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This is a story about the most popular open source analytics software and how its commercial wing ended up in Wrocław, Poland.
When it comes to open source software there are always a whole lot of concerns. The so-called FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) tactic, systematically employed by large commercial software corporations, made a good deal of organizations and individuals reluctant or at least wary of using any free programs. Typical myths include source code’s vulnerability to exploitation, the need for an organization to spend money on new security policies or the threat of the code being compromised due to easy access. Each of these is easy to debunk with cold hard facts. But in terms of open source web analytics software, there are those who claim that all the answers you need may be expressed in one word: Piwik.
Do you realize that at any moment you are free to download one of the world’s most popular web analytic tools?
This tool gives you full control, maximum privacy, solid security, tons of functions out-of-the box and almost unlimited possibilities of expanding them, using either one of many available extensions or by developing one yourself. If you do understand the benefits that good web analytic software provides, there is probably little need for me to tell you what Piwik is. In any event, we interviewed Piwik PRO founder Maciej Zawadziński to find out more about the service and what it can do for you.
What is Piwik?
Stating that Piwik is open source analytics software might not mean much to the average user. If you ever used Google Analytics, you probably have at least a vague idea what analyzing web data means. But do you know why you should analyze web data? To name just a few of the most apparent reasons:
• To learn the right keywords – even if you are a skilled professional in your field, you have no way to know which keywords your potential customers really use to enter your site. With web analytics, you not only learn them, but also if the visitors are new or returning and how long they stay on your site.
• To learn more about your customers – what are people looking for on your website? Do your product categories reflect the way they do this? How many clicks does it take them to perform the action you want them to perform (purchase, contact, subscription etc.)?
• To get insight on the quality of your pages – some pages scare people away from websites with their poor information value, misleading URLs and so on. Do you know which ones? With analytics, you will know.
For major companies the correct use of web analytics is vital to effective online performance. But even smaller companies can use them to their advantage. Lots of organizations and individuals are willing to spend a lot of money on them. So why is the idea of great analytics software offered for free with almost unlimited control and privacy not always impressive enough?
Back in 2007 Matthieu Aubry was positive that Google Analytics was well on its way to becoming extremely popular, bringing the issue of web analytics to the mainstream.
With a strong belief that software should remain under the control of people, he started working on an open source alternative to the Google product and other proprietary licensed software.
He created the very first version of Piwik within a few months. Soon more and more developers started joining him.
As of today Piwik is the most popular open source software for analyzing web performance. As we learned from the creators, “overall, 2.1% of all websites that use an analytics tool use Piwik (W3Techs). Piwik is used on more than 1M websites”. What’s more, Piwik is used by 16% of all .de websites (#2), 10% of all .gov websites (#2), 9% of Austrian sites, 3.5% of French sites and 3.2% of Polish sites.
Piwik is, of course, an open source project. It means that you can use it free of charge, modify it in any way you wish and even contribute to the overall development. But Piwik also has a commercial side to it. It’s called Piwik PRO and it offers cloud-based services related to Piwik, most notably the storage of all the data and taking care of all the technical aspects of using Piwik. It’s also employed to help implement Piwik in large organizations, including both technical aspects as well as training workers and more. From the interview below you can learn a lot more about Piwik PRO, including why it is Polish enough to get featured on Bitspiration.
How does Piwik work?
While with Piwik PRO you can use the software as a cloud-based service, effectively ridding yourself of some technical dilemmas, Piwik is primarily installed on a user’s own server. You should be familiar with the requirements, which include PHP version 5.3.2. or greater, MySQL version 4.1 or greater and the appropriate PHP/MySQL extensions. The installation process is fairly easy. In case of any doubts, you can watch the official four-minute video, which promises a five-minute installation. If you use a CMS, run an online shop, a forum or use certain frameworks, you can integrate Piwik with it. Currently more than 65 technologies are supported. For instance, the installation of a WordPress plugin allows you to add a Piwik stats site to your WordPress dashboard. There are a lot of installation and optimization options. You can find all of them on Piwik’s official website.
• Visits-over-time graph, which provides you with detailed information on the number of day-to-day visits
• Keyword chart, which show the words and phrases visitors use in search engines to find and enter your website
• Visitor location map, which provides you with information on the physical location of your visitors on the world map
• Visitor browser chart, which tells you which browsers are used to navigate the website
• Referrer websites chart, which tells you how visitors found your website. You can find out whether most visitors arrive via a search engine, social media, a direct link, through a marketing campaign or from another website.
• Visitors in real time chart, a widget that provides you with information on your visitors’ actions, updated every 10 seconds
That’s hardly even scratching the surface of the sea of possibilities Piwik gives you. You can add and remove widgets and drag and drop them to suit your needs, as there are plenty of widgets to choose from and you can use them to create as many dashboards as you want.
