AXS, My Favorite Tracking System

October 17, 2007, by Suzanne

When first I wanted to know how many people were coming to my web sites, I found a lot of tracking systems out there, most of them for a nice fee, of course. Or, if "stats" came with a hosting package, it would be just "stats" - that is, aggregate information, how many from this domain, how many from that domain, what browser they were using. But that's not what I wanted. Maybe I'm silly, but I don't really care about how many people are using which browser, or how many come from each major ISP. I wanted individual information, where they were!

I felt strongly too about using server-side code, rather than client-side code, because you never know what hardware and software the visitor is using, and I've been crashed too many times by sites with whiz bang fancy Java or flash that was nothing but ornamental.

What I really wanted in a tracking script was one that would log my visitor's IP addresses, and not arbitrarily scroll the information off after a handful of them. IP addresses won't tell me who somebody is or what their e-mail address is, but if I do an IP Location Lookup through MelissaData, what they do tell me is what country somebody's in, and if I'm lucky what town or city he or she is in. If I'm really really lucky, maybe what organization he/she works for, too. If you're from a maternity & children's hospital I've never heard of, well, then I have a new lead to chase down with my maternity product!

In the end, the script I chose to use is inexpensive to free: AXS from Fluid Dynamics. It gives me both the individual data (including a direct WHOIS link, although I prefer MelissaData), including which search terms people used to find me, and it gives me the aggregate data I hardly ever look at, but I know lots of folks do like to look at. Unlike many generic "stats" offered by hosting providers, it also allows me to turn off and on tracking of my own browser (using a cookie), so that I don't skew my own data. It's a Perl script that installs in your hosting service's cgi space, and comes with instructions as to how to install it on each page of your site. A really nice feature is that you can use it cross-hosts, by installing it in a cgi-enabled web site, and then use it to track visitors on a non-cgi enabled web site that you've got (say on one o' them freebie services).

That is just the coolest thing!

AXS has been out since before Google has had its free and very popular "Analytics" out, and I tried installing them side by side on one of my sites, a Russian music balalaika orchestra site, but you know, I still like AXS. Analytics does give me what countries and cities people are in, but it withholds their IP addresses. Why should they? They're my visitors! Also, AXS doesn't push me with guides or advice for "optimizing" my site for monetization, when it's a non-monetizing site. And AXS is hosted on my own site's server. Relying on someone else's server, such as Google's, is hazardous because it could disappear (or the terms changed) at any time. (Believe me, I've had that happen in the past with a free tracking service hosted elsewhere!)

Happy Webbing!