Sawmill Web Analytics

by john on April 29, 2003

Sawmill screen

I’m now using Sawmill exclusively for my web analysis needs. I’ve been using Webalizer for a few years and have been happy with it, but a few months ago I decided to test the waters to see what else was available for either free or very low cost and Sawmill came out on top.

In the brief time before I fell in with Sawmill I tried Analog and ReportMagic, Statomatic, AWStats and one or two others. I was able to get each tool installed and working, and they all delivered the basics of what I was looking for and I’m sure work very well for their users. But a number of things made Sawmill stand out for me.

By far the coolest feature of Sawmill is its ability to allow the user to drill into every single object and to explore the relationships in a myriad of ways. Even better, its very easy for the user to add new relationships to the database that are available from then on after a database rebuild. For example, imagine you would like to see how people are coming to a certain page on your site. You can click on a calendar view which allows you to filter data by all time, year, month, week or day, and you can choose to view Top Pages for whatever time period you are interested in. By default Sawmill shows the top 10 pages, but you can quickly view more, all the way up to all the pages if you would like.

Once you see the page you are interested in, drill into it. By default the Top Referrers query is not enabled at that view – but by clicking on it anyway you are presented with instructions on how to add it (and a warning not to add too many cross-refs for the sake of performance) which is as simple as marking a checkbox and submitting the request. It doesn’t take too long before you have all the relationships that are important to you and you’ll be able to explore the depths of your log files. Here are some other features as documented by Flowerfire, the makers of Sawmill.

Sawmill lists for $99 for an individual and starts at $199 for corporations but if you are willing to devote some time to testing the product vigorously and reporting your results you can earn the product for free. Details on the program are available, but I’ll give some highlights here. What’s cool about this program is not only can individuals qualify for free licenses but so can corporations. Quite simply, for every hour that you spend testing Sawmill you will earn a $40 credit toward the purchase of Sawmill. So for an individual license you need to record about two and half hours to earn your license, a company could earn a $999 ISP license by testing for 25 hours. They also pay bounties for reporting bugs.

I thought this approach was very novel but frankly I was skeptical that my hard work recording my testing time would be rewarded. Would they say I didn’t document enough? Would my email to them go into a black-hole? Nonetheless – I sent in my notes from my testing and awaited my license. Within a couple of days I got a response back from the company with my license code, and amazingly the email included comments on my testing reports – asking questions, telling me how to do things I wasn’t sure about, letting me know that others had reported similar items. I was blown away – someone actually read what I wrote and thought enough to respond. That was the clincher for me – a product that is being actively developed and is changing based on vigorous user testing from a wide array of different people will be a strong product that I will be a user of for some time.

Sawmill certainly isn’t perfect. It seems slower than other tools when updating the database, and that only gets worse as you rebuild the database to include additional relationships. The user interface could use some work in a few places – let me click on a column heading to change the sort order instead of choosing from a drop-down, that sort of thing. Can’t browse to a network share to locate log files, have to type UNC address instead. The graphs don’t look as pretty as I’m used to. It’s harder to add new search engines to its list than Webalizer, etc.

Some of these are fixable issues and with the active development being done on Sawmill I believe users like me will be able to influence the positive change that will continue to make the product stronger.

Whether you are looking to analyze your own web log files or are looking for a corporate solution I highly recommend Sawmill.


john April 29, 2003 at 11:03 pm

I should point out that if you are really looking for something that will scale to millions of pages that you should be looking at a more robust enterprise corporate solution, such as NetGenesis Enterprise.

derek April 30, 2003 at 4:21 pm

firecrackers are for EATING

Rob Hamblin July 16, 2003 at 5:26 pm

LifeLine, by Performance Drivers is the best that I have seen. It easy to use and gives you reports that you can actually do something with.

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