PressTrends offers analytics and trends for theme creators (in closed beta)

28 Comments

George Ortiz, a member of the Storefront Themes team, has been working on a new project since WordCamp San Francisco called PressTrends. In short, PressTrends is a new service for tracking how and where your WordPress themes are being used, ideally to improve your themes in the future. It is currently in closed beta, but you can request access via the email signup on the site.

Despite the closed beta status, Ortiz was nice enough to give me a tour of the service last week and walk me through the sort of statistics PressTrends can currently collect.

Once tracked by PressTrends, a WordPress theme will report back a number of statistics about the site that it’s running on: number of posts, number of comments, and number of plugins used. PressTrends also tracks the total number of sites running the tracked theme, and charts the results over a monthly timeline. Developers can see specifically which sites are currently running their theme. It also gathers the version number of themes that are running, and presents the percentages to the developer in a nifty graph.

For a quick video tour of PressTrends, and more about the creation of the new service, see the embed just after the jump.

PressTrends works via a simple function call within the functions.php of a theme. Once signed up, PressTrends provides developers the code to be copied into their theme. Any site running the PressTrends-enabled theme will be trackable and report stats back to PressTrends.

Currently only one theme can be tracked at a time, though this seems to be more of an early resource requirement than any sort of long term plan. Eventually any number of themes will be trackable, Ortiz said, though the precise account options and pricing are not yet decided.

Ortiz said he was interested in this sort of statistical information for his own themes at Storefront, and was particularly inspired by the simple statistical reporting Automattic offers on their WordPress.com service (see the stats in the sidebar of their page for Twenty Eleven, for instance). As any clever entrepreneurial developer would, Ortiz simply built out what he wanted to use in his own themes.

Ortiz recognizes that additional terms and privacy policies will likely be needed for any themes that integrate with PressTrends, and is looking into providing terms that theme developers can incorporate into their theme documentation.

Ortiz has plans for the future as well. He plans to eventually deliver real time WordPress theme trends as more and more themes are tracked by PressTrends. Tracking plugin statistics may also be in the cards.

PressTrends is an interesting new service, particularly as a WordPress project that isn’t just about selling more themes or plugins. For the developers reading this: is this the sort of service you could see yourself integrating into your themes? And for the users: would you mind basic statistical tracking via a service like PressTrends, assuming you had the ability to opt out if you chose to?

28 thoughts on “PressTrends offers analytics and trends for theme creators (in closed beta)

  1. And we can find out how many people are using pirated copies of our themes.

    “Well I’ve only sold 100, but it’s being used on 150 sites… hmmmmmmm….”

  2. As a theme developer/author I think this technology and the stats are pretty amazing.

    However, as a users, I’d think I would be a little concerned knowing my plugins/posts/url/etc are being tracked. I would think the majority of users would feel similar. Just feels like a very gray area.

    Probably the best of both would be to offer an prompt upon activation, something like “Would you like you provide anonymous usage statistics?” like many OS applications do, where a user can opt-in.

  3. I think it’s pretty cool, just wonder how large the actual client base would be? If you’re using it for generic themes, it may provide a lot of data but not much insight. On the other hand, if you provide niche solutions, you may need more detailed information (not sure how much flexibility this service provides). If you’re really serious about finding how your users operate, custom variables within google analytics provide a lot of options (and it has no issue tracking multiple ID’s).

  4. So, put me down with an initial reaction of I don’t like this – especially for free software, which in part is described as follows (emphasis added):

    The freedom to run the program means the freedom for any kind of person or organization to use it on any kind of computer system, for any kind of overall job and purpose, without being required to communicate about it with the developer or any other specific entity.

    To me, it doesn’t matter if the data are anonymized and/or not personally identifiable; the only way I would view this as acceptable would be for it to be opt-in; that is: optional, and disabled by default.

    • It could very well be opt-in. Though, since the implementation of the PressTrends integration is up to each developer — not sure how it wouldn’t be — it could vary from theme to theme.

  5. I know that every developer that George has talked to has agreed that the only acceptable option is an opt-in model. Think of it like Apple’s genius software in iTunes, which is also opt-in. If you want to anonymously send data to help improve the product, you are given that option…I know that George and the theme developers he has talked to all feel the same way about letting people know exactly what software the end-user is installing on their sites, and I’m sure that is how it will be implemented. :-)

  6. Why does everybody want this to be opt-in in order to be nice when the data sent to wordpress.org servers* isn’t opt-in at all? Why the difference in attitude?

