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Is there a future in analytics?

My experience using Paperclip

Peter Murphy
An image relevent to the title

At POST News, we've used a variety of user tracking solutions, including Statcounter, Google Analytics and now Paperclip. In short, I liked Statcounter but the interface was clunky and packed full of ads, and the separation for individual users was poor, meaning that one user was sometimes logged multiple times under different identifiers, even if they weren't using a VPN, which I observed with my own devices. Also, I experienced some downtime, and when accessing website files on my local system, I had to wait several seconds for Statcounter to start working, delaying the time it took for my website to load. Unfortunately, when I first switched to Google Analytics, my experience at first did not drastically improve as I would have expected it to when switching to the most popular analytics solution.

With an overwhelming design, albeit with lots of features that helped give me insight into my users' preferences, browsers and usage patterns, I found the interface hard to navigate. It looked nice, and after a while, I got used to the layout. However, when I signed up, I did not have a very significant user base and was not really worried big G mining my user's data, but as it has expanded, which I was aware of from graphs that only went upwards, I was also becoming more aware of Google's stranglehold on the internet, for example, their policy of putting exclusivity clauses in contracts for customers using their services, and I felt I didn't want to contribute to that. We still use Adsense, but that is because it is the best solution out there, in an empty market. Website analytics is a very oversaturated market, with lots of competing companies. However, Google is still dominant in this market, and it was hard to find other companies that offered a similar feature set while not selling my user's data, users that had put trust into my website to manage their privacy, and having specifically said in my introductory article that 'I have no intention of selling our user's data', I wasn't going to let another company get in the way of our core values. Then one of our journalists, Archie Baer, told me about a project called Paperclip that he was working on. Eventually, he persuaded me to switch to it, and I have never looked back.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing, though. When I first started using it, there were no graphs for usage, no indication of frequently used pages, I could not see client platforms and the styling on the Dashboard was abominable. However, what did impress me here was that every request I made, no matter which member of the team I talked to, was added to the site within a matter of hours. The commitment to customer service cannot be underestimated, and the politeness of the replies as well. I never had anyone ignoring me if I asked for something they thought was too difficult, nor did the staff appear annoyed when I forgot my token multiple times until I realised that it was probably a good idea to bookmark it. There was also a willingness to improve the feature set and the knowledge that the product was never going to be perfect. Rather than ignoring feedback, they appeared to relish my criticisms, something I have not seen with any company I've worked with before, and, to be honest, I found it quite amusing. On the product side, Paperclip is far from its final state, but I take this as a feature rather than a flaw, and as the feature set is still quite good in its current state, I find it hard to criticize the team's current approach of shove an in-progress product on the market and then add features based on feedback.

When I first signed up for it, the project was invite only, so I didn't have to go through the setup process. Now you have to download an HTML file and upload it to your site in a directory named .well-known and visit it. The process is automatic from there. You click on the link to your dashboard (make sure to bookmark it, or you'll have to contact support to get it again), and you're off to the races. You don't even need to provide your email address. Once you're in your dashboard, you can view your 50 most recent requests, and gain information about the individual users, such as their operating system and browser. You can't get your clients' IP address, because of obvious privacy concerns, nor their location, although Paperclip claims they're working on that. You can also see a neat graph, containing page views, individual users and mobile users, which gives an indication of how well your website is optimised for mobile and also whether there is a need to optimise it. You can also see your most visited pages at the bottom of your dashboard, however, there was one small problem for me: my site uses query data to tell the article page and week page which data to load, which Paperclip doesn't include in my dashboard, meaning that I can't tell what my viewers are looking at. For example, this page is https://postnews.net/article.php?article=8_paperclip but I see it in my dashboard as https://postnews.net/article.php. However, I am planning on implementing a workaround revolving around misusing the src feature of the product, which intended to be used to allow you to keep tabs on things like social media and advertising campaigns, and use it instead for the name of the week or article. That would fix the problem.

The look and feel of the dashboard have also improved dramatically since I started using it, thanks in part to the introduction of a little bit of colour, rather than a pure white design. Also, usability on mobile has also improved, although there still isn't an app for it yet, with scaling now functioning, making it is easier to keep tabs on your visitors on the go. Furthermore, there has been very little downtime, with it being more reliable than Statcounter, which would experience regular outages. The amount of information you can collect about your clients is still significantly less than Google's Analytics, however, I find that sometimes less is more in an industry where so many companies have betrayed their user's trust. That's why I've switched to Paperclip. Above all, they are honest about the data they collect and truly an ethical solution to the problem of data mining.

In short, Paperclip isn't perfect but it's rapidly evolving in an industry where standards on data protection and harvesting seem to be slipping down an endless slope. There are some clear problems, but most of the issued I flagged have been fixed, with new features coming daily. If you forget Google and its long-forgotten 'don't be evil' motto, the future is bright for website analytics.

If you’re interested in Paperclip, you can sign up for free at https://paperclip.live. Do tell me what your experience was like.

Edit: I have now modified my website so article pages work with Paperclip by using the path rather than the query to identify articles. Also, Paperclip has finally added mobile viewership to statistics.

Thanks for reading,

PM
CEO