I’ve been running Woopra stats on this site since August 1, 2008. I got into the beta program really early since I was at WordCamp Dallas, where some of the initial beta codes were given out. I also had the pleasure of meeting John Pozadzides who is the founder of Woopra.
Since I’ve been using Woopra for half a year now, I’d like to give a review of what I like and dislike about it.
For those of you who don’t know anything about Woopra, here’s a bit of info. Woopra is a very new site statistics and visitor analytics tools. It is so new in fact, that it is still very much in beta.
Woopra aims to revolutionize the way we think of stats in relation to our site. Rather than being purely a historical tool, as most of the other stat gathering tools are, Woopra provides the ability to see what is happening on your site in real time. There is a Live tab that will show you visitors that are active on your site, where each visitor is located in the world, how each visitor got to the site, what pages they’ve navigated to, any external links they’ve clicked on, and even gives you the ability to open up a live chat with an individual visitor.
The way that Woopra can offer this type of interactivity is due to the fact that the primary interface to your stats isn’t by going to their site, logging in, and clicking around. In fact, the stats you can get by logging into the Woopra site are fairly spartan. Instead of using the site, Woopra offers a desktop application. This desktop application is written in Java, so it can run on any platform that supports Java.
I know that Woopra is still in beta and that there is still not an official launch date window. Even so, I feel that by producing a review, I can give feedback to the Woopra developers that will help them produce a better product. In addition, you as the reader will get a better appreciation for what Woopra is and what it can do.
When I first started working with Woopra, I was wowed. There are many cool things going on that other stats packages haven’t even tried to accomplish. The Live feature alone is revolutionary and extremely cool.
There’s also event notifications. These work together with the Live features of Woopra to provide a mechanism to give you the ability to be alerted when specific events happen. For example, you can have a pop-up window appear and a sound play when a specific visitor comes to the site and visits a specific page.
You can quickly and easily search and filter through recent visitors. You can filter them by criteria such as country, language, browser, keywords, etc. You can also chose the range of dates that you would like to search through.
To sum up my initial feelings, I thought, “Man, I can do anything with this. This is great!”
Woopra Desktop Application
It didn’t take long for that new shine to start to fade from Woopra. Don’t get me wrong, Woopra is really slick, but I had gotten past my “this is cool” phase and began treating it as a tool.
Thinking of Woopra as just a tool and judging it as such, flaws start to come out fairly quickly.
The Live view is amazing and cool and unmatched, but is it truly necessary?
As much as I thought the Live view would be a great tool when I first started using Woopra, I have to admit that it really hasn’t helped me do anything other than waste time. People can often make the mistake of spending more time obsessing over stats than they spend adding content and improving the site. I have to wonder if Live doesn’t truly offer any utility while distracting site admins who can’t help but look at the Live view every chance they get.
The utility that I expected to get from Live was the ability to interact with visitors. If I wanted to take some time to try to win over some new site fans, I could spend a few minutes here or there poping into Live, picking a visitor that looks like they might need some help, and chatting them up. I thought that this would be a “wow, cool!” moment for them and a “I really helped that person; they’ll be back” moment for me. This is far from the reality.
Each time that I’ve tried to start a conversation with a random visitor, I either get a weirded out response or I notice that they immediately leave the site. So far, the majority of visitors that I’ve contacted just immediately disappear.
I think that this type of response is to be expected. Random visitors do not expect to be hit up by some random person trying to chat with them. I’m sure that most will have something along the lines of “crap, this is a sales site”, “I’m just browsing, don’t bug me”, or “the site is trying to infect my computer” run through their head when they see the chat appear. So, this begs the question: if people understandably don’t want to be contacted directly at random to chat with a site admin, what purpose does this live chat function serve? As best as I can tell, there are two possible answers: the live chat function is geared towards people who are running a sales site or it should only be used with tagged, known visitors.
Frankly, if the live chat function is supposed to help those that run sales sites, there are dozens of paid and free products that offer live chat and more to help manage your clients. I doubt Woopra, which is primarily for stats would be able to compete with software that more or less only does live chat.