How do you benefit from Piwik?
OK, so you’re interested in using a web analytics tool, but why Piwik? There are a few good reasons:
• With Piwik, you are in control. The data you track is inside your server’s database and you can access it easily via Piwik APIs
• Your visitors’ behavior on your website is not shared with advertising companies – you don’t have to send data to anyone. It’s a big plus both for you and your visitors, who don’t have to be worried that their actions will be used to enhance advertising campaigns
• It has just about all the features other web analytics software offers, plus a bunch of unique ones, such as Ecommerce Analytics, Visitor Profile reporting, Real Time Visitor Maps as well as a Mobile App that allows you to see your stats from anywhere.
• You can propose your own additions and watch the roadmap to be instantly informed about new features/updates
• Piwik is real-time, you decide how often the numbers are run
• You can brand the reports with your logo
• Easy export of reports, many formats available
• You don’t really have to choose! Just try Piwik and in case you’re disappointed, you can always go back to your preferred software or used them simultaneously.
Where can I get Piwik and how much does it cost?
That’s easy – the download you need can be found here. It’s free and you can do whatever you want with it. All you need is a PC, a website and the will to make a little effort to enjoy its immense capabilities to the fullest.
Interview with Piwik PRO founder Maciej Zawadziński
Of all the qualities of Piwik the one that personally amazes me the most is its ability to adapt to pretty much every environment. With a bit of imagination and developer experience one can add new features and expand the existing ones. As you can learn from the interview with Piwik PRO founder Maciej Zawadziński, Piwik developers constantly find themselves surprised at how organizations are using their brainchild, introducing changes and optimizing it in a way that best suits their needs. Want to learn the goals behind Piwik, how it was conceived, what the relationship between Piwik.org and Piwik PRO is and why the contribution of Polish developers to its growth can’t be overlooked? Read on.
It was in 2007 when Piwik was released for the very first time. What was the original objective of its founders? Was it simply to fill the gap in the open source analytics department or rather the ambitious goal of providing a serious alternative to commercial analytics software?
Maciej Zawadziński: The main objective was to provide an alternative to Google Analytics and other proprietary paid tools.
At Piwik, we all are open source enthusiasts and believe that humans must be in control of their computers, not the other way around.
The only way to ensure this is with free software, so the true alternative to Google Analytics would have to be an open source software platform that gives users this freedom.
We believed in this mission from the start – we knew that our goals (open source analytics) were the same as the goals of Piwik users. We knew that Piwik could become very popular as long as we involved the community, listened to our users and kept Piwik a true community-driven project.
Piwik has plenty of options and is growing. From the roadmap one can learn that within a year Piwik is planning on providing analyses for more than websites, including mobile apps and ecommerce. What kind of new platform will be analysed by Piwik?
MZ: Our goal is to enable people to collect and analyse the data on various IoT objects, such as:
• Outdoor sensors, e.g. traffic and pollution sensors, mailboxes.
• Wearable tech: watches, health sensors.
• Connected home sensors: temperature, water and electricity usage, security.
Soon there will be more things on the Internet than people on the Internet. Object owners often need to measure how objects are used, and while they could use Google Analytics, many will be reluctant and will need open technologies like Piwik to ensure their data is safe and private.
What does the process of suggesting new features and improvements look like?
MZ: We do it in a couple of ways:
• We listen to users in the forums
• We regularly conduct community surveys
• We collect feedback from an embedded feedback form in Piwik.
Piwik users can also freely suggest new features in our issue tracker, which is fully open for everyone to see. We put a lot of effort into educating our users by publishing guides on such topics as how to submit a proper feature request or how to influence Piwik’s development.
Piwik.org is the organization that provides us with Piwik – the open source analytics softwate. But Piwik PRO’s services are a lot more commercial, offering to help deploy, customize and maintain Piwik analytics on its own infrastructure as well as consulting and training services. What is the relationship between Piwik.org and Piwik PRO?
MZ: Piwik PRO is an official Piwik company that develops and maintains the Piwik platform and should be considered as a part of the project. It was founded to deal with the high demand for Piwik services that we saw on Piwik.org – we offer a wide range of products and services that are based on Piwik.
We are creating a really different kind of business with the “do good” principle in mind. Our mission is to build a healthy software ecosystem around Piwik that includes many vendors who serve their local and global clients, rather than trying to create a monopoly on Piwik services.
As a part of that, we want Piwik.org to be an independent, community-driven website that gives users a choice.
Piwik PRO is based in Poland, in Wrocław. How did it happen that the most Piwik-conscious of all companies in existence is now located in Poland?
MZ: Wrocław is a great city to start an IT business – we have many local and international companies with their offices here. It has a great climate and work atmosphere.
But the story began more than six years ago…
I joined the Piwik team as a developer in its early days, and from the very beginning I was certain that we were creating a product that companies would love and use to build custom analytics solutions.
