From TheFutureOf (5 Jan 09): Omniture and Google Considered Environmentally

As usual, I'll respond to this question through some very different lenses. Questions like “What if all we had was Omniture and Google Analytics?” are (to me) basically questions of systems ecology, adaptive and evolutionary biology, environmental modeling, things like that. My covert suggestion is that rational actors don't exist (duh!) and that the rules of adaptive and evolutionary biology are far better at determining how markets will behave than traditional methods.

So when asked “What if all we had was Omniture and Google Analytics?” I wonder what kind of environment would be necessary for such to be, what kind of evolutionary path and ecologies had to come into and go out of existence in order for such a system to thrive.

For people with an interest, I've put together a bibliography that I used in putting together my response. You can find it at Partial Bibliography for Rene Dechamps' What if all we had was Omniture and Google Analytics?. My responses weren't done on the fly (as least that's not how I did it. It took me better than a month of reading and researching. But oh, what fun it was!).

Organisms don't evolve in absentia. The number of factors involved in any species becoming dominant (especially as dominant as hypothesized here) are just on this side of countability. One needs to investigate things as diverse as

  • studying the present environment to understand the future environment
  • scaling issues – what is required of the organism(s) under study to support that future environment?
  • are there historical analogues?
  • can the “future” organism support the energy costs required to exist in that future environment? Or do bio- and thermo-dynamics stop the scenario from happening? Then what will the organism do to achieve the scenario while working within bio- and thermo-dynamic norms?
  • can a future environment support the organism(s) under study?
  • studying the evolutionary record – how do changes in this landscape occur now and will this change methodology continue? For how long? Why will it continue/not continue? What would take its place?

Other questions, such as how this environment is organized, are also critically important. These multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches are (I believe) of greater and greater necessity as system complexity increases.

We can simplify the problem somewhat based on the conversation that has taken place thus far.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): What
if all we had at our disposal was Google Analytics as a “basic” free
tool and Omniture, the “enterprise” platform, serving the high-end of
the market?

Then these two are predators. There are always less predators than there are prey. If there are only these two tools for all users, these tools/companies serve the roles of predators in the system with all users being their prey.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): How would this landscape affect consultants and practitioners? Would
it be a good thing?

I think the only path that would allow them to survive in the ecology defined would be as scavengers on whatever the top predators didn't consume. From Rene's previous statement, there are only two predators in the environment, therefore consultants and practitioners are not predators and not offering solutions to users. Working on the side of users means they are prey and will eventually be consumed by the top predators (note that this analogy means consultants and practitioners would probably be hired by the top predators, work for the top predators, work in conjunction with the top predators (this means they are definitely scavengers)). The only other prey-based roles would be as parasite or symbiont. Either case means consultants and practitioners are manipulating the evolution of prey species (clients) to better benefit themselves.

So consultants and practitioners evolve over time. Would it be a good thing? Depends on how you define “good”. This scenario would be unsustainable in any environment or ecology. The question then becomes “How long would such a scenario exist in any given environment or ecology?” That question is very easy to answer — it would last as long as the environment and ecological systems could maintain balance. Hence it becomes mandatory for these organisms to create some kind of balance if they are to survive.

There's an upper limit on how much prey an environment can sustain. The mega-predators' prey must prey on something themselves. That would be us, consumers (of web content in whatever form and for whatever purpose). Therefore the clients are in competition for us, the environment can only sustain a countably finite number of us, therefore the number of clients is both countably and recognizably finite, therefore the ultimate size of GA and Omniture is finite.

This is one way way balance occurs but said balance eventually fails due to a hysteresis loop occuring in the ecology (think of the acorn-mouse-deertick-wolf/coyote-deer cycle). So at this point the symbionts and parasites make themselves known in the diorama and push the cascade in one direction or another. They will push the cascade along the gradient of least resistance (that which benefits them the most).

Unlike oil companies, automobile manufacturers, investment houses, mortgage brokerages, etc., most parasites and definitely all symbionts know enough not to kill their hosts (although viruses and other parasites may do this at the last stage). Parasites direct the host organism to become better hosts, sometimes killing the host when the parasite moves on. Symbionts engage in a bio-molecular pas de deux with their hosts that benefits both.

