Measuring Web Activity with. . .Photoshop?


deal.jpgADOTAS — Don’t get me wrong—I love Photoshop. I’ve used it for many years with great satisfaction. I also love Omniture’s suite of web analytics products. I’ve used them for years (almost entirely on behalf of customers) with great satisfaction.

But now look what’s happened. Adobe bought Omniture. And though I know it’s a silly image—or perhaps because it’s a silly image—the first thing that came to mind was: “Oh!—we’ll be using Photoshop’s Alpha Channels to separate User Groups!”. It seemed like it might be great fun. But there is something much more serious going on, and more fundamental to the overall breadth, depth and focus of the always-fluctuating web analytics industry.

Why Omniture — why now?

First, let me say that, except perhaps for analysts who study this carefully, Omniture did not seem like the most obvious candidate for getting bought—though its public-company status and easy valuation certainly made it a more fluid option than some others I might mention. Did they expand too quickly? Did they run out of new stuff they could add to the product? Are there simply no more new fishing grounds for web analytics vendors? Did it seem a natural choice to gang up with a provider of digital content tools? I do not know, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t some of all of the above driving the transaction.

Second, let me say I am hopeful, but not convinced, that this is going to be a great thing for Omniture customers (don’t even ask what it means for legacy WebSideStory customers—my mind cannot penetrate alternate dimensions as well as I would like). You tend to worry about what happens to tools that get bought by companies that already have plenty of them, and where the tool getting bought is not likely to be at the absolute core of the purchasing company’s mission.

Of course, there have already been issued the usual bromides about uninterrupted excellence and even augmented value due to the sale. And who am I to suggest the bromides might not be right? Omniture SiteCatalyst is a very strong, capable tool. It has a large user base and a large consultant base. It isn’t going the way of the Great Auk anytime soon. But will it continue to evolve at breakneck speed much as it had? Will service receive the same focus it had? I feel like the question marks are crowding out the rest of my thoughts at this point.

Culture Clash: Brigham Young meets Jerry Garcia?

So, why Adobe? What’d they see in it? Adobe is huge in ad agencies and publishers—Flash, Photoshop, CreativeSuite, Acrobat and so on—making for a very creative, marketing-oriented user base. Omniture, of the major Web Analytics vendors, probably had the most penetration into the agency space as well. Many agencies will probably be loving this idea on some level. But under the hood, it may be a little bit of a tight fit. You’re cramming a measurement tool—no creative!—down into the same engine compartment that currently houses the most freewheeling (yet intricately connected) software gadgets in general use. It’s a little bit like gluing a slide rule onto the chrome-fitted, wheelie-producing headers of a California hot rod.

Since we’re on the subject of California anyway, what about the actual cultural fit of these two companies? Adobe is about as “Bay-Area” as they come—jeans, The Public Option and Cooper Minis—and Omniture is (not that there is anything wrong with it) rather straitlaced by comparison due to its origins in Utah and the general culture thereat. And mind you, I’ve met plenty of Omniture folks and they’re really great, very straightforward people. Nevertheless—can you spell “Culture Clash”?

Also, does Omniture begin to lose any street-cred with the measurement crowd, now that it’s hanging around with the long-hairs who drive the front-end of the business—the message-makers, the artists, the guys who swore you could never get very far trying to measure their genius? Not sure, but perfect objectivity can probably no longer be claimed.

Waves Crashing, Creepers Creeping, Google Gobbling

What is the landscape in web analytics now? Many had thought Omniture the leader. It may yet prove to be. Left standing on its own is WebTrends, which begins to seem like some craggy rock on the Oregon Coast (their HQ is in Portland), surviving wave after crashing wave of storm and high water. They are still the only major vendor with a software offering. It also leaves CoreMetrics—which seems, to me at least, a rather shy, secretive analytical creature of some kind, though I am sure it’s technology is relatively sound.

Finally, the acquisition fails to put any scratches at all on the shimmering sheen of the “free”, “don’t-be-evil” Google Analytics, which now seems better poised than ever to gobble into the space like an old Pac Man icon on Energizer Bunny batteries. This is mainly because the industry—which now includes Adobe!—will continue to battle against a formidable marketing concept known to most of us as “free”. And my easy prediction is that the fight will not be fun for anyone at any of the other vendors.

One should not be surprised, given the economic climate, that you’d see consolidation in an industry like web analytics—heck, if they can marry off Chrysler to Fiat, anything can happen in any industry these days—but still, it took me aback somewhat to see what many thought the paragon of hard-hitting, ever-expanding, take-no-prisoners analytics companies now purchased and becoming part of somebody else’s toolkit.

Web Analytics: a Place on the Shelf with Other Great Marketing Tools? Or a Picture of Dorian Gray?

If anything, all of the above sort of humbles the industry a bit. Many will now note that the web analytics industry itself needs to acknowledge its rightful place on the marketing shelf with other marketers’ tools, and that, insofar as it is a valuable truth, is a good thing. It may even represent an advancement for industry visibility—after all, who doesn’t know and use some product from Adobe? The advantage to Omniture by being Adobe’s product may be only slightly more advantageous than the benefit accruing to other vendors because of reflected light shining into their general corner of the business world.

Others will say this consolidation is only the beginning of the end for an industry that failed to clarify its objectives or to prove to the best minds in marketing its stand-alone value; to perfect its measurement technology amidst the trackless jungle that the once-aptly-named “world-wide-web” has become; that it is the first clear sign that web analytics may be a withering branch on the evolutionary tree of marketing.

I don’t really think the latter is true—but some will say it’s so.

Me, I am hoping for some kind of Photoshop filter that in typically magical Photoshop fashion lets me see only the valuable visitors to a web page. Or maybe that really is what they are dreaming up out at Adobe. We may all be surprised at what California comes up with next.


  1. As a user of Omniture SiteCatalyst I am surprised but hopeful. I am willing to bet that Adobe is looking to become the only company to offer the full website solution package. It would be an offering that fills all the cracks; web design, content management, and metrics. If I am correct this would mean we are going to see them purchase a successful web content management company to go along with their new web analytics products. Adobe did not disappoint when they bought Macromedia and I do not expect them to drop the ball on this one either.

  2. Not sure whether to read this as an in-joke or what, but the answer is pretty obvious. Adobe makes, ta-dah, Flash. Heard of it? Right now there is no easy way to build in analytics into Flash sites and Flex/Air apps, and this would be the step to it. As the market continues to push for more data that Flash is unable to track at the moment, the more likely one of their premier tools (the reason for Macromedia buy) would be dropped by the wayside.


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