If the live chat should only be used with visitors that already know the site admin and wouldn’t mind being contacted, again, there are better tools for the job. For example: instant message clients, email, phone call, text message, etc. Why do we need yet another tool to talk to people we know? I suppose if your site is huge and you want to grace your presence upon a lucky visitor without giving them the ability to contact you directly that live chat can be helpful, but then again, there are plenty of other tools that can do this.
So, until I learn about some use for Live that truly helps out a site admin, I’m going to have to assume that it is just a really cool gimmick that can be fun to play with.
The Dashboard in Woopra is filled with large amounts of data. This data can be a great way to quickly see how your site traffic has been doing without spending too much time in the app. However, the presentation of this data defeats the ability for this to be a quick-use tool.
The Overview shows a daily view that can be switched to hourly. The information given is the number of visits and number of hits. However, all the information is in text, which means that you have to read all the numbers to see if visits and hits are increasing or decreasing. If the background of each of these cells had a bar in it that showed the relative size of the number in relation to the other numbers being shown, I could quickly and easily assess whether visits and hits are trending up or down. Notice that the numbers can stay but should have a graph to accompany them. So, the hard data is there, but is much easier to use.
The My Content section shows a list of content pages with titles and URLs. For each page, it lists the number of landings, exits, and hit as well as the average time spent on the page. As with the Overview, all of this information is pure data without any graphical representation. As with the Overview, there should be bars to accompany the numbers to allow for a quick visual feel of the numbers.
The My Referrers section has the most issues. It should show, for the current day, where your referral traffic is coming from. The default view is “New” which shows the latest referrers and the average time spent by those referred visitors. The “Top” view includes referrers that haven’t sent any traffic for that day (why are they listed if they have no influence on the day’s traffic?). The “Sources” view is worthless. It shows a pie graph that I assume represents where I’m getting the most traffic, but I can’t tell since it shows the percentage of each slice if hovered over but gives no indication of what each slice represents. Wait! After clicking around and leaving my mouse hovered over a slice for a while, a caption finally appeared. So it’s not completely broken, just completetly unintuitive and slow.
The My Searches section seems to be the most useful. It shows the queries and keywords from search engines that resulted in traffic. For queries, it shows the source engine and average time spent on the site based upon that specific query. For the queries view, it shows a tag cloud representation of the keywords weighted by occurance. It’s a simple view that helps judge where the day’s search traffic is coming from and how effective specific queries are to keeping people on your site.
The My Visitors section shows where visitors are from. The default view shows a map, and if you hover over a country, it tells you the country’s name and number of visitors from there today. Another view will show you a list ordered by most traffic for each country that has sent traffic. There is also a Loyalty view that seems to be another broken pie chart.
Overall, I find the Dashboard very lacking in real functional use as a dashboard. Dashboards are meant to provide value at a glance. The only section that manages this is the vistor map. All the other sections rely on too much focus of the user to determine trends in numbers.
Functionally, the entire design of this view needs to be overhauled.
- None of the tables are able to be reordered by a different column, so you just better deal with the order.
- On the My Content view, cryptic icons are used to represent the meaning of each column rather than text. I always have to hover over the icons to see what they mean.
- Nearly everything shown has a “tooltip” if you hover over it. This could provide a great way to give depth of information on some of the listings, but instead, it simply parots back the exact same thing you are looking at. Hover over “Sun, Jan 18, 2009” and a tooltip will appear giving you the helpful detail of “Sun, Jan 18, 2009”. If you accidentally stop moving your mouse over one of the lengthy My Content listings, you can easily block neighboring information.
- Double-click on a search query to pull that query up in the engine that referred that query or double-click on a content page to load that page in your browser. This is helpful. However, not everything is usable that way (and I found out about this feature on accident). If I double-click a date, it should bring me to a report screen that shows me a detail screen for that date. If I double-click a country, the Search screen should be brought up with a filter for that country.
- None of the columns are resizable. This can create some wide gaps in data when having the app maximized on a large screen.
Arguably, the search screen should provide the most utility. It should enable you to drill down and find out if you are getting traffic from target languages, countries, etc. And the screen does perform this well. It is not without its problems though.
The listing of visitors provides a nice amount of information: when they last visited, their Gravatar if they have one and have left a comment identifying them, a Woopra ID of that visitor or their name if they are tagged, where they are from, their language, how many actions (navigation clicks) they’ve done on the site, how much time they’ve spent, and how they got to the site. All of this is great, and it is presented well.
