Making an open source, privacy-conscious alternative to Google Analytics

Hello, who are you and what are you working on?

Hey! My name is Uku, and I'm a developer based in London, UK. I am mostly self-taught, although I wouldn't be where I am today without the amazing apprenticeship program I went through at 8th Light. I spent the first four years of my career there, learning from people who've forgotten more about programming than I'll ever know.

These days I'm working on Plausible. It's an open-source alternative to Google Analytics and other proprietary web analytics systems.

Why did you start Plausible?

Online tracking is broken. We use free analytics tools and pay with our privacy online. Some people argue that regulating companies like Google and Facebook is sufficient to solve the problem. I take a more radical view: the whole digital advertising sector is rotten to the core. Their business model creates a massive global demand for personal data that can be used to target people with advertisements. To solve the problem, we need to step outside of the advertising business model.

The only way to do web analytics right, in my opinion, is to build a service that is completely open-source and guarantees 100% data ownership to you as the website owner.

What were the early days like?

I've started many projects that lost steam before I managed to launch them. This time I decided to create some accountability before coding the first prototype. I wrote a sort of manifesto on why I'm building an alternative analytics tool. I shared it with my friends and found some people who told me they would use this product when it's available.

When I had about 10 people interested, I started writing code. Their continued interest in the project kept me motivated to keep working on it for about 2 months until I launched the public beta. At that point, dozens of people signed up and I felt compelled to keep going.

Why did you decide to make Plausible open source?

Web analytics is such a critical piece of the web infrastructure that it should be subject to public scrutiny. There are no good reasons to hide the code, only bad ones. All the code powering Plausible is part of the commons, and I only charge for hosting the freely-available code on servers that I rent.

How have you grown Plausible's usage?

So far I've probably found most of my users through IndieHackers, Reddit and Twitter. I try to find communities that have an anti-establishment sentiment to them. To be successful on community platforms you must spend most of your time contributing, and less than half of your time doing self-promotion. The sort of crowd I'm selling to can detect cheap selling tactics from miles away.

What hasn't worked for me is buying traffic. I've wasted a couple hundred dollars promoting tweets and buying a slot on a newsletter. My target audience just seems to ignore promoted messages. It's not surprising, I use an adblocker and ignore promoted messages as well.

How much time do you devote to Plausible?

I currently work 2 days a week on Plausible. It's enough to keep the project moving but I'd like to do more. Currently, I make $150/mo from this project which is not enough to go full-time yet.

What are the biggest obstacles you've had to overcome?

My biggest obstacle is the fact that I don't particularly enjoy doing marketing and sales work. Ultimately you need eyeballs on your project to make a difference, and it's just not something I enjoy doing daily. If you're going to be a solo founder, you must realize that most of the work is telling people about your project and convincing them to use it. I hope to involve other people in the future who are better than me at promoting the platform.

What are your hopes for the future of Plausible?

My vision for Plausible is to achieve in web analytics what Ghost has achieved in publishing. They have proved that you can build an open platform that performs better than proprietary tools in the same space. They have also managed to turn it into a sustainable business so the maintainers get paid for what they do. This is crucial for the long-term health of the project.

What advice do you have for other open source projects and maintainers?

My advice is to keep on keeping on. Open-source maintainers have a very thankless job and it's very stressful. While entrepreneurs and startups are celebrated in the media, they don't talk about the countless hours that others have spent on the free software that enables these startups to exist.


For a privacy-conscious alternative to Google Analytics, you can try out Plausible here: https://plausible.io/. To look at the code and learn more about Plausible as an open source project, star Plausible on GitHub.

To hear more from Uku on Plausible, privacy and adtech, you can follow him on Twitter.