Analytics: Only When We Use It
Post from July 27, 2015 (↻ June 8, 2021), filed under Web Development.
Here’s something so obvious, it isn’t anymore. Which is: We should only use analytics software when we actually use it. Not when we think we could might want to need it. And not when we only glance at it, every now and then.
That’s what I recently pushed myself to conclude, culminating in removing Google Analytics from seven of my web projects, including traffic-rich UITest.com and World’s Highest Website, outreach efforts such as Code Responsibly, and campaigns like Have We Stopped Killing Yet. (meiert.com is one of a couple of sites where I keep Google Analytics for another moment.)
There are three good reasons to question our use of analytics software.
Analytics software is only useful when actually needed and used. This makes sense! Yet when we don’t need nor use analytics software, it even turns into a liability.
Analytics software is collecting data. Data can be abused. We may trust our analytics provider (Google, for example), but we may not trust, or be able to trust, our administrations (the U.S. government, for example). Would something as insanely popular like Google Analytics not lend itself to an extremely useful data source? I’m not a statistician, and so I’d say, yes.
Analytics tracking code means a performance hit. There are other hits we incur when using analytics software (like maintenance or documentation cost), and they’re all unnecessary when we don’t actually need and use respective software—per 1.—, but performance is what pulls our users into the picture. Analytics code makes our sites slower (even, or perhaps especially, with Google Analytics), and so we have an incentive to make sure we really need that code.
There’s this nice term Datensparsamkeit, “data frugality,” that floats around in the German language space. We should always be frugal when it comes to sharing potentially sensitive information—like PII (personally identifiable information) we enter on websites and apps. But that also applies to data we gather, or help to gather. Like analytics software. Let’s use it only when we use it.
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have questions or suggestions about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message.
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Perhaps my most comprehensive book: The Web Development Glossary (2020). With explanations and definitions for literally thousands of terms from Web Development and related fields, building on Wikipedia as well as the MDN Web Docs. Available at Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.