I'm going to build a bit on what I wrote in From TheFutureOf (5 Jan 09): Omniture and Google Considered Environmentally.
I'm very curious to know where the whole concept of analytics is going to go given three factors; the current economy, the emerging Web X.0 technologies and the increasing requirement that any analytics be multichannel. One thing I didn't address in my response listed above was the concept of keystone species. A keystone species is critical to any ecological system because they directly affect both the outcome of the entire ecosystem and help shape that system. Without them everything collapses. They're not necessarily the foundation of an ecosystem, merely close to.
So what are the keystone species in the current analytics ecology? More importantly, is that species going to go away in the present economy? If so, will the ecology collapse or will something else come in to take its place? And if some other species takes the current keystone species' place, what will the resulting ecology and keystone species be like?
This line of questioning isn't arbitrary. I've been asked to co-author a whitepaper about NextStage's Evolution Technology (ET) because it “…is a technology powerful enough to fund a new industry and this is worth a WP that will still be relevant in years time. … the idea is to write a White Paper that will explore the possibilities of the technology and open the door to the future.” (these aren't my words, I'm quoting)
The request to co-author such a whitepaper is, to me, similar to Rene's “What if all we had was Omniture and Google Analytics?” It's really asking if ET could be a keystone species in an emerging ecology.
Interesting question, that. Biologic systems are inherently unstable – they have to be because instability creates conditions that determine what will survive. Biologic stabilities only occur in discrete “phase spaces” clustered around some “point attractors” or within some well-defined “limit cycle”.
<My thanks to Stephane Hamel for helping me to clarify the following)>
Web analytics' phase space is the domain of (whatever) in which what we call “wa” exists. An attractor is a goal or a determinant, something we believe web analytics is providing us (note that it might not be doing so, only that we believe it is. Misbeliefs are primary reasons business ecologies collapse. Anybody checked their stock portfolio recently?). Limit cycle is the lifetime of a system. Web analytics' limit cycle was defined and its demise (probably) unrecognizably foretold when the WAA decided to define some standards. The moment you point at something and call it “A” you can't point at something different and call it “A” as well. The most you can hope for is to make a comparison.
The challenge, of course, is that the definitions were based on a declining ecology. Technologies change the phase space hence the limit cycle comes to an end. Do I think the decline will happen tomorrow or the next day? Heavens no. It'll continue for a while, I'm sure. But this blog is about “the future of…”, after all.
Market ecologies and systems share those traits with the exception that market ecologies are usually artificially maintained.
And any systems ecologist knows that's a dangerous and potentially erroneous statement, that last, because the artificial maintainment becomes part of the ecological system, thus the current players and what they do to maintain their positions, market share, etc., are all part of the ecology hence calculable.
Right now I'm guessing Google Analytics is the keystone species in the current ecology (this is where I again emphasize that I know nothing about web analytics). If Google Analytics went away an incredible vacuum would be created. But the vacuum wouldn't simply be market share, it would also be market space.
The removal of Google Analytics means the range they filled also collapses. That would be followed by a biodiverstic explosion as everybody and their kin attempts to alleviate that vacuum and fill that range. This explosion also means evolution would go into overdrive, testing out new lifeforms, creating them and mutating existing lifeforms because the last successful lifeform ruined the ecosystem when it left. This means the entire ecosystem moves left (metaphorically speaking). The biodiverstic explosion literally causes the remaining lifeforms to shift their positions in the food-web, kind of like the fact that the Sahara was once a great lake. What survives is what best adapts.
Phase space, point attractor and limit cycle can be fairly well defined for the present analytics ecology. I've been very public in my thinking that web analytics (as I currently recognize it) is based on false attractors and that eventually these would become obvious. Someone far wiser than I wrote “…continuing to perceive the world through glasses that distort relations and priorities, actions are misguided, interpretations are obliged to maintain unwitting fictions, and emotions are inappropriately deployed. (Chickens obliged to wear prismatic lenses always peck to one side of the seed they are aiming for. When grain is plentiful, they nevertheless hit food often enough to survive, and may even, if I may be anthropomorphic, remain unaware that anything is wrong.)”
It's that last piece, “When grain is plentiful, …” that brought much of this together for me. The grain is no longer plentiful in the current ecology (the economy is shrinking). Further, the range (in a food-web sense) is shifting due to emerging Web X.0 technologies. Multichannel requirements take the place of changing phase spaces. The general taxa of Rene's original question and the comments to it demonstrate this, me thinks. What's left is the limit cycle and that's being defined by an increasingly attention-challenged culture.
Please take my following statement as intended, an encouragement to explore and traverse deeper; web analytics has always impressed me as only looking at what it can easily see. If there's something it wants that it can't easily see it creates something and puts it in the place of what it wants. The flurry over engagement was (to me) just such a time. I think it's wonderful that that word is being used and I'm happy for people in the analytics community who are charging for it and making money at it. I also recognize one could just as easily have called it “fred” or “tulip”, assigned the desired meaning to it and gone on ahead. I know “fred” and “tulip” don't have the cache of “engagement” but what the heck. (My preference has always been for uniquely valued metrics from which others can be built (as I've written elsewhere, I'm a second order tool maker).)
Nor am I suggesting I or NextStage has the answers. I wouldn't be asking these questions if I had the answers. People who know me know I bore rapidly once a problem is solved and quickly move onto the next challenge.
Stephane Hamel agreed with me. “I think you are right,” he wrote. “The the current state of wa, as well as the attractors are bound to change. The current cycle is about to end because of the economy, because the web is part of a larger whole that includes many different channels (lots of them offline), because of data integration, and ultimately, because of the changing consumer behavior.”
I'm very curious to know what people think. Truly.
<Also many thanks to Aurelie Pols for reading a draft and commenting. I hope she comments here, as well.>