Montag, 14. Januar 2013

Please, don't replace your dashboard!

On HackerNews there was an article talking about analytics dashboards and how they should be streams instead of charts: All Dashboards Should be Feeds by Anil Dash. And even if I can see how a stream can be appealing when you look at it, I strongly disagree that streams will solve any problem at all.

The article states that every dashboard should be transformed into a stream, which shows text messages with recent and upcoming "events" (like hitting a certain number of followers on twitter). Instead of showing a chart, the feed will extrapolate your followers and tell you that you hit X followers in a week.

First of all, I highly doubt there is a problem with dashboards as they are. If somebody cannot get data out of the dashboard, it's simply configured wrong (or isn't configurable, in which case I wouldn't call it dashboard) or he doesn't know what he's looking for. If I open my Google Analytics, my dashboard shows me the visitors per day, from where the traffic is coming and which countries the traffic is from. That's all I need, and the charts are exactly the format I need it. If I have special questions I need to answer, I can dig into this using the the other, more detailed views. If I just want a quick update, I can look at my dashboard and in a second see whats going on. I hardly see how a stream could tell me all this at a glance.

I imagine logging into Google Analytics and seeing my stream with messages like "A new referer brought you 250 visits", "You will hit 10.000 pageviews tomorrow" and "Mobile visitors are down 10% this week" while all I wanted to know is how many page views I had daily the last 30 days. If I need any of the information from that stream, I can configure my dashboard to show it to me or dive into analytics and figure them out myself.

Thinkup, the startup Anil is involved, has a demo on how a stream like this could look like for a twitter account. This is interesting, but it's neither a comprehensive overview nor something actionable. I see someone retweeted a post and this someone had 50 times more followers than the account in questions. Now what? And if I came to see on how many retweets I got the last 30 days or which tweet was retweeted the most, I would have to dive into analytics (I don't know if this is possible or will be possible) to find out. A nice little table showing the top retweeted posts would be better!

Another thing in the article is the mention of "suggestions" inside the stream. I don't see any advantages to a dedicated section where suggestions are shown as part of a dashboard. Buried inside a stream they are hard to find. You would have to write down each suggestion somewhere if you are not ready to act on it right now because else it's lost. It also clutters your stream with information you don't want or need right now.

Overall, I don't think streams are a replacement for dashboards. Maybe it works if Users don't need a real analytics tool but woudl like more of an information tool where they can have a look while I relax a bit and see how my followers are doing. It certainly doesn't work for the use cases dashboards where made for! So please, don't replace the dashboards. But maybe add a stream as another option, so people can choose

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