Sunday 16 March 2008

phpMyVisites: A Short Review

-Akshay Ranganath


Lately, we've been conducting a lot of tools evaluation for a new client. One of the things that we were looking was to see if any Web Analytics tool could help us in readily getting the reports for our client. Here's a short synopsis of our reporting needs and a mapping to phpMyVisites.

Reporting needs of client

Our client wanted to gather some information on the usage pattern for their intranet site. They wanted to know roughly how many people were accessing the site and the machine configuration of the users. In summary, the main needs were:

  • What are the most heavily accessed pages?
  • What is the total no of people who visit the site?
  • What is the Browser, OS and Flash version on the machines from which the users
    are accessing?
  • Trigger emails of the reports at set periods
  • Make the reports available to be displayed elsewhere

Constraints

The main constraint we had was: No data for reporting should go out of the client network. The information being gathered was on an intranet and hence, client wanted nothing to be sent to external vendors. This ruled out the primary vendors like Google Analytics, Omniture.

The second constraint was on cost. Since the reports needed were quick and dirty, there was no outlay to spend too much (or nothing) on the tool to be used.

The third constraint was the ability to tag. Since most of the products being used within their intranet was PHP / Java based, they were confident that a small change to footer or header of all pages was no issue.

Our Solution

Based on the issue, we suggested phpMyVisites. This is a small and nifty tool that provides various statistics. The main features are:

  • Tagging based solution. So, no need to rely on Log files.
  • Page view and Visit statistics. This would provide information on the load and
    the quality of visitors.
  • Top entry and exit pages
  • New v/s returning visitors
  • RSS feed for the reports
  • PDF exporting capability
  • Emailing ability for the reports.
  • "Heat Maps" - a new feature that showed the places on the screen where most users were clicking.

Implementation steps

The solution is very easy to install and implement. It needs PHP, Apache and MySQL. After that, just unzip, create a database, invoke the extracted package as a Web Application - and just follow the screen. The setup takes about 10-20 minutes. Reports can be generated in under 30 minutes. For our test, we did the following:

  • Installing the tool on a Red Hat EL4 server
  • Setting up tracking on PhpMyAdmin tool
  • Tracking the blog software, Pebble

Pain points

The main pain area is its need for graphics library. For the graphical reporting to work, this tool needs PHP-GD2 libraries. As per documentation of PHP, this is bundled with PHP4.3 onwards. Despite having this version, we could not find the module.

Repeated install failed and the debugging has takes us more than a day. While trying to get it working within the constraints of company's intranet, getting any updates or dependencies resolved is time consuming. Hence, it would be better to try the install at home environment and then work in office.

Conclusion

The tool is a nifty piece of reporting that start telling you about your visitors and their browser information in under an hour. Just make sure that this is what the client wants. It is basic in its reporting as well as graphics capability. No Ajax and no Google Analytics like fancy reports and charts. But, for a reporting need, it gets the job done - and fast.

Project status

Currently, we have proposed the tool but, waiting to see if the client accepts the same. If it were purely upto me, I'd have this tool as a starting point on analytics but, switch to something more powerful in due course of time.

References