What parasites can do that symbionts can't is cycle through host species. Some worms, for example, have life cycles that take them from insect to fish to mammal and back, each host species contributing some necessary environmental elements for the growth and development of the parasite.

Therefore consultants and practitioners that move seamlessly between client and GA or Omniture are more likely playing the role of parasite. The term “parasite” may have negative connotations and not so in biology and ecology (and definitely not in parasitology). Theories developed over the past 10-20 years indicate that parasitic activity has been a primary evolutionary force through geologic time.

Even so, Google can't sustain itself in any ecology without diversifying itself via either subspeciation or co-evolution. Omniture is a mega-predator going after mega-fauna in this model. Google is also defined as a mega-predator but going after micro-fauna, not a good place to be, really, as there will always be smaller and smaller fauna available to those willing to invest the energy into harvesting them.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): Or would it be the end of analytics as we know it today?

Probably so as any such specialization means some amazing things have happened to the environment and ecology. For two species to become the only species providing an ecological function to the environment then these two species have to be phenomenally unspecialized (I'll let actual users of these tools determine that). One specializes in mega-fauna (enterprise), the other in what's left. The enterprise predator has to become the more specialized hunter because the number of prey is smaller. Think of this as the polar bear first searching for then sitting by the ice hole for hours on end waiting for the one seal to surface. Expenditure of resources followed by high conservation of resources followed by maximal expenditure of resources followed by a long rest period to replenish resources.

The other tool is more like a blue whale sieving krill when it surfaces. It doesn't need to do much beyond what it's doing already — swimming, surfacing, some herding but only as a function of swimming and surfacing. But it does need to be aware that it has to keep moving because it will deplete the krill if it stays in one place for too long. All it needs to do is keep swimming and surfacing. Eventually it'll run into more krill, therefore the GA predator is feeding because the act of feeding is necessary, yes, but primarily because feeding drives some other, also evolutionarily desired activity. GA doesn't are about analytics for analytics' sake, it cares about analytics because analytics helps it achieve some other goal.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): Training would be easier for consultants such as ourselves as we would have fewer tools to support and understand.

This is the scavenger model. Consultants, etc., who survive based on what the predators leave, ignore or excrete are scavengers. This means the consultants thriving in Omniture's wake are biologically (ie, business plans and goals) quite different from those thriving in Google's wake.

This also indicates a possible ecological niche in which a scavenger species could evolve into a highly specific predator — there will be prey that are too small for Omniture yet too large for Google (as we've defined them here). Omniture and Google will specialize in very different ways because their prey are very different (again, as we've defined them here) and basic co-evolution principles indicate that the prey species will also specialize to the predator. The fallout from this is that as each mega-predator and prey species co-evolves, larger and larger ecological gaps appear in the food-web due to mutation, etc. Eventually these gaps become large enough that mid-level predators evolve to exploit the vulnerabilities in that new niche.

The short, WA way of saying the above is “Clients will make demands that neither Omniture nor Google can easily meet, or new clients will appear that have demands beyond the scope of both Omniture and Google, and others will develop tools to address those demands.”

At some point this niche will either become large enough that the mega-predators start to feed on it by accident, by intent, or the mid-level predators become large enough that they begin invading the mega-predators' territory. When this occurs and based on its duration evolution goes into overdrive and there's a relatively brief explosion of new organisms (think Cambrian Explosion until ecological balance is one again achieved. Then it's lather-rinse-repeat all over again.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): As for many industries, a duopoly generally leads to a lack of innovation.

I doubt a lack of innovation could occur. At some point these two predators would start exhausting their food supplies and would start encroaching on each other's territories and prey species, or the prey species would start evolving better defenses to the predators (ie “requires solutions neither GA nor Omniture can provide or address”). Either one would force evolutionary changes all around.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): Certainly if there is collusion at hand and as GA's pricing model is different from Omniture's one, they might have a shared interest in locking the market between their solutions. After all, competition is good. Just take a look at how vendors have been competing these past years to release more powerful tools and better functionalities to address the complexity of Web Analytics

