Why I’m Building Yet Another Analytics Tool

By Anthony N. Simon · 4 min read

November 7, 2020

Panelbear grew out of a side-project of mine as I didn't feel at home in any of the existing analytics solutions. I wanted the power and flexibility of a complete toolkit, without complicated dashboards or invading the privacy of my visitors.

They say “data is the new gold”, and data is what fuels any analytics tool out there. My aim is to build a complete toolkit that puts your website’s data to work for you and not for the mega corporations. Panelbear aims to become the hub for your analytics, giving you automated insights and the features growing businesses need, while remaining private by design.

Privacy by design

I found it unnecessarily time consuming to keep up with the nightmare of cookie banners, legal notices, and keeping records of consent, when all I really wanted was to understand how my website is being used. Tools like Google Analytics are powerful but you’re giving up the personal data of your visitors and one your most valuable assets: your website’s data.

My tools should respect the privacy of my visitors by design, and it shouldn't depend on me checking the right boxes in some obscure UI or following lengthy manuals. Unfortunately, keeping up with privacy regulations is almost a full time job, and for small business owners this creates a huge disadvantage.

The principles of privacy are fantastic, but we won’t enjoy the widespread benefits unless they’re simple enough to follow and do not “dumb down” the tools that bring a lot of value to our businesses.

Use your time for something meaningful

Joe Armstrong once said: "You wanted a banana but what you got was a gorilla holding the banana and the entire jungle". As a small business owner, this is exactly how it feels like to keep up with the ever-changing privacy regulations.

You see, if you own a website, you probably need to have visibility into what’s going on to be able to improve it over time. Things like:

  • How many visitors come each day?
  • Which pages are trending?
  • What are the top countries?
  • How fast is my site loading in each country?

At this point, you are probably thinking of using something like Google Analytics, but then you have to worry about ensuring your setup is fully compliant with privacy regulations like GDPR, or things like the transfer of personal data between EU-US. Fines are pretty big even for small websites, not to mention that many of these tools invade the privacy of your visitors, and may even sell your data to third-parties. Have you heard of the phrase: "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product"?

Soon you find yourself in a nightmare of using various third-parties for things like cookie banners, keeping records of consent and a complicated setup when all you really wanted was to understand how your website is being used, not to track the personal data of your visitors and fuel the already huge corporations that possess them.

So after trying out most privacy-friendly solutions out there, I never felt at home with them. They were doing either too little, or too much for my needs. Having worked for several years building large-scale infrastructure for one of Europe’s largest search platforms, I decided to take the challenge and started building Panelbear on the weekends next to my full-time job.

Getting better all the time

There’s plenty of other analytics services out there, and while Panelbear offers similar features, the aim is to become a more complete toolset for your website, one new feature at a time.

Many of the alternatives focus on being simplified versions of Google Analytics, and I respect them, you as a customer have more options now than ever. But there’s more features that I’d like to have as part of my toolset, and I would prefer to not require five different services to get each feature (such as performance metrics). For example, here are some ideas I've been bouncing around with early customers:

  • Automated insights (for example "Your signup page has a higher bounce rate than normal this week" or "Visitors coming from Twitter spend 50% more time on your website.").
  • Performance metrics (such as time to first paint and Apdex scores).
  • Privacy-friendly link shortening with statistics.

If you own a Panelbear account, you probably noticed that every single week there’s a new feature or improvement that makes your life easier as a website owner. It’s getting better all the time, and we’re just getting started.

How can it be free and private?

Panelbear offers a very generous free plan which includes 5,000 pageviews per month for unlimited websites. For my full-time job I work together with teams that build large scale multi-regional infrastructure, and this helped me understand and optimize the technical and operational aspects of Panelbear to the point that sustaining a free plan became possible.

What’s in it for Panelbear? My strategy is a simple one: if I deliver a ton of value in a simple package, it would help me get the word out, and eventually this may translate into customers with larger websites getting to know my product and subscribing to a paid plan that supports the business. It’s really that simple, and there’s no ulterior motive.

What’s in it for you?

It’s super encouraging that many of Panelbear's customers have reached out on Twitter or via email to share their support. Some of the things they appreciate are:

  • Super simple setup
  • No cookie notice needed
  • Really fast dashboards
  • Site speed metrics
  • Simple pricing, flexible upgrades
  • Friendly support - at least that’s what I’m told :)

Regarding pricing based on usage: there are no hidden fees or charges for traffic spikes if your site suddenly becomes popular. Panelbear is a small business too, so I understand that you need flexibility as well. You simply book the volume you predict you will need and we can adjust it as you go.

I feel incredibly lucky, just launched the early-access program last September with a few posts here and there, and Panelbear is already handling millions of page views per month for various websites. It’s been a crazy ride so far!

Anthony N. Simon

@anthonynsimon

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