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Mar 04, 2005: RIA and Log Analysis

Interesting discussion at dinner last night with Jorge Arango and Livia Labate about RIA (rich internet applications) and the move away from the page model. One of them made an interesting point: if pages go away, we might lose our ability to measure user behavior by analyzing useful page-based data like search logs.

Damn. So just as web analytics are maturing, this happens?

Of course, the page model--and pages themselves--aren't going away soon. Amazon isn't going to suddenly abandon all those nice measurable pages that it lives and dies by, and redesign itself in Flash. But there are these interesting and, as Gene Smith calls them, disruptive trends that are shaking things up, including RIA, RSS and Atom, and now Ajax. So expect to see more and more content and functionality built outside the page model.

I wonder if RIA designers could sign an oath to build in kinds of "trip wire" mechanisms to help approximate and capture the types of events currently contained in logs? I'm guessing the answer is it's not technically possible, which makes me worry about the future of log analysis, a really useful tool that we've only scratched the surface of. Damn.

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Comment: Jed Wood (Mar 4, 2005)

nah, don't worry Lou. The tools with catch up. Sure, the entry/mid-level Flash designers aren't going to build in logging, but those in the know will. I've been playing around with very detailed user event capture for a few years now. You can get stuff that's difficult to grab from basic log files- things like mousing, time between events, etc.

There are even free tutorials to get Flashers started, like this one from the great Joey Lott: http://www.communitymx.com/abstract.cfm?cid=CBBDC

Comment: Livia (Mar 4, 2005)

The inability to track user behavior sure could be a turn off to creating RIAs. But I am confident the technology will catch up - there is a product I am looking at that does most of the job, WebSideStory's HitBox:

http://www.websidestory.com/services-solutions/hbp/overview.html

Tracking inside interfaces like Flash requires more tagging of the content, which can impact the development time and possibly RIA performance (not really if well done).

Gene, myself and other folks will be discussing this Sunday on a panel on RIAs, please come along and bring this up :)

http://iasummit.org/2005/conferencedescrip.htm#78

Comment: Paulo Eduardo Neves (Mar 4, 2005)

I agree that it is something we have to think before building our applications, but I'd like to remember that ajax still make use of http requests to get data from the server. These requests are registered in the server logs. An well thought application can even give you more info about the user interaction than we have today. Data that can be analyzed with good free tools like Pathalizer: http://pathalizer.sourceforge.net/

Comment: Lou (Mar 4, 2005)

Cool, I do feel a little better now. But Livia's got an important point: technically, we can mark up or otherwise chunk content, and measure those chunks' retrieval as we would today with pages. So search log analysis can still happen. But this all presumes that content will already be chunked. In cases where it's not already, will organizations be willing to invest in developing and applying XML DTD's or other schema to identify their content chunks?

It'd be nice if they would--would mean a lot of work for people in the industry--but I'm skeptical that this will happen any time soon.

Comment: Livia Labate (Mar 4, 2005)

Whether or not organizations will fail to support innovative interfaces because of tracking may be directly impacted by how these organizations view tracking altogether.

If tracking user behavior is not part of the overall process and/or if it is an aftertought, then you have big problems.

If it is is part of strategy, then it is perceived as necessary, even critical to business performance, and therefore, tracking behavior should be part of design; not something that comes before or after.

It is definitelly a topic worth exploring Lou, and our community really doesn't rely on factual data that much - but businesses do and that's the weak link between our practice and the business practice in my view.

Comment: Dave (Mar 5, 2005)

Lou,
there is a subtler point here. A good designer knows that measurement is a key to their long term success. All sorts of analytics need to be baked into any system, RIA, Software or otherwise.

I do also want to add though that, not everything on the Internet is about "content". Would I treat hotmail the same way as I would a marketing site? Are the same types analytics required? I can see the answer should be YES! But then I would say, we should also look at desktop software and also figure out how to retrieve these analytics as well. I mean how many people use "Journal" in Outlook? I bet MS would love to know? Or think of all the tools in MS Word, and let's not even get into the tool side of the Enterprise, eh?

Analytics is just something we need to become more focused on and we need to move beyond "web" or "content" based analytics and just think of usage in general.

Comment: dk (Mar 5, 2005)

Lou,

Great to see you actively posting here again!

I am actually in the process of designing a very robust RIA product for a client right now, and my understanding is that we will have usage metrics to rival a traditional page-based HTML site. So, the actual technology in this space may be farther along than is apparent.

Hope you are enjoying the IA Summit, wish I was there. :-)

Comment: Paula Thornton (Mar 7, 2005)

Re: Lou's chunking...if we simply manage it as data, we've got it licked. What do you think all the business analytics are about...or data mining? We simply need to apply our scenario (and added requirements) to an already existing effort...moving us back up the Information Architectural foodchain that we evolved from.

Comment: ML (Mar 7, 2005)

To add to Paula: also as you capture everything as "data" make sure you are good friends with the data modeler/techie folks so that they understand you when you make the requests...you want to capture the most meaningful not just "everything" that could be crud.

Comment: Dave (Mar 9, 2005)

Lou, I was talking with Chris Chandler from Disney about his RIAs for their resort ticketing system and they are doing tracking supposedly with some good success, but on the level of web-logs. I suggested to him and I will suggest now to the BLoug world that the real added power of RIAs is the ability not to track just clicks, but all types of mouse gestures and movements. There is a gold mind of data there about the mouse and keys. You just have to be listening for it. I bet you could do an entire behavior map as if you were video taping the screen capture if you like. It's like EVERY customer is doing a non-verbal usability test in the absolute context of their real use and not in the lab w/ a moderator which skews everything.

Comment: Olivier Travers (Mar 12, 2005)

Even if you move away from a page paradigm you're still going to have hyperlinks, hence a clickstream to track, which is more interesting than page views anyway.

Comment: Lou (Mar 12, 2005)

That may be true of server log analysis, but not necessarily for search log analysis.

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