This is an example of evolutionary principles. Other predators come into the environment, assuming and establishing ecological niches. Pretty much what I wrote above.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): If Omniture would be the only enterprise solution, prices would remain high while I strongly believe that WA tools will more and more becoming a commodity, putting downward pressure on prices. Don't forget that a tool is just that: a tool and that you need people and processes in order to use them correctly, which are the most important factors in a WA project. We have customers doing great things with Google Analytics and I've seen very poor uses of expensive WA tools. Look also at Office suites, currently you could say that you have two main options: Microsoft and Star Office; Microsoft still sells their software at a very high price and they make margins of over 70%! If there was a real competition I bet that prices would be lower;

Again, a demonstration of niches coming into existence. Rene's statement that “…you need people and processes in order to use them correctly…” are examples of scavengers evolving into mid-level predators.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): Having just Omniture and Google Analytics wouldn't/couldn't suit every need. Not all websites are alike and we see it already today that a single tool doesn't fit all. Take for example Coremetrics that focuses on retailers and seems to be doing a great job regarding this vertical. Look also at Unica that allows big corporations to integrate easily WA to Campaign management.

Another example of what I wrote above.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): My opinion regarding this question is that it wouldn't be good for the industry if we ended up with just 2 products (I've taken Omniture and Google Analytics as they are the two most important tools nowadays, but it could apply to any other). As I mentioned tools are just part of the equation, an essential but not an important part.

Not within my ability to determine good and bad, sorry. I can only identify environmental, ecological and evolutionary principles at work and predict outcomes based on them. 'Lo, that I were a web analyst…

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): How would you see yourself in this scenario?

That is a interesting question. Hmm… As NextStage doesn't offer the same products/services as WA does we're not in the same ecology, not predator, prey or scavenger. Some aspects of NSE being in this environment and with a nod to our operating principles indicate we serve the function of symbiont (a discussion of personal philosophies and metaphysics would quickly confirm this, me thinks). However, NSE could be deemed a mid-level predator by mega-predators at some point and would probably be consumed by them as the market has already indicated there's an audience for NSE products and services, that audience is growing (ie new prey or a new niche is evolving and invading the ecosystem). Since NSE got started other mid-level predators have come into the environment and while definitely currently more profitable than NSE we do have that one great advantage all others lack — we (as a company) are specifically designed for phenomenally rapid evolution, kind of blending the best evolutionary benefits of viral, bacterial and herd species, co-opting different disciplines to respond to client requests (this response is an example of such), and our technology is both a core and base technology (meaning NSE can rapidly adapt itself to whatever environment it finds itself in. Kind of like a fish leaping out of the water, sprouting wings and feathers and learning to fly before it dives back in again. Also, NSE can utilize resources from other, even alien, environments in order to survive in a given ecosystem until environmental variables change enough for NSE to thrive there).

That a NextStageish way of offering “Remember all those ELE things that happen periodically? We're the species that survives them because we can adapt and breed faster than most.”

Readers familiar with r/K Selection Theory will recognize NextStage as opportunistic tending towards equilibrium over time in a given market because once we invade an environment we can rapidly generate offspring highly adapted to that environment.

Rene (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 3:27 am): Do you want to see a two vendor market, kind of like Windows versus Apple, or do you like the diversity of options we have before us today?

This is another example of what I've written above. Other vendors (scavengers, mid-level predators, etc.) exist, just not in large or obvious enough numbers to be recognized as such, nor of becoming threats to the existing mega-predators' food supply.

Joseph James Geertz (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 7:12 pm): The Pareto Principle, based on Pareto's analysis in 1906 that 80% of Italy's income went to 20% of the population, suggests that 80% of the revenue in the field will go to 20% of the industry.

Dr. Geertz, Pareto's Principle also has applications in evolutionary analysis, often appearing in any of environmental economics, food-web ratios and relationships, etc. The application is that 80% of an environment's resources go to 20% of the species in that environment. The numbers aren't exact and this is a reasonable definition of the mega-predator models I discuss above.

Joseph James Geertz (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 7:12 pm): That 20% may come from a small set of businesses (e.g., automobile manufacturers) or a large set (residential construction), …

This is a definition of mega-fauna characteristics.

Joseph James Geertz (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 7:12 pm): How does economics decide how many companies occupy the 20% plateau? It comes down to how scalable and transportable the leading businesses are and how large are the barriers to market.

A definition of the environment/ecology.

Joseph James Geertz (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 7:12 pm): The investment involved starting up an auto manufacturing business is astronomical, operating as a barrier to market that holds down the number of players.

