The telling of stories is perhaps the most ancient of human arts. And as most of us know, it's not one easily mastered -- who hasn't told a joke that flopped or recounted a hilarious scenario to group of blank faced friends?

Webtrends 9 (news, site) has been officially released today, and with it comes a new model of web analytics story telling. We spoke with the company's CEO, Alex Yoder, about the art of the UI, and most importantly the fact that great UIs will never be enough -- open APIs and open schemas are the real way forward for intelligent analytics.

Analytics, Not as Easy as It Sounds

Making business decisions based on web analytics, sounds great, but as we discussed in 10 Keys to Success with Web Analytics, it is not as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of blank faces found on the business side of analytics reports.

Different decision makers need to hear the story differently and often with different data visualization. Dashboards can be useful, but are often over used and less effective than believed. Reporting really needs to address specific business questions and be delivered with a context that speaks clearly to the target audience. Good analytics processes and decision making require a disciplined approach and a flexible toolset.

Webtrends 9 Evolves Analytics Story Telling

With today's release of Webtrends 9, the art of analytics story telling is being taken to a new level.

Webtrends 9 Story View

There are some things that charts and graphs cannot communicate well. Version 9 brings a new feature called Story View. This visualization is totally text-based and is used to present a clear narrative.

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Webtrends 9 -- Story View Data Visualization

Webtrends 9 RSS Overlays

One of the themes of the v9 release was blending data from different sources. The system is capable of integrating new, external sources of data (e.g., ecommerce transactions) and mixing that data in the system core.

The new RSS Overlays feature mixes external data, but it does so in the user interface and is used to help correlate external events with internally tracked patterns or metrics.

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Webtrends 9 -- RSS Overlay Feature

Powerful, Open and Elegant

These are the key attributes of Webtrends that CEO Alex Yoder likes to talk about. Another one is agile, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Yoder was a company insider promoted to CEO almost exactly a year ago. During our conversation he focused on how the company had evolved across the board over the course of the last year. His enthusiasm showed strongly through, as did his sales background -- he seems to have a good grasp of client concerns and of the realities encountered in the field.

Where the Power Lies

I was impressed by some of the new UI work the Webtrends team has done. I think enabling the analytics story tellers via both flexibility and sophisticated tools is generally a good thing, customers all stand to benefit from this.

But a lot has changed for Internet technologies and Internet companies in the past few years. Open is not just a checkbox, but for many, a core strategy. We see the word API a lot more in the public sphere, in the titles of press releases and on many a feature list.

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Volume of Google News Items Containing the Word "API"

When I queried Alex on what he considered to be the most powerful part of Webtrend's intellectual capital, it was not the UI and the story telling abilities that he focused on. At the core of Webtrend's value are its patented business intelligence algorithms and abilities to meaningfully sample data. At the core of the business strategy was blending data sources and opening the APIs.

Open is the New Elegance

Great UI's, crafty data collection and clever business intelligence go a long way. But that's not far enough these days. Forget user interface, open is the new elegance.

Amazon has literally vomited its internal business operation units upon us in the form of Amazon Web Services. It's been a great experience. And it's a wonderful image of what, to some degree, many technology companies must do.

In speaking with Alex, it was clear he and his team understood this and prioritized it. Webtrends 9 APIs are not just about getting data out. It's a two way street deep down in there -- you can put your data in, take it out, analyze it and then construct your stories.

The Webtrends team does not hold the illusion that they can present all the stories your business will need. What they do believe is that they can give you the tools to do this yourself. The mantra is data in, no restrictions; data out, no fees.

Through a new level of openness, Alex and team think that "true business intelligence integration is finally going to come to the web space." This is the elegance of their vision.

Agility is All the Rage, Thankfully

Webtrends has evolved from an off the shelf analytics product to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering. The rapid release cycles common to agile software development practices are often associated with SaaS software delivery models. This has not historically been the case with Webtrends, but part of this last year of changes for the company was to make this happen.

Previously, the company was putting out releases every 12 to 15 months. As of last year, the new deal is a promise of agility -- they are locked to a 4 month release cycle. The first release was October 2008 and the second in February 2009. Version 9 is the third release, and the team says that after a rough transition, they're getting their groove.

Webtrends Turns a Corner

It's hard not to be impressed by what Alex and team have accomplished. Webtrends 9 looks like the manifestation of a well thought out vision. The strategic emphasis on both new story telling means and extensive APIs demonstrate a thoughtfulness and humility that should benefit customers. Rapid release cycles and a strong customer focus should mean that the company can self correct in non-disastrous increments. From what we see, a year of hard work has just set Webtrends on an enviable path.

Webtrends 9 is available for purchase as of today. Current Webtrends On Demand customers have access to Analytics 9 at http://Insight.Webtrends.com.