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  1. #1
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Open Source Consolidated Affiliate Statistics Software?
    Would anyone be interested in working on an open source desktop-based consolidated affiliate statistics package, similar to AffTrack, AffMeter, etc.?

    I've used AffTrack (which is web-based) for years and love the interface and depth of reports, but have been frustrated with the total lack of support, the inability to get LinkShare stats, and the inability to get new networks and programs added. I've tried AffMeter (which is desktop-based), but am disappointed with the relatively featureless interface and the inability to get new networks added.

    I think open source makes a lot of sense, because it would make it easy for us to add new networks and leverage everyone's skills. We could also use the platform to create API standards that would make it easier for networks, affiliate software providers, and indies to work with.

    I think desktop-based is essential, to avoid problems like the ones that kept LinkShare from allowing AffTrack to collect stats for them.

    With the programming talent out there in the affiliate field, I think this could be very doable.
    Michael Coley
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  2. #2
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    I'm interested in seeing it come to fruition and I think the API train that's rolling towards means it's more doable than ever. But "work" towards - you asking for programmers? I'm not that talented of a programmer, but can give in other ways towards seeing it happen.

    Agree with you about desktop - if someone else is hosting it, I'm not at all interested.

  3. #3
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    Might I suggest that OPMs could use this as well, from the other side of the coin. It's only a matter of time before I send Merchant A's newsletter to Affiliate Group B, and then I'll be dragged through the streets of ABW....

    Of course, I probably really won't do that, but the fact remains managing affiliate approvals, et al, across multiple merchants is not "easy". It's not undoable, but I'd be happy to see a consolidated solution.

    Granted, there are more affiliates than OPMs, thank god, so MC's idea will gain more traction than my piggy back idea.
    Kevin Webster
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  4. #4
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donuts
    But "work" towards - you asking for programmers? I'm not that talented of a programmer, but can give in other ways towards seeing it happen.
    Yeah, I would be looking for others to spearhead the development. I'm pretty good at Linux, Perl, database, and web development, but I don't have any recent desktop application experience or experience with the languages that I think most others would prefer (.Net, etc.). I could pitch in some on the work and would love to help guide the project, but I just don't have the right experience (or enough spare time) to take a big role myself.
    Michael Coley
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  5. #5
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    If there's not anyone with the expertise, time, and interest to lead development of a desktop application, I think I'm going to move forward (although I'm not sure when) with a Unix/Apache/MySQL-based version. That's where my expertise is.

    I'm not interested in building a hosted version where everyone's data is in one place, but rather software that people can install on their own servers.

    I really see three separate parts to the project:

    1) Configuration options (being able to specify the networks, logins, passwords, etc.)
    2) Data collection.
    3) Reporting.

    The data structure seems pretty simple. For each merchant and timeframe (be it a day, month, or whatever), there only a little bit of data:

    1) Impressions
    2) Clicks
    3) Number of Sales
    4) Sales$
    5) Commision$

    All other data (EPC, Comm%, Avg. Order, Conv%, CTR, etc.) is calculated from those fields.

    Plus, I would probably add two additional fields:

    6) Timestamp of when the data last changed.
    7) Timestamp of when the data was last checked.

    Am I missing anything? It almost seems too simple.
    Michael Coley
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  6. #6
    Outsourced Program Manager Jorge - SHOPiMAR's Avatar
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    Michael,

    Ok, you have everything else great in your sig, but why not this one and an occasional bump?

    This is great suggestion to have it as open source. Like Donuts said one of the reasons I never really liked or used those others is because of being on their own servers. I think we all prefer data kept private and would welcome this aff stats open source tool even more knowing not only it's value but kept individually. It could take a while to develop I agree with that, but I think would help many and most might not have the time, skills like myself, but getting many of us involved somehow, may see it come through.

    Also like Kevin says this would be great tool addition to implement too for AM/OPMs some how in the development.

  7. #7
    ABW Ambassador PatrickAllmond's Avatar
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    Cough - did somebody say development - cough hello ?

    How may I be of service?
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  8. #8
    ABW Ambassador PatrickAllmond's Avatar
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    What does this other software mentioned do ? Just track affiliate clicks ? So tracking the click on the way to SAS/LS/Etc. ?

