A firehose of free at Google Analytics

It's the attitude behind this firehose of free that is the story. By building it first, then worrying about the money, Google creates goodwill that brings in the paying customers whenever they do go to the market.

My piece earlier today got me to thinking about the wealth of free we take for granted and may not even take full advantage of.

Take Google Analytics. I first got it to track my personal blog, then the ZDNet folks hooked me up to track the work I do here.

Google Analytics is a firehose of free. The main dashboard for each blog is a chart showing the performance of each blog, day by day, over a month. The main page gives me my monthly statistics, and how that compares with what I had been doing.

But there's so much more. I can track where visitors are coming from on the web, the performance of each page, even where they come from on a map.

What I didn't know before is how detailed that map is. Most of the visitors here are American, but did you know 275 of you came from Rhode Island in the last month? That's more than I got from New Delhi, India, but half what I got from Bangalore. (How do you say "thanks" in Kannada?)

Do you know this blog drew 8 visits in the last month from Afghanistan? Six from Myanmar? Even one from Urumqi, deep in Xinjiang province, China? I sure hope I told them something useful.

Google itself delivers about a quarter of my traffic, if you include sites like News, Images and Mail. I got 331 from Digg, which I spend a lot of time on, but 856 from Stumbleupon, which I never go to. Actually I just underestimated Google -- I get lots of hits from their international sites, like Malaysia, Singapore and Mexico.

If I were really sophisticated, like the folks in our ad department, I could do something really useful with this knowledge. (Maybe I should go to Stumbleupon more often.)

There are no ads on this. I am certain Google can build all sorts of "optimization" services that deliver a business model. But what the company tends to do is build it, let people come, and worry about monetization later. (The only ads on Google News are those on newswire stories the site hosts, and it shares that revenue with the news services.)

It's the attitude behind this firehose of free that is the story. By building it first, then worrying about the money, Google creates goodwill that brings in the paying customers whenever they do go to the market.

Maybe we can't all afford to do this. Money is limited. But the attitude is important to note, because it is shared by most of the "hit" sites of this decade -- Twitter, MySpace, Facebook. Even tool sites like WordPress and Drupal.

First you give, then you seek a way for others to give back, not just a way to take.

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