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Collecting Usage Data in Eclipse

06.06.2008
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One of our challenges at the Eclipse Foundation is understanding how and what people are using Eclipse. Millions of people come to our web site to download the various projects, find different Eclipse based plug-ins (open source and commercial) and use them to create amazing software. If we can gain insight into how people use the different pieces of the Eclipse ecosystem we should be able to improve the overall user experience.

This whole initiative got started after I went to a talk at last year’s OSCON by Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier. At the end of his talk, he made that point that open source projects have a particular challenge in getting to know their users: we don’t ask people to register, and we don’t have even the most basic information we need to help improve our software. We lack the stats to make good decisions. His suggestion: ask your users to provide useful data. So that’s what we’re planning on doing. This is about helping our projects and our ecosystem to make Eclipse better.

For this reason, I am very interested in seeing the response we get to the Usage Data Collector (UDC) that we are planning to include in the Ganymede EPP packages. For those that might not have seen Wayne’s previous posts on this subject, UDC is a piece of technology that will track how and what people are using in Eclipse. UDC has been included in the EPP Ganymede milestones packages and over 1500 individuals have participated during the past four months. We have created some initial reports and I hope into the future we will be able to provide some interesting information for our committers and the wider Eclipse community.

As you can imagine with any data collection technology, privacy is a huge concern. Therefore, to be clear, UDC is 1) opt-in, so only people that agree to send the data will participate, and 2) completely anonymous. No personal data, including IP addresses, is being collected. In addition, the Eclipse Classic package will not contain any UDC code at all, so there is a simple option for users who really want to avoid this. For those who are interested you can review the code in CVS.

So far it seems that our approach to UDC has been well received by the community. No one has expressed any concerns to date, and 1500 opt-ins has more than met our expectations during the development phase.

Coincidentally, in the last month the Mozilla community has begun talking about a somewhat similar data collection program. In Mozilla, some strong opinions have been expressed about collecting data at all. Therefore, I want to make sure everyone in our community has an opportunity to respond to this program before we make the final decision to deploy it.

We are very excited about the potential of UDC but we also want to ensure we respond to any community concerns. Please feel free to contact me (mike at eclipse dot org) or better yet leave a comment letting me know your thoughts on UDC if you have any feedback.

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Mike Milinkovich.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

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Comments

Zviki Cohen replied on Sun, 2008/06/08 - 4:08am

Collecting usage data is a "missing link" for desktop apps. It one of the key shortcomings when compared to web apps (read my blog post about this issue).

UDC should strive to be as useful as tools like Google Analytics or even better. I  also think the tool should allow sending the data to other servers.

Raffaele Gambelli replied on Fri, 2008/06/13 - 2:44am

It is surely an interesting project and I'm pretty sure that we'll see other companies adopting those kind of tecnologies.

Anyway I think that, one of the success keys of products like Eclipse, is that of surprising users with innovative solutions ever seen before.

I'm fear that those analytic tools, will bring unconsciously who make decisions about product evolution, to give up surprising users because product evolution will be driven more through raw datas collected by a tool and less through amazing human ideas.

 

Best regards,

Raffaele 

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