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I was recently chatting with my colleague Geoff Hoffman about Google Analytics alternatives. Specifically, when does it make sense to develop your own in-house solution?

Coincidently, I was contacted to review a recently released book entitled “Piwik Web Analytics Essentials” authored by Stephan Miller, an experienced developer involved in the Piwik community.

Piwik as an alternative to other web analytics platforms?

Honestly, I haven’t worked much with Piwik, but back in the days, its phpMyVisits ancestor was a popular alternative to expensive log-based solutions. Piwik as since evolved into a relatively powerful platform. For those who prefer self-hosting, the alternatives are quite limited, with all major vendors favoring a SaaS-based approach. From a feature standpoint, Piwik can rival Google Analytics and other paid-solutions on many points. The feature list match that of the current GA almost 100% – but falls short of the latest round of features Google announced at the Google Summit.

We’ll get back to the pros & cons of self-hosting and developing your own web analytics platform in a “Point/Counter-point” type of article.

Book review: “Piwik Web Analytics Essentials”

Miller does an excellent job covering all technical aspects of Piwik from initial installation, security, backups & maintenance (Chapter 1), using reports and features (Chapter 2), the asynchronous tracking code for pages, events and custom vars (Chapter 3), goals and conversions (Chapter 4), campaigns tracking and attribution (Chapter 5), the concept of events and social tracking (Chapter 6), e-commerce tracking (Chapter 7), administration (Chapter 8), and lastly, advanced tracking topics, debugging and plugins (Chapter 9). Chapter 10 covers integration into other platforms such as CMSs, mobile, accessing the underlying data or using the API.

The book is not too technical but is certainly not a marketing or manager oriented one. It is a good technical reference for anyone starting with Piwik. Don’t expect the book to help you justify the use of Piwik over other alternatives, nor should you expect to learn “how” to do analytics.

My take

While there are still debates about the implications of IT vs Marketing, Piwik clearly stands on the IT side and the book clearly reflects that. With requirements for self-hosting, MySQL database handling, installation on servers and such, Piwik is clearly for the technically inclined or organizations that want to bring the technical side of analytics in-house. The arguments I hear most often to justify a solution such as Piwik are a sense of greater control over the data, customization capabilities and a perception of greater security. I feel those aspects should have been a little better covered in the book. Look for our point/counterpoint article where we will debate the pros & cons of self-hosting & custom in-house solutions vs mainstream solutions such as Google Analytics.


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