    Patrick
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  9. #9
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    No, they consolidate affiliate sales statistics.

    The basic details that would need to be collected for each period for each merchant on each network would be:

    1. Impressions
    2. Clicks
    3. Number of Sales
    4. Sales Value
    5. Commission Value
    6. Timestamp of last change in the above.
    7. Timestamp that the above was last checked.

    There should probably be options for both daily and monthly statistics.

    It would need to be written in a modular way so that add-on modules could be easily created for additional networks.

    Once the data is collected, a myriad of reporting, graphs, and charts can be created.
    Michael Coley
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  10. #10
    ABW Ambassador PatrickAllmond's Avatar
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    I take it this is primarily for the affiliate.

    I've got some dumb questions/statements:

    1. So for tracking a click it would have to intercept and record a click on the way to SAS - which intercepts the click on the way to the merchant already? Am I understanding this correctly?

    2. How would you know the commission?

    ... or is this more along the lines of a standard reporting mechanism that SAS/CJ/Etc. would use ? And wouldn't that be voluntary on their part ?

    Feel free to poke holes in all of this.
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  11. #11
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    In checking out Affmeter I was wondering how they get the stats. I don't think it's screen scraping so they must be using some API. Does anyone know how to get this API from the various networks. I am a programmer by trade and was looking for this information. If this is available I wouldn't mind donating the code I write to the open source project.

  12. #12
    ABW Ambassador PatrickAllmond's Avatar
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    We are probably going to have to content with those that have no API and those that will not give it up. Screen scraping is one of the worst wats to gather data - it does not take much to break it.
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  13. #13
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Patrick: You're still not getting it. This isn't for click tracking. Just consolidated reporting. Instead of having to log into each network, an affiliate could collect and review all of the reporting in a central location (on their desktop or their own server).

    Scraping is really the only way to collect the data until networks create APIs. Some have them, but most don't.

    With open source and add-in modules for each network, it'll be fairly easy to update the code when a change on a network breaks the scraper (or if an API becomes available). It might also make sense to propose a standard API that networks can build for easier inclusion.
    Michael Coley
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  14. #14
    ABW Ambassador PatrickAllmond's Avatar
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    Ahhh. So each network does have to get involved and use the same code. That is what I was wondering.
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  15. #15
    Affiliate Manager cbsturg's Avatar
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    MC, I'd be willing to work with you on this. Are you looking to build this in a framework (e.g., Zend, CakePHP, etc), or just hump through the code by hand the old-fashioned way? Here are a couple of my thoughts on the subject - let me know what you think:

    A single repository for the base code with easy installation (could combine with the XAMPP project for those who have no idea how to get Apache, PHP and MySQL to play nice together).

    An automated process that checks to make sure that the current version is the most up-to-date (so as networks change and new networks are added, the users are made aware without any extra effort on their part). When a new version is available, I think the user should be shown on their local version what changes have been made. The user should be able to disable this feature in a properties setting.

    I would agree that creating a standard API for guaranteed inclusion be a part of the process. As this project gains momentum and affiliates begin to expect it to interact with their networks, we could then be a position of requiring the networks to work with OUR API instead of having to make several new libraries to interact with theirs.

    Have you already started with the code base, or at least a project map?

    Shoot me a PM or email me (chris [at] employchris.com) if you're still serious.
    Chris Sturgill
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  16. #16
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by patrick24601
    Ahhh. So each network does have to get involved and use the same code. That is what I was wondering.
    No, for most networks we'll need to scrape.

    It would be a pretty useless application if it only consolidated information from those networks that were willing to create a custom API.
    Michael Coley
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  17. #17
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Chris,

    I'd love to have your help with it. What you see here is basically all I've done with it. I'm not sure I would have the time to work on it, other than providing some guidance and direction. I agree that a repository and auto-updating features would be essential.

    I would love to see the "network modules" simple enough that a fairly novice programmer could build them. I see that as a feature that would help insure more widespread support for the more obscure networks.

    I really see the project as two separate pieces, both revolving around the basic data structure I mentioned several posts ago.

