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May 13, 2008

NEWS: Mozilla Stealth Data Project Could Be Just What The Internet Needs

Ed: Accurate data is a huge problem. Reported UU data can be over-stated by 50% or more. A Firefox solution would be a biased sample. Google Analytics is at best a 50% solution. 

The problem is not technology. It's identifying the problem to solve when the Internet grows so fast and in so many directions.

Mozilla Stealth Data Project Could Be Just What The Internet Needs

One of the most frustrating tasks about my job is finding reliable traffic and other usage data about websites.

But today, Mozilla CEO John Lilly and VP Engineering Mike Schroepfer said they may fix that problem in the future, via the massive installed base of Firefox users.

The State of Analytics Today

There are three ways to measure web traffic.

The first is user-focused and based on software installed on user machines. Services like Alexaand Compete get users to install software on their computers and then track surfing habits to come up with best guesses on Internet-wide traffic. It works in theory, but getting enough users to get statistically relevant results has proven challenging. Alexa is famously flawed, and while Compete seems to be somewhat better, it only tracks U.S. users. Comscore is another user-focused metrics company that tends to work well for large sites, not well at all for newcomers (and it is very expensive to access their database).

second way to determine site useage is to track traffic directly from websites. Quantcastcombines user surveys with direct tracking on websites (when they can get it) to estimate traffic. Comscore also does this with certain sites.

The third way is to track surfing behaviors via records from ISPs. Hitwise uses this method to provide web analytics to clients.

None of these services are particularly accurate (as can be seen by the fact that they almost always disagree with eachother). The problem is simply gathering enough data from enough users to be able to draw a picture-perfect image of actual Internet usage. That’s why I’ve called for Google to offer users to make their Google Analytics data publicly available. Would many people do it? Just the ones that want us to trust the user numbers and page views they claim...

Firefox Update Expected This Month

Mozilla has wrapped its changes to RC1 of Firefox 3.0 and expects to release it in late May.

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