The four-man Cambridge, UK-based team behind a new product called Regard, certainly believe so. They’ve set out to build a new kind of analytics platform which, instead of taking a Pokemon style approach to user data and ‘catching it all’, starts with the premise that being transparent with users about the data you want to collect — and only collecting specific info required to help improve your product — ends up with a better result for everyone.
Avoiding catch-all, clandestine data harvesting means happier, potentially more engaged users, because they remain in control of their data — and can even delete it if they choose — and therefore won’t have fears for their privacy. Or that’s the Regard premise of informed consent.
It also, they argue, means happier developers — being as they gain useful product-specific insights by asking opted-in users specific questions, instead of hovering up everything and then trying to figure out how to extract useful info from the resulting big data mountain.
Regard’s premise boils down to: bespoke data is better than big data. And being given something is better than taking it.
They are taking what can almost be described as a crowdsoured approach to analytics by directly — and openly — looping in users to contribute pieces of the improvement puzzle. Instead of, y’know, stalking them on the sly.
And with privacy continuing to rise up the digital agenda — fueled in part by the ongoing fallout from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks — Regard may well be onto something, assuming they can convince developers to sign up.
They note they are not the first company to try and be transparent about collecting user data — pointing to open source projects like Mozilla Firefox and Bower as doing something similar. But their aim of building a transparent analytics platform which can be deployed by developers of all stripes attempts to scale that idea beyond individual projects.
Ultimately the business they want to build is a software as a service offering that will cater to developers who want to be up front with users about data collection, and who want to use analytics more for directly improving their product, rather than for powering an amorphous marketing machine.
“Mixpanel and Google Analytics and those kind of platforms are completely focused on identifying, to varying degrees, the individual user that’s using your website and how they are using it — or more so who they are and how you can market to them more effectively, or what’s your conversion rate,” says Regard’s Neil Anderson.
“We wanted a platform that’s just for making the tool better. Do my users get this part of the user interface effectively? Do they find what I want them to find? That kind of thing. I don’t really care who they are, I care how well does my software perform and can I do better than my competitors because people just love my products?”
In keeping with this more targeted approach, Regard absolutely does not intend to become a pipeline fueling evergreen data visualization dashboards stuffed with charts of all shapes and sizes. Instead they want to offer developers specific raw numbers and simple bar charts — to make the data they’re serving really easy to digest, i.e. instead of requiring a data scientist on staff just to read the user data tea-leaves.
The obvious first target for Regard is therefore small startups and dev teams who have limited time and resources to devote to wrangling lots of user data.
And who are more likely to see the benefits of differentiating their service vs incumbents by offering users a data capture transparency and privacy pledge — along the lines of ‘worried about the data we’re collecting on you? Never fear! Click here to view your usage data and delete anything you wish’.
(You can see Regard’s transparent analytics in action on Regard’s own website — after you’ve clicked around on their site a bit click on the ‘My data’ link to view a page showing the data they have amassed on you.)
Regard is currently in closed beta, working with a small number of open source companies ahead of a wider launch of its analytics platform. The open source arena is a natural target for its platform, being as the philosophy of users in that space can already make analytics problematic.
Indeed, the original spark for the idea came after the team — who are employed (and funded) by the VC arm of Red Gate Software, Red Gate Ventures, which sponsors an open source diagnostics project called Glimpse — came up against the problem of how you add analytics to an open source project without being criticized for doing so by the open data advocates using it.
“It’s quite a delicate matter as to how you do this in the spirit of open source,” said Anderson. “That sparked the idea of what sort of platform would work for an open source project.”
It was evident that existing analytics products like Mixpanel weren’t at all designed to facilitate giving individual users their own data back. Or giving them the ability to delete their data — and so they started work on their open analytics alternative about four months ago. (Regard itself is also open source.)
There are still various details for Regard to figure out before it opens up its closed beta but it reckons it will have nailed down enough of those to start taking in new users in about a month’s time.
Over the longer term the team is hoping they are at the forefront of a larger consumer shift in attitude towards privacy and personal data.
“I think who this is going to appeal to first is going to people who are working on open source products because they really care about that openness,” said Regard’s David Blurton. “In the long term I think people will come round to the idea in general — person privacy and what happens to my data is big news these days. And I guess in a crazy ideal world there would almost be consumer pressure — that people would be like what’s going on, I want to know what’s happening to my data, why can’t I get it back?
“With Google’s right to be forgotten ruling recently I think people will start to expect that more and more. Maybe just as developers will find competitive advantage just by saying ‘work with us to improve this app’. ‘Let’s talk about what you want out of the app’ — rather than it being a very one way thing.”