    1) The data collection routines. These would collect the user's data from the networks.
    2) The reporting features. These would take the collected data and generate useful reports. AffTrack is probably the best example of the variety of reports that are possible. I bet they have about 100 reports. And there are still some that would be useful that they don't provide.
    Michael Coley
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  18. #18
    Affiliate Manager cbsturg's Avatar
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    I've got 10-15 hours a week I can put into it right now, not much more than that. And with Q4 coming full swing, those numbers could drop.

    I agree the network modules should be as simple as possible, but let's not overlook that people should also be able to create custom reporting modules. Perhaps our repository should have a user submission protocol where users can submit both network modules and reporting modules for possible inclusion in the base code. Given the sensitive nature of the information contained within the program, I don't think that just anybody should be able to make changes to the base of code (else they might be able to put in a line of code that sends that sensitive information to their own personal server). Working this way, the program can expand from the outside in without compromising any security issues.

    In my mind, the hardest part of all of this will definitely be the data collection. I wonder if the good folks at SaS might be interested in working along with us in designing a quality API that is simple for the novices to use.
    Chris Sturgill
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  19. #19
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    The data collection is really fairly simple, with the right modules. For instance, if we develop it in Perl (which is what I'm most familiar with), there is a CPAN module called WWW::Mechanize that basically works like a browser. You can "get", fill forms (like logins), click, follow links, etc., all in an automated fashion. I'm sure most other development platforms have something similar.
    Michael Coley
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  20. #20
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I think you have the right idea about user submission of new/changed network modules. We might want to make it simple for them to use their own changes in their own installation, but to be included in the repository it definitely needs reviewed for exactly the reasons you specified.
    Michael Coley
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  21. #21
    Affiliate Manager cbsturg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    The data collection is really fairly simple, with the right modules. For instance, if we develop it in Perl (which is what I'm most familiar with), there is a CPAN module called WWW::Mechanize that basically works like a browser. You can "get", fill forms (like logins), click, follow links, etc., all in an automated fashion. I'm sure most other development platforms have something similar.
    I haven't worked a lot with Perl - I'm mostly a PHP/MySQL guy, though that feature sounds pretty neat. I'll run a Google search to learn about it / see if there's a PHP equivalent.

    We could also get dirty with it and open up sockets and post the information directly to the network's server...
    Chris Sturgill
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  22. #22
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Yeah, it's a pretty sweet module. It makes web-based automation simple, especially when combined with the powerful regular expression and string handling features in Perl. I also use it for automated testing of coupons for some merchants. (Add an item to the cart, go through checkout, and see if it worked.)

    The other thing that needs to be decided is whether to make this PC-based or web-based. I supposed it could also be developed to work in either environment.
    Michael Coley
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  23. #23
    Affiliate Manager cbsturg's Avatar
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    I would say web-based. Ideally I think PC-based is better, but given that both of our strengths lie in web-based apps, I would think we should stick with our strengths.

    Again, I think this should be run on the local machine. Developing in a language like PHP or Perl will allow it to easily work on both Macs and PCs as well. And there are great projects (like AMPP) that make installing a development Apache server incredibly simple.

    From there, the user can just copy the repository of files into the webroot and run a simple configuration script that will set everything up.
    Chris Sturgill
    "All my life I've had one dream, to achieve my many goals." - H. Simpson

  24. #24
    ABW Ambassador Sam Bay's Avatar
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    Great idea and project, Michael. I don't have programming knowledge but would be want to contribute in any other ways I can. QA, basic graphic design, etc.

  25. #25
    Affiliate Manager cbsturg's Avatar
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    Thinking about it, we could offer the service off of our own servers as well (for those who don't want to download the application). Information stored on our servers could be saved through a custom encryption key. What's more, we could set up a chron job that periodically changes the encryption key. We could randomize the encryption generating process rather than cycle through a set of encryption keys.

    Those encryption keys would be stored in a flat file off of the webroot so that if the database is compromised, the hacker would also have to find a way to get a hold of the files stored off the webroot to make any sense of it. In my opinion, ALL info stored in the db (every field except, perhaps, the table index key) should be encrypted so that hackers aren't able to compare things like a person's real name with characters in the email address.

    It might be a nice option to include - what do you think?
    Chris Sturgill
    "All my life I've had one dream, to achieve my many goals." - H. Simpson

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