I recently installed a open source web analytics tool called piwik.  (You can demo it at that site.) I found out about it via the sourceforge.net mailing list. It was the featured project for July 2009. It bills itself as an alternative to Google Analytics (GA) (actually, right now, the home page states “Piwik aims to be an open source alternative to Google Analytics.”) and I can see why it does so. The architecture is similar, JavaScript executing on every page and sending data to a server; the interface is similar as well, with lots of whizzy Web 2.0, JavaScript heavy features and detailed data.

I had to see been using the Wusage installation that came with my web hosting service. piwik was quite a step up from that, with richer graphs, results and UI. Plus, because it was JavaScript executing and I was assured that every visit was actual visit by an actual person. Since it’s hosted on my server, I control all the data, which was a sticking point for me considering using Google Analytics.

I recently upgraded to 0.4.2, which broke the dashboard, but I’ve been assured a fix is in SVN (Update Aug 4: They no longer plan to fix the bug, but there is a workaround in that thread.).  If you want to get the latest code, go hereYou can download 0.4.1, the last working version I know of, here. I’ll update this to point to the piwik website when they have a release up that works. For some reason they don’t have a release archive that I could find.

So what’s good about piwik?  Well compared to what, Google analytics, or other website analytics tools? This is a fundamental question, because if you are using GA just for the web stats piece, or are using some other static logfile analysis tool, piwik is well worth reviewing.

In comparison to Google Analytics

The downside is

  • you have to maintain another server/database, etc.  I imagine that someone will offer piwik via SAAS sometime soon, though I couldn’t find anyone doing that right now.
  • it’s a beta product and is not as mature as Google Analytics, as evidenced by the 0.4.2 issue above
  • some key GA features are missing (goals, funnels, etc).

In comparison to the other website analytics tools I’ve used, AWstats (which I’ve written about before and is open source) and wusage (not open source, but free with my hosting contract), piwik has

  • a slick user interface
  • JavaScript execution, so you know you’re getting a real browser instead of a bot (the javascript browser guarantee)
  • click outs easier to track
  • easier configuration
  • javascript widgets available

The downside is:

This is obviously not intended to be a full, detailed analysis of all the differences between these tools, but I think that piwik has a lot of promise.  They have a roadmap full of planned features but they definitely aren’t yet an alternative to Google Analytics for anyone who uses some of the more advanced features of that product. Funnels, the click overlay or goals, are all unsupported in piwik as of this version. In the forums, I saw several requests for such richer analysis tools, and in the roadmap I saw a goal tracking plugin as a blocker for version 1.0, so the team is aware of the lack.

When browsing around doing research for this post, I saw a post (sorry, couldn’t find it again) about how piwik features would be developed for smaller websites because it’s an open-source alternative, but I believe that the support of openX (an ad server company that I wrote about in the past), who is funding at least one of the developers, will prevent such feature capture.  In addition, I find that open source projects that have an existing project to model themselves on (like GA), tend to try to reach feature parity.  If piwik continues on its current valid path of replicating Google Analytics features, then I think it will live up to its aim.

If you’re simply using Google Analytics to see who referred traffic to your sites, or for which keywords search engines are showing your site, and you want something more open or more control of your data, piwik is a good fit.  If you use any other web stats tool, and want a slicker admin interface or the javascript browser guarantee, piwik is also worth a look.

Update, 7/31: A friend pointed out this broad survey of the current state of free (as in beer) web analytics options

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