This week, I had a coffee with Emer Kiranne at Yahoo Web Analytics. Five years ago, I was the marketing director at IndexTools, before it was purchased by Yahoo. Emer and I never worked together, but we know the same people and share the history.
Few people in Budapest know that Yahoo Inc [YHOO] operates a small technical division in a warehouse in the ass end of the fourth district, an area I not so affectionally refer to as Cabbage Town (Kápostásmegyer).
Most of the original IndexTools developers still work for Yahoo, but the sales and marketing staff were let go, shortly after the acquisition in April 2008. CEO Marton Szoke, now a certified gazillionaire, still works with his old IT team, presumably with golden handcuffs securing him to his desk. Emer works directly for Yahoo, as an analytics account manager.
One thing I wanted to know is why it’s so difficult to get a YWA account. I had assumed the service is still in beta, while Yahoo continues to upgrade the server infrastructure. Apparently that happened fairly quickly. As Emer explained to me, the actual reason is the YWA business model. She also described some of the changes to the Indextools product, as well as the scrappy little startup I once knew.
Let me start by telling you why YWA isn’t open to the general public, and how to get an account.
Yahoo offers its analytics service as a free add-on to Yahoo Search Marketing, as well as to selected tiers of Yahoo Merchant Solutions customers. The company decided to prioritize these customers over individual users, to ensure a high level of user support. Yahoo also needs to conserve its server resources in order to enhance the performance of its reporting interface. In contrast to Google, YWA offers (nearly) real-time data reporting, which is a much more resource intensive service to operate.
For those interested, here’s the Yahoo help page describing how you can get a Yahoo Web Analytics account.
Yahoo’s analytic offering inevitably draws comparisons to Google Analytics. The most striking difference, from a casual user perspective, is real-time reporting. While GA takes up to 24 hours to update, YWA displays the latest traffic data, usually within 10-15 minutes. This feature greatly eases the process of troubleshooting an installation, optimizing ad campaigns and so on. Who wants to wait 24 hours?
The other big difference, with YWA, is drill-down reporting. Nearly every report allows you to click through the data to another level of detail. I find this navigation metaphor much more intuitive than GA. However, I also admit I am biased. YWA offers an extensive list of advanced analytics features, which I won’t get into here. Rather than comparing YWA to GA, the more appropriate comparison is with the market leader, Omniture.
Unfortunately, when it comes to user interface, Google is still streets ahead. During the IndexTools period, user interface always took a back seat to feature development (a strategy later justified by the acquisition). Yahoo intends to address the user interface, but the company’s first priority has been developing the back end. As part of joining Yahoo, the Indextools product needed extensive upgrades to meet Yahoo’s standards for security and reliability. That work, invisible to the casual user, is now complete.
Joining Yahoo has brought one additional benefit to the old Indextools feature set. YWA now uses the Yahoo cookie to extract much more granular demographic data from user traffic, including gender, age and interest. Before anybody screams ‘privacy!’ I should point out this data is only presented in an aggregated form. Individual user data and identity are not revealed.
While most of the original Indextools developers I knew still work at YWA, the company is no longer a scrappy little startup. Joining Yahoo has brought the team and its product under intense public scrutiny. When I first started at Indextools, from time to time the developers would casually reboot the entire system, resulting in a flood of support tickets, email and phone calls. Under Yahoo, the developers have to follow strict procedures.
Security and reliability are a top priority, which required extensive technical upgrades to meet Yahoo standards. Privacy is no joke, either.
One upside is the team now has the resources of a multinational technology company, with server infrastructure ringing the globe. The team no longer face the ‘succeed or die’ pressures of a startup. This is a different kind of pressure, more formalized and structured. It sounds more like … a regular job.