Web Analytics Association Standards Document

Eric Peterson is typically on the ball with this post. Brandt Dainow, a guy whom I’ve never met wrote a scathing piece on iMediaConnection about the WAA Standards. I am loathe to even link to it because most of it is simply an attack on volunteer efforts, efforts which to date no-one has bettered including Brandt. What I do agree with though is a couple of things that Brandt says;

The WAA should be setting the agenda, not following the crowd. The task of the WAA standards committee should be to determine how web analytics metrics should be calculated in order to achieve the highest degree of precision possible.


Most internet standards come from the IETF or from W3C. In broad terms, IETF handles the hardware-related stuff, such as TCP/IP and HTTP, while W3C handles the “soft” stuff such as HTML and XML. Where possible, both provide their definitions in a special format called Extended Backus-Naur Format, or EBNF. EBNF is also used to define the syntax and operation of programming languages.

He gives a good example how to use EBNF syntax to describe the vowels in the alphabet;

Vowel := A | a | E | e | I | i | O | o | U | u

My thoughts around this focus on these 2 things. Firstly I agree that we need to get more precision in the technical definition of the ‘big three’ and the WAA should ask vendors to follow the standards set. Secondly if people like Dainow are prepared to offer their expertise instead of simply slagging off work done by good people with very little time on their hands then they should be given the opportunity to develop more precise terms.

If we adopt an approach similar to that of the W3C or IETF then some things would have to happen.

As we know volunteers are currently running the WAA and have come to the current document via a consensus of leading consultants and vendors in the field. If someone was willing to define the ‘big three’ counts into technically precise terms then I would applaud the commitment.

I would argue that the current representation of the standards is open to public scrutiny as is clearly stated on the WAA website and is by no means “the finished article”.

My proposal would be that a parallel document or calculation be drawn up by Brandt, anyone from WAA standards that wanted to help or indeed any other volunteer which defines the critical core metrics, defining in precise technical terms what a visitor, visit and a page view (or event) actually is in EBNF format.

We could then use the standards document “as is” because speaking in such technical terms is not going to help the majority of people understand Analytics. A visit hardly needs to be defined to most humans in such a technical manner, but in machine code we do need a precise definition in order for the software to adopt the standards.

The core of the standards are those three major counts but there is nothing to stop anyone going into much further depth.

I don’t see why we can’t come to a consensus eventually. The industry is after all still very young.

My message to people like Brandt would be; If you think the standards fail us, my challenge to you is to not simply waffle about it (to paraphrase your insulting mutterings) but actually fix it. Eric Peterson and Joseph Carrabis gave us an in depth calculation and spent a lot of time in an attempt to define what “engagement” was. I applaud those efforts freely given back to the community at large. I also applaud people like the standards committee of the WAA who gave us this discussion by producing the current standards and defintions.

They have set the standard, it’s up to us to improve them.

I should end by saying that I have the utmost respect for the Standards committee and all the people involved. My respect with regard Brandt Dainow is limited only to his comments I have re-produced in this post. Other than that I don’t like his style. He is a ‘keyboard warrior’ someone who writes a lot of rhetoric and hype in order to get his posts noticed and often very confrontational probably for the same reason.

I would venture that in real life he is a pussycat! :)

Steve is a well known analytics specialist, author and speaker. A pioneer since 2002, he established one of the first European web analytics consultancies (Aboavista), later acquired by Satama (now Trainers’ House) in 2006. In 2008 he wrote his first book Cult Of Analytics published on May 14th 2009. He currently serves as CEO at Quru and has presented and keynoted web analytics topics across Europe. These include The Internet Marketing Conference (Stockholm), The Search Engine strategies (Stockholm), IIH (Copenhagen), the IAB Finland (Helsinki), Media Plaza (Amsterdam), Design For Conversion (Amsterdam) The eMetrics Summit (London, Munich, Stockholm), Divia (Helsinki) in addition to sitting on dozens of panels.