    Not only that, but the data sent to api.wordpress.org isn’t anonimized. See our feature on this here: http://interconnectit.com/1722/who-is-wordpress-talking-to/

    This is important stuff – if you’re developing a sensitive site, you need to know what your software is telling other machines about. Imagine a leak about a new Ford model being released based entirely on a development site’s URL being revealed to a motor enthusiast working at Automattic?

    Guys, if you’re going to raise privacy concerns about something that’s not even released yet, then first you’ve got to look at what’s already being done with your installs. I’m surprised this hasn’t been discussed more. For me, it’s not a big issue – we know what is and isn’t secret – but I bet there’s plenty who have no idea…

    * I know Automattic and WordPress.org aren’t the same thing, but I do believe the hosting is supplied entirely, for free, by Automattic.

    • David,

      You know I’ve been one of the most vocal critics of lack of disclosure re: the WordPress API (and the QuantServe thing, etc.), right? I intentionally didn’t bring it up in my comment (actually started to, then deleted it), because I… have a tendency sometimes to incite heated discussions over such topics.

      • Cool – and thanks for the clairification. I’d been under the impression that WordPress.org was hosted on the same infrastructure as WordPress.com, but looking into it I can see that it quite clearly isn’t.

        Having said that, as there’s no privacy statement about what goes to WordPress.org (or Akismet’s servers) it’s hard to know what happens to the data. It would be good to clarify that somewhere that’s easily findable as it’ll stop lame assumptions like mine :-)

        It would be quite nice, also, if the stats on WordPress.org extend were to show more data – even if only to the developer of that plugin. As it stands you can derive usage levels with reasonable confidence based on the version ratios and the peaks caused by upgrades, but it’s not perfect and takes too much work for me :-)

  7. I love all the feedback guys! It let’s us know we have enough value in our product to get people talking…I just wanted to take a moment to assure everyone that while it is true that ultimately the theme developers will be implementing the service in their themes, we will do everything we can to make sure that they comply with an opt-in policy that is clearly stated in their theme settings. I can tell you that every one of the theme developers we’ve talked to so far is in agreement with this and values their customer’s privacy above all else. In fact, most of them voiced this as their first concern when I showed them a demo. I think this speaks volumes of the kind of people that make up the commercial WordPress community! Also, the metrics are invaluable to theme developers. We finally have a way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

  8. I would definitely like to take advantage of some service such as PressTrends but honestly as a customer I wouldn’t sign normally as I have no clue what kind of information is revealed (especially if I’m running some eCommerce stuff or other confidential data).

    It would be nice to have such stat engine available but I find it violating the free rights just as Chip cited above. I would rather design some newsletter for subscription (probably in the admin panel) for people who would like to help with surveys and data on a regular basis.

    • I see your (and Chip’s) point there, but your suggestion of using newsletter subscriptions, surveys, etc. seems no different to me than an opt-in PressTrends system. Both are people saying “I’m happy for you to collect statistical information”. Perhaps if PressTrends implementations were also clear about *what* information was being shared, that would be an improvement too. Total transparency.

  9. If you don’t want to be on the “evil” side of the web… and to avoid flames everywhere… you have to stick on the opt-in model… But I fear that many wouldn’t opt-in (at least here in Europe there is a huge sentiment about privacy).

    While you are “limiting” in some way the users’ privacy I suggest that you shuold give back to them something in terms of services… Could be an automatic help to spread their posts, a monitoring service (like “ehi you have installed the xyz plugin and it contain a know vulnerability”), etc…

    What about it?

    Stefano

  10. Fantastic idea, George! With the right implementation, this could be an extremely valuable tool for theme developers.

    Perhaps there should be certain legal obligations on developers using this system to implement it in certain ways, such as opt-in only, transparency of information being sent, etc. Similar I guess to the way Facebook specifies what data an application has access to when it requests authorisation.

    Whatever happens, I love the spirit of project. Trying to help developers helps their customers help them help each other… so much helping going on! :)

  11. Got an early beta invite and I’ve implemented an opt-in process as well (screenshot) — I can say so far I’m loving the service and I can’t wait to see the new features implemented like “Top 5 Plugins Used”, this is going to be paramount information for future theme updates.

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