The Year In Web Intelligence: 2011

I've never made New Year's resolutions. Well, that's not exactly true. Last week, I promised my dentist I would floss my teeth more in 2012, but that's about the extent of it. But this shouldn't be interpreted as a lack of optimism; I'm absolutely certain that 2012 will be another great year. I fully expect that this will be the year we bring gamification to big mobile data in the cloud or some other delightful confluence of buzzwords.*

Although I haven't traditionally written an annual retrospective, 2011 was a particularly interesting year for the analytics community. So I couldn't resist taking the opportunity to recap the most significant events and trends that I saw over the course of the year. I've selected a few choice items that were both meaningful in 2011 and are likely to have an ongoing impact in 2012:

  1. Google Analytics Premium launches. In September, Google entered the paid web analytics market with Google Analytics Premium. The new offering takes Google Analytics' (GA) capabilities quite a bit further than the free version and introduced a new option for enterprise web analytics buyers with upgraded processing power, support, and product features. As we move into 2012, it will be really interesting to see how Google continues to develop GA Premium to close the gap with competitors and to what degree they fine-tune the commercial and support models.
  2. New product releases from the major enterprise web analytics vendors come to market. 2011 was a year for major product updates from several vendors — notably Adobe SiteCatalyst v15, Google Analytics Version 5, IBM Coremetrics Web Analytics 2011, and Webtrends Analytics 10. These were significant product upgrades, in many cases affecting back-end architecture and processing, functionality, and user experience. I was heartened to see major web analytics vendors refocusing their efforts on core product and organic development, and I hope that they can maintain the momentum in 2012.
  3. Tag management gains traction. Tag management came into its own in 2011, capturing the imagination of vendors and users alike. New vendors are entering the market at a brisk pace and getting funding, and established enterprise technology vendors are getting in on the action too. This was a popular topic with Forrester clients last year because commercial grade tag management technology addresses a pervasive day-to-day problem and offers exciting new possibilities for making analytics processes more efficient and effective. 2012 will be an important year for tag management as the technology starts to mature and users gain experience deploying and using the solutions in live production.
  4. Data warehousing is top of mind. The explosion of digital data volumes and sources is a double-edged sword; the potential for leveraging data to drive marketing activities and customer experiences has never been greater, but getting the data into position to support the business is a tremendous challenge. In 2011, data management issues were a mainstream topic as users reconsidered the process and technical implications of collecting, storing, and distributing digital data for analytics and marketing. The flood of data isn't going away in 2012, and I expect the conversation to move beyond "big data" (nothing new) to address the real factors that influence digital data management (think diversity of data, speed, integration, and the API economy), leading to new solutions from vendors, consultancies, and progressive users.
  5. Privacy is the elephant in the corner of the room. Consumer privacy continues to be a major issue, with ongoing scrutiny from major media outlets, consumers, and activists. In 2011, we saw a number of flare-ups over the collection and utilization of consumer information, emphasizing how fragile and polarized the current situation is and that the legal as well as the public relations implications of privacy must be taken seriously. Government intervention in privacy issues was a bit of a hot potato in the US, but new European Union (EU) data protection and privacy directives — i.e., the "cookie" law — started rolling out, most notably the UK. These issues aren't going away anytime soon. In 2012, it will be important to stay informed on the ratification and enforcement of the EU rules and whether data privacy legislation gains traction in the US during the high-stakes election cycle at either the state or federal levels.
  6. Mobile analytics gets its due. 2011 was a big year for mobile as traffic and revenue from mobile browsing and applications leapt from a rounding error to an indispensable tool for acquisition and customer loyalty. Mobile is by no means mature, but as it turns into big business, firms are starting to take mobile analytics seriously. The progress has been impressive in such a short time as more firms consider measurement strategy upfront in the mobile development processes. In 2012, I expect sophistication to increase — particularly for applications — as metrics and key performance indicators mature and users begin adapting optimization practices for mobile channels.
  7. The rise of the data scientist occurs. The flood of digital data has put more data at our fingertips than ever before, but it's pushing our technical and analytical capabilities to their limits. In 2011, the need to leverage the full value of data contributed to the popularization of the data scientist role. Once an unusual job title seen only at the largest Internet pure plays, data scientists are becoming increasingly common at firms of all stripes that share a common attribute: mountains of underutilized yet valuable data. Data scientists — the precise job description is still subject to some debate — apply their technology, analytics, advocacy, and business skills to help firms mine data for insights. In many ways, this builds on the traditional skill set of web analysts, but it is not constrained to web analytics or even by marketing. As organizations continue to formalize their resources directed at monetizing data in 2012, the data scientist role will continue to gain popularity.
  8. Online testing maintains momentum. This is an ongoing trend from 2010 that has shown no sign of abating through 2011 and into 2012, as vendors such as Monetate and Maxymiser continued to gain traction as well as funding as they pursued the high end of the market. And firms such as Optimizely and Wingify continue to innovate on usability and ease of deployment as they seek to democratize site optimization. I believe that online testing is still underutilized by the majority of firms, so there is plenty of room for growth, but it will be interesting to see how the story shifts in 2012 from adoption to maturing and scaling out optimization programs as well as evolving use cases such as targeting.

That's what I saw in 2011, but I certainly can't claim that the list is all-encompassing. What else would you add? And how do you think my eight items will pan out in 2012? 

*Big thanks to Michael Helbling for making the bold 2012 prognostication.