"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meaningful Stats?

Dylan Jay recently asked on the Plone Evangelism msg board, "Are there any stats about Plone's success that are really meaningful?" My first thought was to reply over there. But since the question is truly existential from a statistician's point of view as well as being of general interest, I thought I'd post a reply out in the wider blogosphere.

Dylan had also queried in his post by wondering if there's a way of determining amalgamated Plone revenue? His reasoning went that as a community, are there numbers that can compare apples with apples when looking across open-source and commercial products?

The difficulty here is that any single measure we pick will be integrating across multiple dimensions: large customer companies vs small, community sites vs web publishing, dot com's vs dot org's, and so on. In this blog I've explored (and continue to explore) various surrogates for the health of Plone and related CMS's.

Whether its PageRank at Amazon, BuiltWith percentages, Google trends, security vulnerabilities, Plone.net sites, Technorati posts, CMS Matrix features, or other statistical tidbit, these all fall short. Which is why I've always advocated a requirements-based decision process for determining if Plone is right for a particular situation. But that doesn't stop me from questing for the Holy Grail of web statistics--a simple way to measure effectiveness.

I'm still of the opinion that an aggregated set of metrics will be useful in this regard. See for example, one of my earliest posts where I was trying to fill in the gaps in a table where widespread adoption of Plone was based on acceptance and visibility. One of the attributes of acceptance was the economic health of 3rd party companies, something we still don't have a solid handle on (sorry Dylan).

Meanwhile, there are new "sentiment analysis" tools coming out as per this morning's NY Times. Of the free services, things look pretty rough. For example, Twitrratr lists as a negative post this tweat from our very Plone-positive friends in Pennsylvania, "xml is the wrong language for confi..." This confuses a post's source (planet Plone) with the keyword "wrong" and misses the subject of the negative feelings, "XML." The algorithms still need work, but here in the interest of fairness is a rundown.

Clearly Twitrratr is displaying more precision than their algorithm merits and Tweetfeel (with n = 2) is missing most of the traffic of interest. Twendz does give a few details on how they are dynamically processing up to the latest 70 tweets. I'll keep an eye on these and related products to see how the technology is maturing and how it can help the Plone community improve itself.

Finally, in closing today I thought I'd finish up not with more statistics, but with a couple anecdotal items recently seen on Twitter:
Collaboration via Sharepoint is like kissing a warthog in August.
Trying to create a good site with MS SharePoint... cumbersome... I rather prefer Plone! #microsoft #plone.
Anecdotal evidence by definition isn't statistically significant and can be easily dismissed by those who need numbers to back up their decisions, but it occurs to me that I should be cataloging these sorts of statements. In time, I suspect we'll have quite a corpus because Plone does good stuff.

Next week: The diffusion of innovation and why people often standardize on sub-optimal solutions. Black swans, path dependence, network externalities, and the lack of information on the relative merits of systems.

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