Saturday, December 19, 2009

My take: Web Analytics Without Borders - learn, collaborate, help

"I'm not sure how I landed here". This was a way of saying that growing in the online analytics industry is often like a long path with several crossroads that could have lead somewhere else, high mountains and challenges to tackle, a sense of accomplishment, but also a down to earth knowledge the road ahead is full of surprised and opportunities to learn. On this path I met several new friends and mentors who were kind enough to help me and point the right direction. I also did my share of mistakes, had bad experiences, stupid managers and occasionally met self-proclaimed prophets. The path is different for everyone, but the story is probably similar.

I was a volunteer medical first-responder for nearly three years. During the day I was the techie, the geek, the web architect. At nights and weekends I was volunteering to help others in what is by far the most important: life. Sometimes I was the helpless witness to tragedy, pain, suffering, cries and death. I comfort myself in thinking I made the smallest of a positive difference.

We all have careers, we all are very busy, and we all have our own objectives. There is nothing wrong in trying to grow our career and work hard to make a good living. It's even better if we can become better persons along the way.

This, in essence, are the reasons of my involvement in the Web Analytics Association - Save The Children "Web Analytics Without Borders" project: to genuinely and sincerely help.

How it got started

In July I got an email from Adam Laughlin, newly appointed web analyst at Save The Children, asking about  using WASP to check the quality of the Google Analytics and WebTrends implementation on I though providing a free license was a small way to help out. One thing leading to another, and I guess because of my role as a tutor of the UBC Award of Achievement in Web Analytics, Adam asked me about tips to define good online objectives and a strategy to increase outcomes for the children. I suggested he take a look at the concept of Web Analytics Maturity Model as part of a problem solving approach to help SaveTheChildren. We quickly got into a very interesting discussion about learning, sharing and helping. I recommended he came to eMetrics to have an opportunity to learn from thought leaders, particularly Alex Langshur, president of the WAA and PublicInsite, who has done a lot of work for non-profit organizations, as well as meet with fellow practitioners. He had no budget - we shared a room.

At about the same time, two involved members of the WAA, Daniel Waisberg and Kris Groulx were working on a similar idea. We quickly saw the opportunity to work together for the greater good of everyone: analysts, the WAA and NGOs.

Web Analytics Without Borders (WAWB)

We spent a lot of time defining the goals of WAWB, how it would work, how we would offer guidance and mentoring to help WAA members who wants to learn in a real, large-scale and representative environment. Over the years tutoring at UBC, following the analytics forum and getting personal emails I've continuously heard this kind of request. It's fairly easy to get volunteers, it's slightly harder to get dedicated volunteers, and a whole different thing to get organizations, even NGO, to "open up the kimono" and show the naked truth about their numbers. For that, I thank and salute the willingness of Save The Children to participate in this project.

We discussed the project at the WAA Board retreat in September. Sadly, we didn't have time to go through the final details and get Board approval to launch the project. We were getting ready to launch it officially in November, then December, then January... The WAA being open, some information about it was publicly available and I had already talked about it on my blog in September.

Next steps for WAWB

We are already accepting volunteering efforts from WAA members and in January we will roll-out the collaborative environment. Why WAA members only? Because we believe in the WAA mission: "lead and support the members by providing quality education, developing standards and best practices, conducting research and advocating for issues that advance the industry". In order to achieve this mission we rely on volunteers, people like Adam, Daniel, Kris, myself and so many others. Maybe even you!

The project is built along principles similar to crowd-sourced or open source software projects. There will be various ways of getting involved and contributions will be reviewed and commented through peer review and mentoring. As Adam stated, "Save the Children will share team goals, processes, scope, and objectives, allowing WAA members to become part of our team". Participating volunteers will have access to web analytics tools, but success isn't much a matter of tool, but much more a matter of structured efforts and change management.

Education is about gaining knowledge and competencies, such as mastering the concepts of statistics, marketing and technology in order to truly understand what web analytics is all about. This is the UBC program and other universities mission (for the French-speaking community, check out the new full-semester, MBA-level online anallytics course: "MRK-6005 Analytiques Web"). Training, on the other end, is more about acquiring specific skills, such as hands on learning of how to use Google Analytics. Generally, employers will look for trained people, while employees will seek education as a way to advance their career. The balance between the two is important to increase and sustain your value in the market.

And how does one prove its value in the market? That's the WAA Certification objective. It is a way for those who have achieved a certain level of experience and expertise to be recognized. Because there is still no unique path to become a proficient analyst, we need an independent, unbiased and credible way of evaluating our market value: the Web Analytics Association.

The WAWB doesn't replace education or training, it offers a playground and opportunity to help children in need grow up safe, educated and healthy, and better able to attain their rights.

If you want to get involved, become a WAA member and send an email to waa.membership[at]webanalyticsassociation[dot]org.