Thursday, January 17, 2008

WASP usage tracking: full disclosure & ethics

I'm generally receiving very positive feedback about WASP and I take great pride in reading and replying to every mail I get about it. Since WASP is and will remain a constantly evolving tool for an ever changing industry, I'm also listening to "the voice of the customer" in order to decide what to do next. This morning I received something that I want to make public and comment about:
I have just noticed when debugging a client’s website that your WASP utility is tracking every request that we are making to all the sites that we visit whilst this utility is installed in our web browser.

Sorry, but I think that this is too invasive and as such I am uninstalling the utility.

Is this commonly known? If not I encourage you to make it known as I am sure others will be as uncomfortable with this as I am.

The facts:

What can you do?

  • Turn off this option
  • Enable WASP only when you want to check a site. WASP can be turned on/off by doing right-click/disable on the status bar icon. In this case, I don’t get any info... but see below why it's important.
  • Uninstall WASP... sadly :(

What can I do?

  • Maybe change this feature to be opt-in instead of opt-out.

What I already did:

  • In the latest version currently available (v0.30) I have tweaked this behavior so I only get 1 data point per host/tool found (having it for each page was a bug in v0.29!).
  • In v0.31 actually under development I have tweaked it further to receive less data and filter out what looks to be an internal domain name or IP address.

Why it's like that?

The collected data allows me to improve WASP: knowing which tools and where they are used helps me identify bugs and required features. For example, the next version will include more features specifically targeted toward Google and Omniture. Another side effect of the data collected through WASP is the ability to provide market research information such as the vendor market share I have started to publish.

The ROI

We're into web analytics and we know how important it is to measure, and especially measure ROI.

For the user, WASP ROI is easy: it's free, it saves valuable analyst/implementation time that can be several hundred dollars an hour, and it provides valuable information on the spot as well as market information available nowhere else.

Honestly, I have spent countless hours working on this tool and it’s based on voluntary donations. The economic model simply doesn’t work: less than 250$ donations after over 30,000 downloads, 200,000 data points collected daily, accounting for 15,000 web sites analyzed on a daily basis! One of my alternative is to provide market reports and sell them so WASP remains free. I’m also seeking other alternatives, such as corporate sponsorship from the web analytics vendors. Just to be clear, I want to continue to offer a free tool to the web analytics community, but even if I don’t get rich doing it, it has to do economic sense for me.


I know there’s a fine line between privacy and justified data analysis and being in the web analytics field, I want to make sure that I’m not crossing that line. Finally, WASP is still in beta, and feedback is very important! I carefully consider every comment I get.

I hope you will use or continue to use WASP and don’t hesitate to provide feedback and comments.
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