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5 comments on “Web Analytics Association Standards Document
  1. Actually I was on the WAA standards committee. I was the one who did all the work getting liason relationships in place with JICWEBS. The arrangements I negotiated were approved by WAA then ignored. I also wrote definitions for several standards, including visit and session, which were precise, and – though approved by the committee – dumped without formal process and replaced with something looser. Since I could not get anyone on the committee to see anything wrong with either situation, let alone deal with it, I left. I did not place this information in my article because I did not want to bitch. However, since I am accused here of doing nothing, just criticising, I feel I must defend myself. I tried to get tighter standards in WAA and failed. I even designed a rigorous international approval process as part of the planning of WAA before it was formed, but that too was ignored. If I had my way WAA standards would be modelled on IETF and W3C, but the senior figures in WAA don’t seem to agree.

  2. @Brandt; I find it laughable (I mean I actually laughed with disbelief when I read your comment) when you state ‘you didn’t want to bitch’. Clearly the tone of your article was highly insulting to the folks involved in writing the current standard.

    That said if you have written standards yourself it may be that the community can use them. I would urge that you produce them. Your recent article has at least raised an issue of importance.

    If they are made publicly available and as open to criticism as any other document (such as the current standards are) then no-one can argue with your stance.

    If you read carefully I actually never accused you of doing nothing. I challenged you to fix the situation which you have yet to do. I accused you of being a keyboard warrior which I defined as someone who writes rhetoric in a confrontational manner simply to be noticed. I have no intention of withdrawing that statement until you prove otherwise.

  3. angie says:

    Brandt, it seems you and I have different recollections of the way the committee works. A relationship or liaison with another organization does not mean that the WAA must adopt their standards as is, especially if they are not appropriate for a large number of the people we represent. A relationship with JICWEBS was never formalized that committed us to anything of the sort. The way the committee understood it was that it was a “We’ll try to keep each other informed of what we’re doing” arrangement. We did indeed consider JICWEBS definitions when creating ours, along with those of the IAB and any other sources we could find.

    I find the accusation “dumped without formal process” to be incredible. There’s not a single definition in the document that didn’t incur exhaustive discussion and review by the whole committee, and final approval for any definition took place over two meetings so anyone who missed the preliminary approval meeting still had a chance to speak up. The lively discussions (and occasional arguments) over the terms is one of the reasons that the document took so long to create, and it’s one of the reasons that I’m proud of the outcome. We have read your recent criticisms and they will also go into the pot for our future discussions. After all, we did ask for feedback and we are obligated to consider the bad as well as the good.

    On a committee, everyone gets to share their opinion, but not everyone will get their way (including me). It’s an amazingly democratic process, and we have members with a wide range of experience. Not everyone buys/sells advertising, so specifications aimed at the advertising world simply aren’t relevant to everyone. We would never suggest that an analyst or tool should not comply to JICWEBS or IAB specs if they are relevant to their business, but our audience for WAA Standards is the web analytics practitioner, not the ad buyer or seller. It amazes me that so many people can’t see the distinction. There is overlap, yes, but the focus of the web analytics practitioner is to understand visitor behavior on a website, to improve both the visitor experience and the goals of the business. And we purposely wrote the definitions in such a way that the average marketing professional can understand them.

    Steve, the industry is very young indeed, and the Standards Committee is working towards more this-is-how-it’s done specs (that’ll be in v3 of the doc, not the final release of the 9/22 one). There are going to be diminishing returns on precision, and we need to find out where is the turning point. However “precise” we calculate a metric, it still isn’t “accurate” because of cookie-deletion and other issues. Granted, we do want to eliminate as much of the tool-to-tool calculation differences as possible so we don’t add insult to injury. But we need to balance changing the old metrics, with getting ahead of the curve with some of the newer metrics, as we are attempting to do with our Social Media Subcommittee.


  4. @Angie;

    Thanks for the detailed response.
    I do feel it’s possible to get closer to an accurate count of UV’s but that is a whole different story.

    What I mean is as you point out the tool-to-tool differences and I think this was what Brandt was also alluding to in his somewhat blunt way.

    By creating a roadmap for the tools to develop towards the WAA sets the agenda. By giving the tools precise definitions to work towards the tool differences come closer together.

    By designing something like this an opportunity exists to become an auditing body which could also bring in revenue for the WAA.

  5. Thanks for this information. It is great to learn about that document in here.

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