I'd need to think on this one a bit. (minutes tick away). Okay. Could a totally new species appear that is a direct challenger to an established mega-predator? No. Could an existing species evolve by exploiting a ecological niche to a point where it became a challenge to an existing mega-predator? Yes. Slight modification to what you're suggesting, me thinks.

Joseph James Geertz (Wednesday, February 12th, 2008 at 7:12 pm): Web analytics, to the extent it is a personalized service, …

That's an interesting thought, personalized service. One of the earlier implementations of NextStage's ET was to “personalize” web pages as they loaded into people's browsers so that the presentation most closely matched the individual visitor's psycho-emotive and -cognitive abilities. Basically it was a plug-in type of thing. Lots of fun, that.

Palani Balasundaram (Thursday, February 13th, 2008 at 7:20 am): Since the question is what if we had just two players, Omniture and GA, i would like to approach this discussion from the websites point of view.
It would make the work simpler for websites to adapt to web analytics. For organizations, to understand analytics they may try out with the free Google Analytics and once the belief is established they may go up the value chain and opt for Omniture. I do agree that migration would be lot more easier and there would be some sort of standardization.
I also share the view that the competition is one factor that helps in breeding better products and it also helps in pushing the prices down.
What would happen to the world of “Mobile Analytics”?

Nicely stated and nicely done. This is an example of co-evolution of predator and prey species, the K aspect of the r/K Selection Theory, until an equilibrium is established in the ecosystem.

The reference to Mobile Analytics and competition are examples of mutation, genetic drift, and the r aspect of r/K Selection Theory.

The challenge to the above comes from what I described above; prey can only evolve out of an ecology until the predator takes notice. If there are only two predators in the environment then prey will evolve to not be prey, predators will evolve to exploit the new adaptations, …

Eric Peterson (Thursday, February 13th, 2008 at 3:32 pm): …vendors around the world are popping up with innovation in measuring widgets, social networks, video, mobile, RIAs, engagement, etc.

Eric, forgive me if I'm mistaken and don't you have a background in bio- or environmental sciences? What I'm describing is probably very obvious and simplistic to you so my apologies. What you offer here is an example of what I wrote above about scavengers and other species evolving into mid-level predators, etc., to exploit gaps and niches, yes?

Eric Peterson (Thursday, February 13th, 2008 at 3:32 pm): And again, it's not like any one vendor is clearly leading the way into (say this with an ominous voice) “THE FUTURE OF WEB ANALYTICS”

Hey, I'm doing my best here…

Judah (Friday, February 14th, 2008 at 12:01 am): If the duopoly didn't provide capabilities for a certain type of measurement I needed to guide decision-making, then I wouldn't be able to make data-driven decisions until one of the duopolists decided to accommodate my need. The reason I have guided some businesses away from certain vendors (and some towards) is because they were deficient in features or capabilities that the business believed they needed to “win.” Competition catalyzes (no pun intended) innovation via differentiation. Competition leads to the genesis (pun intended :) of features and capabilities that answer market demand. In other words, I think the market should drive the product, not the product driving the market, which is what I fear in the scenario of duopoly (or worse yet monopoly).

Well stated, Judah. The former is an example of gaps in the food-web appearing, the latter an example of co-evolution. Depending on how often the latter occurs it could also be step-wise evolution wherein the prey rapidly evolves into a non-prey species due to some cataclysmic change in the environment. The predator species then either evolves or (because it is over-specialized) becomes extinct because it (being a K) can't evolve fast enough.

Ian Thomas (Friday, February 14th, 2008 at 3:00 pm): See, in the future, there will be more places you can do web analytics, not fewer. I made a prediction some years ago which I still stand by, which is that eventually the 'stand-alone' web analytics tools that we currently know and love will be absorbed into (or absorb, in some cases) adjacent technologies and tools, until there's no such thing as a “web analytics vendor”.

I think this is one of those ELE events I mentioned earlier.

Ian Thomas (Friday, February 14th, 2008 at 3:00 pm): …what if in the future there were no web analytics vendors, but web analytics was everywhere? What would the consultant community do then? Discuss.

Excellent question, me thinks. What is being described is a period change, kind of like the Ediacaran to Cambrian, with a large-scale extinction of the previous period's biota followed by an explosion of new life forms (ie, The Cambrian Explosion as mentioned earlier). What also occurs is the paleologic record of how surviving species became survivors. That would be an interesting study.

