Stats the way (uh-huh uh-huh) I like it
I saw some of the buzz for Mint—a new webstats package—floating around last week.1 I took a nosey at the pretty brochureware site, glanced at the $30 pricetag, saw there was no live demo or way to try-before-you-buy, and clicked on my merry way to research important matters of the day.
Then yesterday, I dropped the cash, downloaded a copy and became really quite impressed by it. But before the review, a quick history of my geekstatskeeping…
I’m an obsessive access_log scanner; I have been since my very first website on the Heriot-Watt CEE server back in ‘94. I have every log file for groovymother.com, going back to its original launch in 2001, gzipped up and ready to pipe through whatever analytical tool I choose.
I used WebTrends Live for a couple of years, and it really found it useful—the data analysis tools side of things was top notch—until they started charging $35 a month, which I couldn’t justify paying. Not to mention the fact that all the data and code was on their server, so I couldn’t tweak, and once I stopped forking over the cash, I lost all the data.
Then I moved to AWStats(AWStats – Free log file analyzer for advanced statistics (GNU GPL).). It’s free as in [beer|speech], but suffers from having a statistics display (Statistics for awstats.sourceforge.net (2005–08)) which approximately resembles My First HTML Page with Tables, and, frankly, would make the Baby Tufte cry. Worse, since it depends on scanning your access_logs, it just gets gummed up with spammers, worms, robots and other crud, despite desperate hacks to remove them.2
And so to Mint. It’s not free, but it’s open in that “Hey look! A plug-in API!” free-enough sort of way.
First up, it’s configurable. Note that this does not mean “Tweak a 10,000 line config file which changes format every time you upgrade” like with most Free software. You still have to set-up the database info in the config file, but then after that, you’re dropped into a lovely “Drag and drop to re-order the statistics you see on the main page” interface.
The stats display is very well designed. Yes, designed, rather than just “spewed onto a screen wrapped in <TD> tags”. Just enough info at a glance to be useful, and it’s easy to dig in for more. And just like the iceberg, it’s the visible sheen that convinces (fools?) you into believing that what’s under the covers is just as elegant.
And the plug-ins, oh the plug-ins! I haven’t had much time to dig into the API myself, but a couple that have impressed me include a plug-in to display Sparklines of your traffic, and one which tracks outgoing clicks from your website (meaning that I don’t have to rely on MyBlogLog going forward)
To complain that Mint is an expensive AJAX-ifiied version of exising free apps is to sell it short. It’s really the cheapest extensible and usable webstats package on the market today. And I look forward to seeing what it ends up as tomorrow.
1 Initially, it was on John Gruber’s Daring Fireball Linked List, which is one of the highest quality linklogs around. Well worth a subscription to Daring Fireball if you’re at all interested in Apple opinions)
2 And let’s not ignore the awstats bug that allowed crackers to break into a bunch of servers last year(Box Cracked (by Jeremy Zawodny)). I’ll be glad to get it off my machine.