from Wikipedia itself and referenced Wikipedia sources only
  • A tag cloud of results (though am I alone in finding tag clouds a bit gimmicky?)
  • Sponsored links in the results page (via Google)

The company behind WikiSeek, SearchMe, plans to donate the majority of the revenue it gets from the sponsored results to the Wikimedia Foundation. I'd always wondered how Wikipedia could afford to keep running, though I'm guessing a lot of people (even possibly stingy old me) might put their hand in their pocket to support Wikipedia if it became clear that it was having trouble paying its bandwidth bills, so useful a resource it is.

If you want to add WikiSeek to the search box in your browser (IE7 or FF), they have a tool to do that too. Sweet.

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January 15, 2007


The BeckhamsI come to the US to get away from them (well, maybe not principally for that purpose, but it was a nice bonus), and they end up following me here.

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January 14, 2007

JavaScript advice

JavaScript for Dummies There's a good post over on Avinash's blog with 9 tips for getting JavaScript tagging right on your website. There's not much for me to add except to say that you should click the link above and read his advice; but I do have one thing to add about redirects (point 7 in Avinash's post).

If you're using redirects in your site, you have two options:

  1. Ignore (don't capture) the redirect
  2. Capture the redirect as a 'valid' page impression

When might you want to choose one or other of these options? Well, you would choose no. 1 when you're using redirects internally, for example (as in Avinash's example) if you're using an ad platform to serve internal ads - the ad platform usually demands you redirect the click so that you get measurement within the ad platform (this is what we're doing on microsoft.com). In your main web analytics data stream, you don't want loads of extra 'pages' popping up that are odd URL formats and are going to throw your numbers out. So in this case, use a server-side redirect (e.g. 301) which will automatically re-point the browser without an actual page-load happening on the client.

You want to capture the redirect happening in the instance when you're tracking outbound (off-site) clicks - for example to affiliates. In this case you want to use a redirect which actually serves a real page and then (probably) uses JavaScript to redirect the browser. The advantage with this method is that you capture the click before the user leaves the site and is lost for ever. The only problem with this is that the outbound redirect page looks like a real page impression, which isn't really true. If you were trying to get your numbers audited you'd get spanked.

A refinement of method 2 is to use a web analytics tool which you can redirect the outbound click through - that is, then vendor provides a mechanism where you can direct users to a URL on their domain which then redirects to the URL that you really want (which may or may not be one of yours). This is how the ad-serving companies capture click information. I think Omniture does this, and I know some others (e.g. NedStat's SiteStat product) do too. In this instance the web analytics tool handles (and logs) the redirect; savvy tools can then report this information separately without it polluting the main page impression counts.

The only other thing to add is that the tool that Avinash references that Omniture uses to track tag coverage and deployment is (I believe) Maxamine. The folks at Maxamine are great; if you're running tag-based data collection over a large ad complex site, you should give them a call.

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January 09, 2007

The rumors are true: Microsoft 'Gatineau' exists

I should know by now that you can't hide anything from the Internet. So it doesn't come as any great surprise to me that blog posts are starting to appear that have spotted that there is now something live on the Internet under the name of 'Gatineau'.

As the observant amongst you will know, Gatineau is the code-name for our forthcoming web analytics tool. Earlier this month we took an early version of the code live onto the Internet as part of a closed Alpha program for a very limited number of our existing customers - so no, I'm afraid you can't get a login ID to take a look at this stage.

To give you a few more tidbits of information, and hopefully to pre-empt the rumor mill a little, however, here are some things that we can say about the project at this stage. Please note, however, the following disclaimer:

None of the information in this blog post constitutes a commitment on Microsoft's part to deliver any particular technology or service. Any and all of the information here is subject to change without notice.

Now, on to the tidbits:

  • This project is based on technology that we acquired from DeepMetrix Corporation last year. Gatineau is the name of the Canadian city where DeepMetrix was based for a number of years. Final naming for the product is still unconfirmed.
  • The version live now is early Alpha code developed for stability and proof-of-concept purposes. Many aspects of the system (in particular, the interface) will change dramatically between this version and the version we release.
  • The next step for the project is an invitation-only beta program which we expect to start within the next few months. If you would like to be considered for inclusion in the beta program, please let me know.
  • We hope to release this product during 2007; however, we're extremely keen to avoid a repeat of Google's experience with Google Analytics, so we will be ramping up our user numbers gradually to make sure everyone has a good experience from a performance perspective.
  • I can't be very specific at all about the functionality we hope to deliver, but I can say that the target audience for this project is broadly similar to the target audience for Google Analytics - though it's emphatically not our intention simply to replicate the functionality within that product.

That's it - I can already feel our legal folks breathing down my neck. As we move forward with the project this year, expect to hear more from us about our plans. If you have specific questions, contact me directly or leave a comment on this post and I'll respond if I can. I can't provide any screenshots at this stage, I'm afraid.

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