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I think "analytics" has become a no-brainer among product managers at all tech companies. It seems like no company, not even GitLab, can escape the irresistible urge by management to add analytics. Arguments against it within the company are useless, it is just so obvious to management that this is the way to go, it's what all big successful companies do. Only massive public outrage can turn the accepted wisdom of analytics around, and only sometimes.

High quality products were made for many years with no analytics, just by thoughtful design, using the product yourself, and gathering some feedback from users manually. Even without statistically representative data from some large target population, you can use your brain to figure out what goes wrong and how to make a good product.

And I think lots of products today are quite annoying because of bad decisions based on flawed analytics data. It's hard work to run a good experiment and avoid confounding correlations and plain bugs that throw off the results, and practically nobody today does the hard work. They just run the analytics, get some flawed buggy numbers, interpret them without sufficient care and thoughtfulness, and push through bad design changes. We're data-driven! We're just not looking at the road.




My theory is that they hunt like lunatics this engagement and time spent number. My engagement increased with new Gmail because it's slow as fuck. Of course I click around like a clown and wait, probably product manager happy that people use their product for longer now.


It's amazing how slow Google products are becoming. Firebase is my own pet peeve: opening a single crash report takes easily 20-30 seconds. It's unbelievable. Should be a split second for fluid workflow. Aren't they using their own products? How is this acceptable to any engineer or manager?

I'd use anything else for the slowness alone if I could decide the tools at work myself.


Glad it's not just me. I have an HTC 10, which was a flagship phone when released 3 years ago. Every single third-party app I use, including some moderately demanding games, works perfectly fine. Every single Google app is at the very least frustratingly slow, like Gmail, if not outright unusable, like Maps. It seriously pauses for 5-10 seconds anytime anything on the screen changes. One has to tolerate several such pauses to simply search for a location. This is on their own damn platform for crying out loud.

The best part is that 10 years ago I used to have an absolute piece of dog shit WinCE phone that failed to even keep up with my typing speed in its stock SMS app. Google Maps worked perfectly on that device.


Are you using Firefox or Chrome?


I am going to report it is slow on both, when the bs is disabled. Especially slow on other browsers. You know there are other browsers right? Google seems confused and angered when I dont use one of the 2 they own. Firefox is only around because they fund it discreetly to avoid antitrust, while is still sends them nearly all the same tracking metrics.


What do you mean by "when the bs is disabled"?


why would this matter?


In my experience analytics usually become a hot topic in product group of the company when product evolution stop. We did all the major features but we still need growth, so to pick new direction we need some insight on our users.


Seriously, new Gmail is absolutely horrible slow dogshit.

And it is even worse in firefox than in chrome.

It takes 30s to 1 min to load(!). It has cached last view, which loads fast.. then it goes unresponsive for bloody 30s to 1 min anyways.

3 different machines were used to test this - i5 6th gen laptop, i7 7th gen pc, i7 3rd gen pc - all of them with plenty of ram(at least 16gb).


Maybe your "engagement" increased, but in this case your "time to task completion" did not. In most cases analytics is much more nuanced than you might think. And the reason why something got worse for you is because it got better for someone else.


>your "time to task completion" did not

So they're driving down the time it takes to do what they magically infer I'm trying to do. Is this why whenever I try to organize my gmail box I give up 10 minutes in because the UI is slow and bullshit? Because it's good for metrics that I can't make my gmail account anywhere near as useful as my work email?


What you describe is a caricature of a product manager. In reality, differences or changes in “time spent” or other metrics are extremely useful to explain problems and opportunities for improvements that might otherwise be missed.

Most certainly you could misuse the statistics for blind number worshipping, and I’m sure there are many anecdotes of that kind of behaviour. But I’m also quite certain that successful organizations can use these to improve their products in meaningful ways. I suspect any gmail product manager who tried to slow down their product (or resisted fixes) to improve meaningless time spent metrics would be crucified.


This is my biggest concern about present and future technology. For example, many car manufacturers are sharing real-time sensor data from their vehicles, including GPS, with third parties. There's no clear opt out. Is it anonymized? Can it get misused? Sadly yes.

The freedom and transparency we got from PCs where you can always know what is going on, with some caveats, is missing from all other platforms. And it's really worrying.


If we let them they will do it to PC's eventually too. We have to fight for our rights. I think cell phones have normalized it for far too many people.


What do you mean, eventually? You haven't followed the Windows analytics debacle?


Win10 analytics (and forced updates) is what finally pushed me to exclusively using linux after many years of dual-booting. There are still choices thankfully (for now).


We still have gnu/linux for the time being. I went linux only many years ago and have loved every minute of it.