Denise Eisner (Saturday, February 15th, 2008 at 5:19 pm): If the WA space were to be dominated by the likes of GA and others that depend on cookies to track users, sites that prohibit cookies from a privacy standpoint would be out of luck. Websites that adhere to the Government of Canada's standards for example are cautioned against implementation of persistent cookies due to stringent privacy laws. This has all but stopped the use of GA for federal government web sites here in Canada.

Did I ever mention that NSE's ET doesn't use persistent cookies?

Rene (Sunday, February 16th, 2008 at 4:27 am): …I don't see large corporations using several 'little' tools in order to get answers. Large companies need an integrated tool that will allow them to deploy on a global scale…

Co-evolution at work.

Rene (Sunday, February 16th, 2008 at 4:27 am): @Joseph James, while I know the pareto principle since I was I kid I don't see the relationship with the 10/90 or the 10/20/70 rule. I don't think that this industry can be 'measured' in terms of revenue as we have major players that have changed the rules.

My line of thought causes a rephrasing of your terms; “revenue” == “environmental resources”, “changed the rules” == “modified the ecology”. These redefinitions allow environmental economics to apply.

Daniel Shields (Sunday, February 16th, 2008 at 11:48 pm): I am not exactly sold on the idea that Google is 'competing' with Omniture. As I see it, Google has provided a means to the compete by measurement in the market for web entities who cannot afford the pricetag of a commercial solution. In that regard, I think that they are complementary solutions.

See above my explanation of two mega-predators and how their prey differs.

Daniel Shields (Sunday, February 16th, 2008 at 11:48 pm): If speculation pans out to anything, Google has its eyes on cellular bandwidth.

An predator evolving to exploit an evolved prey species.

Anil Batra (Thursday, February 20th, 2008 at 6:24 pm): In three years there will be no Web Analytics vendor, but Web Analytics will be everywhere – I completely agree that Web Analytics will be everywhere in next few years. This is already happening, as you mentioned and provide several examples. However, I disagree that there will be no Web Analytics Vendor. Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Atlas, Doubleclick etc. will (or already do) provide web analytics as an add on to their products…

Excellent description of a transitory ecology.

Anil Batra (Thursday, February 20th, 2008 at 6:24 pm): …but there will still be a need for one web analytics product you can rely on to make strategic decisions.

Another fascinating concept wherein the model I use can either be of great benefit or deemed invalid. I asked another NextStageologist for some help on this one. The model I'm using here depends on what “strategic” defines in a time-sense and specifically in a time-sense in this particular ecology. IE, what is deep-time in this environment? The model I'm using can predict with excellent accuracy (look at the historic record (god, it almost hurts to write that)) what the future ecology will be and how the environment will change to support that ecology. A strategy that is based on what you can predict (with great accuracy) will allow any organism to thrive. A strategy that is based on what is currently available won't allow an organism to survive.

It's borderline amusing that while any evolved species carries in its DNA a genetic record of every change it's been through and every environment it's been exposed to (this is how biologies perform trend-analytics) and that several companies use trend-analytics as part of their offerings, most companies seem incapable of using that tool their environment's deep-time to determine where they should be and what they should be doing in their future.

You've come very close to recognizing something I believe has been missing in the other comments — that the environment is one of the players in any ecology. No ecology can sustain itself (no balance can be achieved) that the environment is not willing/able to support. Consider the current world economic situation and my point (and the use of this model) is demonstrated in full.

Anil Batra (Thursday, February 20th, 2008 at 6:24 pm): Can you imagine having 15 different web analytics solutions that all give you different numbers?

You mean like a roomful of economists?

Or how about my favorite joke regarding consultants: A consultant is someone who asks to borrow your watch when you ask them what's the correct time, then tells you the time according to your watch, presents you with a bill and a list of suggestions on how to make your watch more accurate.

3 thoughts on “From TheFutureOf (5 Jan 09): Omniture and Google Considered Environmentally

  1. This is a unique perspective, can't deny that. It's valid as far as I can see but I'm not eloquent in the fields you mention.
    Good reading regardless.

    1. Hello and Welcome.
      Glad you liked this post.
      Feel free to let me know if there's more or other I can write about.

Comments are closed.