The following is a post I wrote for my UserMetrix project (a tool for software developers):

Many websites that sell something (staplers, Japanese toilets or whatever) use web analytics to track conversions. They do this by recording the total number of visitors to a website, then measuring the percentage of those visitors who make a purchase from the site. For example, Mr Iyashi’s website selling Japanese toilets generates a huge amount of traffic, but it’s mostly visitors who are looking around out of curiosity. Out of these visitors, only a few go on to actually purchase a Japanese toilet from Mr Iyashi’s site. His conversion rate is very low.

Most analytics packages allow you to define goals, which are used to mark specific pages as places you want people to ultimately end up. For websites that sell something, typical goals are pages that appear after a successful purchase; ones that read something like “Thanks for purchasing!”. These goals are then used to create funnels, which describe the successful pathway customers take to make a purchase. For example:

  • 100 visitors arrive on the home page.
  • 50 of those visitors click on the product page
  • 5 of those visitors click on the super-happy-luck-flush toilet with wireless control.
  • 1 of those visitors purchases the toilet. This data can be then used to improve the website to convert more of the original 100 visitors into paying customers.

Goals for open-source communities:

So what do online Japanese toilet stores have to do with websites for open- source communities? Open-source websites typically don’t involve financial transactions (although more and more seek donations), however open-source websites are still selling an idea or concept, for example:

“Mozilla – We’re building a better Internet and we’re dedicated to keeping it free, open and accessible to all” 1

Mozilla are selling an idea or movement centred on the idea of an open Internet. They want you to join their community, because you share the same philosophy. So what are the different ways you can join an open-source community?

  • Download the software.
  • Use the software.
  • Log a bug.
  • Write some documentation.
  • Write some code and submit a patch.
  • Make a donation.

Many of these different actions are remarkably similar to what our Japanese toilet vendor would identify as goals for his online store. So for open-source communities, it is really easy to set the “edit” page of a wiki to be a web analytics goal, and capture the number of website visitors that convert to writing documentation. Another obvious web analytics goal would be the bug logging page - comparing how many people are (unsuccessfully) attempting to log bugs versus how many are actually successfully doing so.

Open-source communities can also use application analytics to start measuring more complex things, such as how many people use your software, and how they use it. This process will teach you about the barriers people face when joining your open-source community, and give you lots of information on how to build a better open-source project.