My problem is in the interface to filter the results.
- Most of the fields are freeform text fields. Even I don’t know what valid values are for those fields. I assume that they are free-form since the possible values are unlimited; however, drop-downs should be used that either limit the listed options to ones that are present in the stats system or provide a list of defaults and have a “Custom” option that allows for filling in a free-form field.
- When you fill in the filter and wish to filter the results, it is not at all clear how to do this. If you click the “Filters” button again, the filters menu simply disappears. So, you think that the way to do it is to save the filter, but that doesn’t do it either. Counter-intuitively, you click the “Seaarch” button which is above the filter options and in no way seems to associate with the filter options.
- After playing around, you realize that the “Show recent visits” and “Show recent tagged /members visits” defaults in the search drop-down list are in fact nothing more than a set of default filters. So, it seems that the language used to depict what is going on here needs to be improved since by design, it seems that the search options and filters are separate when they are actually one and the same.
The Analytics view is the most functional. The Woopra developers have probably spent the most time on this view, and it shows.
There really is little to say since it works as it should. All numerical data is depicted as numerical data and as graphical data. There is an option to limit results. All major stat categories that you expect to see are represented.
The only real complaint that I have is that there is a date range selector that is very difficult to understand. A selector that allows for quickly selecting a start date and end date isn’t provided. This would be too easy and conventional. Instead you are presented with a sort of timeline view. You get to pick from Today, Yesterday, Last 7 Days, and Last 30 Days.
At first, you think this is all you can do, but no, you can pick any range you want. First, you need to find the yellow box by scrolling all the way to the right. That’s right, the timeline actually scrolls (it took me months to realize this). Depending on what option you have selected, that box can be nothing more than a sliver. Once you find the box, grab a side by clicking on it and drag it around. You can either make the box a certain size and move it to a certain range or you can drag each side to the start and end place you want. Either way, it is not intuitive and is much more difficult to use than the standard calendar selectors.
First, I find the name of this view to be poor. Manage is the view you go to in order to create, modify, and remove event notifications. Shouldn’t it be called “Events”?
Oh wait, there’s another tab in Manage called “Custom Live Map”. I have no idea what this is since it doesn’t actually show the live hits. I thought maybe you could give Woopra an image and then it would slap that image all over the map showing where visits have come from, but no, that’s not what this is. I have yet to see anything live about this map as nothing is ever drawn on there. As best I can tell, the functionality for this does not exist yet. I struggle to find any application for this though. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens with it.
Back to the events, I am also having a hard time figuring out how I would actually use this. When do I really want to be thrown a popup that tells me that someone just did something on the site? Usually for things I need to be notified about, I have the server send me an email. This is much easier to deal with and less distracting than the potential for floods of popups if the event was configured incorrectly.
Beyond the App: Woopra.com
As much as I’d like to review the stats backend of Woopra.com, I cannot. The site has been down for at least a day. Nothing is accessible on it.
Thinking back to my last experience on the site, I couldn’t help but wonder why they seemed to have purposefully limited the amount of information that could be accessed on their backend. Everything seemed to push the user to using the desktop app. It’s great to want people to use the app, but what if the person is checking stats on a system that they don’t want to load the app on? They still need to in order to gain access to some basic information?
I really don’t see the need to limit the actual Woopra.com site, and I question whether this is a smart move long-term.
Beyond the App: Woopra in WordPress
Woopra has smartly provided a WordPress plugin that not only takes care of integration of the stats but also provides a stats view from inside the WordPress admin dashboard.
Without a doubt, I find this plugin to be more valuable than either the desktop application or the Woopra.com site. It may not provide the same level of depth, polish, or live view of the desktop app, but it provides what is needed withough creating unnecessary distractions.
Each day when I go to create or work on a post, I go to the Woopra Analytics link on the Dashboard and check out the stats. I quickly find out if my traffic has been going up or down, how deep visitors are going into the site, and what kinds of search terms lead to my site. These things are all I really care about, and I get all of this right in WordPress itself.
However, even the WordPress plugin has issues. Every timeline graph that shows a list of dates has the dates completely our of order. Just look at the following image:
Notice how the December 28th is between January 6th and January 1st. In fact, the actual list order starting at Janauary 6th is January 6, December 30th, January 5th, December 29th, January 4th, December 28th, January 3rd, December 27th, January 2nd, December 26th, and January 1st. I’m viewing this list on January 22nd, which is just after December 23rd by the way.