At that time, I already had my first serious business (I was running an advertising network) and we were one of the first companies who decided to use Piwik on a larger scale, and by doing so, we helped to improve its performance. About five years ago, I co-founded a software house, Clearcode, that specialises in the development of ad technology and data-driven applications.
I worked closely with Matthieu on the various aspects of Piwik. We used Clearcode’s resources to contribute to the core, enhance the UX/UI, improve the Piwik.org community website, as well as handle consulting requests that came from a simple contact form on the Piwik.org website. When the consulting part started attracting more interest, we decided to incorporate Piwik PRO.
Piwik PRO offers the ability to store Piwik and all of its data on remote servers. What are the pros and cons of this cloud-based solution?
MZ: The Piwik Cloud Terms of Service are very customer-oriented: the data is owned by the customer, he or she can get a full database snapshot at any time, they can move away from Piwik Cloud to their own servers, and we give customers nine weeks notice before any modifications to the terms take effect.
The customer’s satisfaction is very important to us as we give them the complete freedom to leave if they are not fully satisfied with our service.
There are still some cases where the cloud isn’t a good solution – e.g. for intranet tracking, or when you heavily customise Piwik for your needs with plugins that are not available on the cloud, or when other systems need direct read access to the Piwik database – although we recommend integrating via APIs.
Piwik can be effectively used by individuals, small- and mid-sized companies and even large corporations and governmental institutions. But I assume that the way those different users benefit from Piwik is different. What can you do with Piwik when you use it on a really large scale and have a team of skilled developers at your disposal?
MZ: Almost every week I see new use cases of Piwik that have been invented by businesses all around the world. A few interesting ones that have stood out include: measuring the impact of TV advertising on online visitorship and conversions, measuring offline retail data, using Piwik in the backend and integrating it with a data warehouse, reporting aggregated metrics for a network of sites, content and banner tracking, cross-site tracking, and many others!
What does the Piwik implementation process in large organizations look like?
MZ: We start with the “Requirements & Assessment” phase, where we gather information about the customer’s requirements, identify how they can be addressed with the Piwik Core functionality and if any of them may require developing a custom plugin.
After that, we proceed to the implementation phase, which usually consists of setting up staging and production environments, tweaking and optimising them for performance, testing it extensively with the client up until the point when we are ready to launch it into production. On the way to the production launch, we quite often add additional options to the Piwik Core and fix or improve existing features. It’s a perfect example of how we can make a positive impact on the product itself by working closely with large organizations and fulfilling their needs.
Finally, we provide the necessary training for the client and ongoing support and maintenance for the client’s Piwik cluster.
Piwik is a strong representative of the open source world. Speaking from experience, how eager are people to use open source analytics for the web?
MZ: It’s been amazing to see the growth of the Piwik community over the past few years.
The community helps us to test the product before the stable version gets released (users who subscribe to our beta release channel). It is also actively translating the software (Piwik is available in 53 languages), improving various internal libraries (such as the device detection library, search engine and community website lists, etc.), and submitting feedback and interesting feature ideas. Piwik users are also eagerly exchanging their experiences via forums (Piwik Forums have more than 50,000 posts).
In the first few years of the project, there was much to be done to make Piwik a great alternative to Google Analytics. A few very talented developers answered our call for help and have contributed major new features and improvements to Piwik. They are now part of the Piwik core team.
We are now also getting Piwik Core code contributions via pull requests, but this is a piece we are actively working on – we want to get developers from the community side involved in the project. Last year we realised that as the Piwik platform grows, becoming a Piwik Core or Piwik Plugin developer is very difficult. Since then, we have not only improved the code base, but have also created a lot of documentation and how-tos for developers such as how to get started with Piwik development and how to contribute the code to the Piwik Core as well as various example plugins.
It is very hard to find good software engineers that will engage in an open source product and actively contribute to it, so we were very lucky at that time to find our team.
Right now, when the business side of Piwik is growing, it’s much easier for us to run the project as we can afford to pay full-time engineers to work on the platform. Combining this with the community-driven contributions is moving Piwik ahead much faster.
What do you think about the Polish presence and contribution to Piwik and open source? Are Polish developers and other IT specialists active in the field?
MZ: Yes, definitely. There have been many Piwik contributions made by Poles, including contributions to the core, the UX/UI, and the Piwik.org community website.
Piwik PRO finances the majority of Piwik’s current development, and without the business side working well, we wouldn’t be able to make the kind of good progress that we are making now.
At this point, there are more than ten Poles involved in the business side of Piwik – account and project managers, developers, system administrators, graphic designers and the support team members. All of them are based in Wrocław.
The remaining part of the full-time team members that focus primarily on the Piwik Core development, but also some of our products like Piwik Cloud, are based in New Zealand and in the U.S.