When Nico Miceli decided he wanted to help his aunt record her baby’s first years, pulling out a video camera seemed a little old-fashioned. Instead the open-source software enthusiast added a motion sensor to the baby’s crib, attached it to a miniature computer and tracked the child’s movements using Google’s website monitoring software.
“I like measuring things like that. Especially around a time when mums want to scrapbook everything,” Miceli, who works in Philadelphia, US for Web Analytics Demystified, says.
Miceli’s experiment was one of the earliest non-commercial uses of Google Analytics in sampling offline data. Two years ago Google released an updated version called Universal Analytics that could track information offline as well as online.
Enterprise companies have been rushing towards Big Data – cross-analysis of buckets of information from different sources – to spot patterns that can predict the path to bigger profits. Google is pushing Google Analytics as a multi-purpose vacuum cleaner that can hoover up data from anywhere and turn it into a graph.
Now Google’s popular tool for measuring website traffic has broken free from the internet and is coming to an office or home near you.
Miceli didn’t stop with the crib. He attached sensors to light switches and reed switches to doors so he could see which rooms in his house were used the most. He used a thermometer to measure the impact opening a door had on room temperature.
Data geeks are pushing the envelope in other ways. Data analytics specialist Loves Data connected a kitchen appliance and their business applications to see whether staff were more productive if they drank coffee rather than tea. (The coffee won, but not by much.)
The wacky experiments pave the way to real-world applications, says Benjamin Mangold, director of digital and analytics at Loves Data. “If you’re doing advertising in Twitter or LinkedIn you can upload your spend and compare your performance against different channels,” he says.
Offline ideas include comparing online registrations to an event with the final list of attendees. “You might find that AdWords is great at getting people to register but not at getting people in the door,” Mangold says. A business could tweak its marketing budget accordingly.
Retailers are typically power users of Google Analytics because it can reveal trends in online shopping by tracking cookies. Some have taken the cookies offline by connecting to in-store counters – infrared beams that count the number of people walking in and out of a store – to measure the effectiveness of an online marketing campaign or website.
“Google is going in a really interesting direction,” says Christian Bartens, director of “360 data agency” Datalicious. “Originally the idea was to open up Google Analytics to other marketing applications and to update the offline performance of the business.
“There is literally no limit to what you can do. I think we’re just scratching the surface. In one or two years you’ll see all these other applications popping up.”
The open protocol which collects the data has proven to be far more versatile. Retailers have used free wifi services to triangulate the movements of shoppers in department stores and shopping centres. The accumulated data is then displayed as a heatmap over the floorplan, Bartens says.
However, the program has its limitations. It is best suited to measuring data from e-commerce applications. “As soon as you get into other examples it becomes more fiddly and the outcome might not be as predictable,” Bartens adds.
Australia has one of the most active communities of Google Analytics users, Mangold says. Loves Data organised the Australian annual user conference in Sydney yesterday. Renowned Google Analytics evangelists Avinash Kaushik and Justin Cutroni flew in to deliver keynotes, accompanied by a contingent of Analytics engineers from Google’s Mountainview headquarters.
Miceli, like his peers, took Google’s claim that Google Analytics could track anything as a challenge. “I thought of the most outlandish thing and if I could do that then any client case would be easy,” he says.
Image credit: Nicomiceli.com