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Monday, May 20, 2013

Analytics - Measuring data relating to user information - Part 1

For any desktop product, capturing data relating to the computer systems of their user base is very important. For those who are not conversant with the idea of analytics or the necessity of capturing such information, it would make sense to ensure that analytics forms a part of their overall product strategy; but before that, it is necessary for them to understand what is analytics and why it should play a role in the overall strategy of a product team.
As always, I will try to use layman terms in this post rather than use technical jargon. So, analytics is very simple - it means capturing information about their consumers (for example, this could mean that you capture information about the number of times the customer has launched the application, you can capture information about the processors of the customer machine, the Operating system version, whether they are using Windows or Mac, and so on). Of course, there are privacy laws that are in place, and you need to ensure that you are not capturing information that allows your customers to be identified (for example, if you are capturing information about the folder in which the user is storing data, this may in turn be storing information in a folder that captures the user name; further, most advocates of privacy laws would be very hesitant about capturing the serial number of the user).
Capturing of such information is possible through the use of code and functionality, which captures events during the user interaction with the software application (such as the number of times that the user has launched a dialog window, the times that the user keeps a particular functionality open, the user workflow during the process flow, and so on). One prime use that I have seen is about capturing the number of times a dialog shut down improperly (crashed) and the same for the number of time the software application crashed as well.
Once the designers of the application decide on the information that needs to be captured, code has to be written for passing the same information through the internet to a tracking mechanism on the website of the software maker. Now, it needs to be kept in mind that this information is sent to a database to the proper tables, and further, keep in mind that such information can be very voluminous. This may be a few KB's of information for every user, but when you start dealing with thousands of users, or even millions of customers (such as for large application such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader), the amount of data can be huge and the database needs to be ready to handle such data.
In addition to the design of the database of capturing the information, the next step needs to be related to processing of this captured information. So, even though you have captured a large amount of data, there needs to be effort put in for analysing such data. The ideal set of people for analyzing such data is typically the people working on relevant features. So, suppose the data analysis for a particular feature needs to happen, the analysis should be done by the same team that is working on the feature, since the team has the expertise to figure out what the information is, and also what to do with the data.

Read more about this in the next post - Measuring data related to user information -  Part 2

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