More and more web applications are being made available for download for users to place on their own server. One of the latest products of the beautiful open-source globe is Piwik: an online application that brings you all of the detailed statistics regarding your website’s visitors. Tracking the visitors to a given website is a crucial measurement of success/failure, and is the base of most of the decisions that are made.
While there are a number of web applications that can provide you with such information, Piwik is complete free and open-source. More importantly, it is hosted on your own server, giving you complete control, and freedom to alter however you see fit.
For starters, the Ajax-driven dashboard is very intuitive and easy to use. You can select which widgets you want to see on the first page, and in what order. That’s because the Piwik team have made the realization that analytics’ users would want to access the admin panel very frequently, but would rarely go after small, relatively-insignificant details. That, within itself, is a demonstration of how the level of usability of open-source products is always superior to commercial counterparts – with so many volunteers, you’re bound to have something that pleases everyone.
Moreover, after the unprecedented success of the Firefox extensions’ concept, Piwik is developed to allow for plugins built by the community, meaning that the sky is the limit, as far as the features are concerned. The script ships with some of the basic plugins that you would be using.
Some of the unique features include the ability to see the Outlinks, showing how the visitors exited the websites, as well as the Downloads, which reveals the files that the users have downloaded off your website. Not to mention an extensive referrers’ section that indicates whether the users arrived via direct entry, another website, or a search engine (and in all three cases, giving all of the associated details).
Why use Piwik and not Google Analytics?
Many administrators rely on Google Analytics for visitors’ statistics, but Piwik’s edge is very clear:
- Piwik is free and open-source, Google have the right to go commercial when they feel like it
- Piwik is hosted on your server, and it’s not going anywhere. While Google can start bombarding you with ads if they feel like it, or limit your access
- It’s important to keep your statistics private. When Google know everything there is about your visitors and have the right to use that information. They can shape the AdSense market, because they’ll know what people are looking for, and can therefore control pricing, making everyone pay more for keywords. However, when it’s on your server, Google have less control over ad pricing
- Piwik is a lot easier to use, a lot more light-weight. More importantly, the future is a lot brighter, thanks to the plugins’ infrastructure.
Using Piwik is extremely easy. Just go to http://piwik.org, download the latest version, upload it to a directory on your server (for example: www.yourwebsite.com/piwik), point your browser to that directoy, and follow the on-screen instructions. You will need PHP and MySQL on your server, which are available in 99% of all hosts. After that, copy the code snippet into all of the pages of your website, and watch the magic.
If you’re using WordPress, install Piwik and use the WP-Piwik plugin that automatically places a valid code in all parts of the website.
We are now moving out of the “open-source alternative” era, and into the “an obviously better choice, regardless of the fact that it’s open-source” realm.