I don’t think I really need to say it, but I will anyways. These charts are extremely broken. How valuable is visual information that is presented in a shuffled manner? The answer is “not very.”
Like on the desktop app, the WordPress plugin has a number of unintuitive behaviors. The primary one is how some lists (such as the Regular Referrers list) allows for a listing to be clicked on to expand out further details while other lists (such as Search Engines) have the exact same visual styling yet when you click on a listing, you are taken to that URL. Keep in mind that both of these listing types have the exact same appearance and both display the subject of the list entry as a URL, yet each behaves differently.
While on the subject of URLs, some of the listings show the “http://” portion of the URL while others drop this. For the ones that show it, they always have a broken link structure, such as “http://http/google.com” rather than “http://google.com”.
So while the WordPress plugin seems to provide the best at-a-glance information while being the most accessible, it still has issues that need to be fixed.
Unfortunately, there are some issues that affect using Woopra no matter how you access the information.
One of my primary issues is how all the stats are based off of GMT. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but Woopra does not allow you to set a timezone to normalize the stats to. For me, this means that tomorrow starts at 5pm.
This doesn’t seem like a big issue at first; however, this doesn’t sync well with the different stats access methods. When looking at stats using the WordPress interface, the stats basically freeze after 5pm and require you to manually select to include tomorrow in the stats range in order to see the new stats results. When the day rolls over for Woopra on the desktop app, the starts just start over with a new day view. When you realize that there is no way to adjust the range of time shown by the graph that is always at the top of the Woopra desktop app, you get a bit annoyed. Even the website is affected by this lack of time adjustment. It gets annoying that you can’t actually get a good feel for how your site performs from midnight to midnight in your own timezone and that you constantly have to finagle with the interface to try to get that information.
Another issue is that the Visit Duration values seem to be broken. These values break down into “0 to 5 minutes”, “5 to 10 minutes”, “10 to 20 minutes”, and “20+ minutes”. Looking at my aggregate stats, more than 50% of the visit durations have been longer than 20 minutes. In addition to that, only about 10-20% of the visitors fit in the middle two categories. This seems to be highly improbable to me and indicates that there is a flaw in their duration tracking code. In addition to this, the ticker at the bottom of the desktop app always tells me that my average time spent per page is some rediculously large negative percentage value. Currently my average time spent per page is down 37115773.02%. Yes Woopra, thanks for the additional 0.02% there; that really helps me nail down exactly what is going on.
There is also the problem that some information is only available through one system and is only shown in one view but not another. Case in point: the click path a visitor takes through a site is only available on the desktop application and only in the Live view.
In other words, when you look at a visitor actively on the site, you can see that they came to the site via a search engine or link, that they then went from page to page (and it shows the order these pages were visited in), and finally, it highlights the current page that they are on. This information is highly valuable as it allows you to gain an understanding of how people navigate through your site. If you look at enough information, you can discern patterns and tailor your content to increase page views. However, this information is only truly accessible in the Live tab and is not easy to put together in any other view.
Woopra has the potential to be a truly great stats system if not just for the WordPress plugin interface. Currently, I find many of the features to be little more than gimmicks that are meant to grab attention, but I do believe that some valuable purpose for these gimmicky tools could be found for a small group of Woopra users despite this. The primary problems that Woopra has are that it lacks flexibility where it really counts (such as lack of time zone adjustment or ability to sort data output), has obvious coding flaws (such as the horrible sorting of specific dates on charts), and lacks a consistent, intuitive interface (such as elements that match visually behave differently or pointless and distracting tooltips).
I don’t believe that it would take much coding work to fix up some of these problems. The foundation is already there, the code simply needs to be tightened up, some options added, and some elements redesigned. How long it will take the Woopra devs to accomplish these needed fixes is unknown, but I hope that they will be addressed soon (within the next month or two).
In addition to all of this there is the fact that the Woopra site is still down. I have to wonder what the issue is. I have yet to receive any emails from the Woopra system trying to notify me of issues or needed feedback, so the site is my only source of information. Since it is down, I just have to wait and see.
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