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!