Google Analytics was announced today, and it’s a big step forward for webmasters and web metrics.
Urchin, which Google bought earlier this year and used as a foundation for Analytics, was a nice product. A little expensive, but the reports were definitely a step ahead of the competition. The installation was hideous, though, since the application was web-based and the installation on OS X came with an entire Apache server. But because it was web-based, it was an obvious choice for Google to use as a basis for a hosted service.
Traditionally, your web reporting software needs access to your web server access logs. In the case of webalizer and analog, they are command line programs that are run on a schedule on the server where your web logs are stored. Urchin ran as a daemon process, and was either able to process local logs, or to fetch logs via FTP or HTTP from a remote server, all on a schedule that you configured through the administrative interface. This made Urchin a little more flexible, but in practice the log transfers were not very reliable, and it was difficult to recover from failures.
Of course, who but Google has a distributed network of web servers capable of counting, in realtime, all the traffic on the web? No one, and that’s why they did it. That and it’s a great tie-in to their Adwords program, helping web sites generate even more ad sales for Google.