Since the mandatory telemetry in Windows 10 (and the backports to Windows 7 onwards if you trusted Microsoft and installed their recommended updates) we don't even have that transparency on PCs, sadly.

But I agree, it's a serious problem. The abuse has become so widespread that I am now in favour of heavyweight statutory regulation and severe penalties for violations. I don't see any other way we come back from this situation now. Competition in the market has utterly failed.


I brought PCs as an example because it's a relatively open hardware platform and you can run Linux or BSD and have an imperfect control of everything that is going on.

On phones, things have gotten much worse. Although you can flash a relatively open ROM in case of Android, good luck controlling what the baseband does behind the scenes.

And if we talk about cars and other devices like smart watches, there's often zero openness.


good luck controlling what the baseband does behind the scenes

I actually have a lot of sympathy with that one, because radio transmission is one of those areas where one idiot who thinks he's clever and should have total control of his device can literally disrupt entire networks for everyone else over a wide area, with the obvious serious consequences. Modern wireless communications systems rely much more than most people realise on conventions and standards and everything playing nice, so regulating such that only licensed practitioners are authorised to make parts that transmit within prescribed specifications is not an absurd idea.

Of course, that doesn't mean a closed part of the system like radio control should have any access to any other part of the system. It ought to be essentially a firewalled client of the more open parts of the system. And if it's going to be regulated and controlled then the people licensed to develop those components should be required to have them only perform the defined function according to standardised specs, without anything else piggybacking on top.


With the controlling part I referred to knowing what the baseband is doing, not necessarily changing the way it works.

Right now we don't know whether for example it's even powered when your phone is on airplane mode and collecting data.


Yes, that's true. That's why if there is regulation allowing them to be closed units and limiting who can make them, I'm also in favour of that regulation restricting their functionality to only standardised specs (and regulators being able to audit this and impose meaningful penalties for compliance failures).



If you really care, use Linux.


That's great unless you need software that is not available on Linux. Not all businesses have that choice, but they might still care about privacy and security.


True, but at least for personal use you could make that sacrifice of replacing and re-learning stuff as much as possible. Tbh, from an employee's POV I don't even care that much if my company wants to take that risk.


I'm the person (one of them) responsible for my own businesses, so I look at things a bit differently. It's on me and my colleagues if we don't have proper security in place, or we violate confidentiality agreements or NDAs or GDPR or other privacy/data protection rules. Looking at the amount of essential software and equipment that is now actively hostile to even basic security and privacy, when you're talking about things like your networking gear or your operating systems or your everyday development tools betraying you, it's now all but impossible to buy new stuff and still be professional about safeguarding privacy and security now, and it shouldn't be. It's going to hurt a lot of people sooner or later, probably sooner, and it's going to cost a lot of businesses a lot of money too.


It doesn't matter - there is always Management Engine in intel CPU's and equivalent in AMD and ARM.


“And I think lots of products today are quite annoying because of bad decisions based on flawed analytics data.”

I agree with this, and it seems to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I believe this to be responsible for the decline in Apple’s various device OSs.


This is also why everything is mobile-first now. So many web-based applications insist that users install a mobile app for half of the functionality because that gives them a much stickier place to attach.

On a browser, it's drive-by, and your ability to track users is gone once they leave your site, especially with vendors like Mozilla and Apple implementing third-party cookie blockers by default and the ubiquity of adblock.

On a phone, if you install something, you'll probably leave it for at least a few days, and if you watch logcat, you'll notice that many of these apps are anything but patiently waiting for the user to decide open it up again.


>On a browser, it's drive-by, and your ability to track users is gone once they leave your site, especially with vendors like Mozilla and Apple implementing third-party cookie blockers by default and the ubiquity of adblock.

There is a way to hijack the back button, i have no idea if it has been fixed, there are also tracking cookies so they can track you cross sites anyway.


Ever asked designers of those high quality products if they would have loved data analytics on their products?

I bet they'd say they would have.


Would I love an extra thousand dollars per month on my account? Sure I would. Doesn't mean I'm going to cheat people to get it, even though I could.


But if there was an opportunity to do so, and it required some work, would you?


The data you are likely to get from this sort of spyware is typically less useful than even a few sessions watching real users actually using your product and actively collecting their voluntary feedback.

Source: I am basically the person you are talking about, in one of my current roles.


The amazing thing is all that data is worthless. It hasn't improved things, ads are still stupid, products are just as slow and broken.


Analytics seems to be a given even among developers. Something you ”obviously” put in just because it might be useful at some point.


It seems that product quality is often lowest in products with the most analytics.




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