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Quit Google Analytics, Self-hosted Gatsby Statistics with Ackee

Alec Brunelle
Words on React, GraphQL, Next.JS, Cypress, Privacy and Remote Work
Originally published at Medium ・Updated on ・5 min read

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There are many different goals one can have when it comes to hosting your own website or blog. For myself, it means just having a place where I own the content of my words and can customize it to my liking. When it comes to analytics, my needs aren’t many, as most of my audience reads my content via platforms like dev.to or Medium. All I need to know is how many people visit my site, which posts are doing well and where users come from (referral links). Given my recent obsessive elimination of all things tracking and advertising in my life, I chose to stop supporting Google and move from Google Analytics to something self-hosted. It wasn't an easy product to use and most of the features were useless to me as I don't sell anything on my blog. This way I own the data and am not contributing it to a company that could use it in potentially malicious ways.

I set out to search for a new tracking tool for my blog. My criteria for choosing a new product were:

  • Be simple
  • Have features I will use
  • Put a focus on privacy
  • Built with a programming language I know so making changes is easy
  • Be able to easily host on a Platform-as-a-Service like Heroku
  • Have the ability to be easily added to a Gatsby blog
  • Have an option to not collect unique user data such as OS, Browser Info, Device & ScreenSize

Meet Ackee

ackee website homepage


Beautiful, isn't it

I came across Ackee 🔮, a self-hosted analytics tool. This tool fit my requirements almost perfectly. It is built using Node.js which I have experience in and it focuses on anonymizing data that it collects. More information on how Ackee anonymizes data here.

The steps you need to take to start collecting statistics with Ackee are to start running it on a server, Heroku in my case, add the Javascript tracker to your Gatsby site and test to see if the data is flowing correctly.

This a detailed guide on how I went about deploying it to Heroku. Afterwards, I contributed back a Deploy-to-Heroku button which deploys it in one-click. Find the button here.

Up and running on Heroku

First thing is to start running the server which is going to receive the tracking data from your website.

  1. Create a new Heroku app instance

    https://res.cloudinary.com/dscgr6mcw/image/upload/v1581282566/ackee-post/Screenshot_at_Feb_09_16-09-18.png

  2. Use the heroku-cli to upload the code

    # clone the code
    git clone git@github.com:electerious/Ackee.git
    
    # login to heroku
    heroku login
    
    # add the heroku remote
    heroku git:remote -a ackee-server
    
    # push the code
    git push heroku master
    
  3. Configure a MongoDB add-on, this is where the data will be stored

    https://res.cloudinary.com/dscgr6mcw/image/upload/v1581282745/ackee-post/Screenshot_at_Feb_09_16-12-18.png

  4. Configure the environment variables

    heroku config:set ACKEE_PASSWORD=<your password>
    heroku config:set ACKEE_USERNAME=<your username>
    

And voila! You are finished, that was easy, wasn't it? Open the webpage Heroku automatically configures for you, it should be https://ackee-server.herokuapp.com/, you should see this:

ackee login page


The log in page!

Adding the tracker

Now we need to send data over from the website to the server we now have running on Heroku. If you are using Gatsby, this is incredibly easy with the plugin.

  1. Install the tracker

    npm install gatsby-plugin-ackee-tracker
    
  2. Create a domain on Ackee and get the domain id. Find this option in the settings tab of your Ackee instance.

  3. Add it to your Gatsby config

{
    resolve: "gatsby-plugin-ackee-tracker",
    options: {
        // Domain ID found when adding a domain in the admin panel.
        domainId: "<your domain id>",
        // URL to Server eg: "https://analytics.test.com".
        server: "https://ackee-server.herokuapp.com",
        // Disabled analytic tracking when running locally
        // IMPORTANT: Set this back to false when you are done testing
        ignoreLocalhost: true,
        // If enabled it will collect info on OS, BrowserInfo, Device  & ScreenSize
        // False due to detailed information being personalized:
        // https://github.com/electerious/Ackee/blob/master/docs/Anonymization.md#personal-data
        detailed: false
    }
},
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  1. Run the site locally

    gatsby develop
    

Testing to make sure it worked

Open up your site at http://localhost:8000 and go to a new url.

Observe the network requests your site is sending. You will notice it now sends requests to your Heroku instance.

using the brave browser dev tools


Using the dev tools

And with that, we now have the server running Ackee and our Gatsby sending analytics!

What you get

Let’s explore Ackee, shall we.

ackee home page screenshot


Home page with total site views

ackee list of referrers screenshot


List of referrers

ackee per page view count screenshot


Per page view count

Alternatives

Here are some alternative methods I considered when thinking about analytics for my blog.

No tracking

Combined with the fact more and more people are blocking trackers all-together (Firefox, Brave and Chrome ad blocking extensions), JavaScript-based tracking is becoming less and less valuable over-time. Most analytics can easily become a way to be vain about your blog and you can start a bad habit of always checking them (wasted time compared to producing actual content). Deciding not to track any analytics at all is not a bad decision these days.

Server-side analytics

The most private and fast way of collecting analytics on your website may be to collect analytics at the server level. What this means is instead of using a JavaScript tracker (which may be blocked by the browser), stats are collected when the HTML is sent from the server. Integration with your static host provider or DNS provider is needed here. The main con about this method is that data is collected by a third party service and also is usually not free. Cloudflare offers these types of analytics alongside Netlify. A huge benefit is the ease of setup, usually the provider just turns it on with a switch on their side, no setup needed from you.

Discussion (5)

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khrome83 profile image
Zane Milakovic

Have you seen simpleanalytics.com/

I have been using it for almost a year now. The creator is very responsive. He is active on Twitter and very open about his startup.

He even recently moved his servers from Iceland to Norway because the privacy was even better.

If you want safe data tracking, his is the strictest. You would not need mongo or heroku server. It does cost. But I like supporting a small business.

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aleccool213 profile image
Alec Brunelle Author

simpleanalytics.com is a fantastic product and if you are looking for a more robust solution, I would highly recommend them.

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hectorivand profile image
Ignacio Van Droogenbroeck ☁️

Hi, nice post. Have you seen differences in visits compared to analytics? I don't use Analytics in my blog, I used Matomo and now I trying Ackee to "collect" less data from my visitors but I see that Ackee reports more than double of visits. Have you some kind of behavior? Thanks.

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aleccool213 profile image
Alec Brunelle Author

Haven't tested against another analytics service but that is a good idea for a sanity check. Analytics are finicky by nature though, some browsers like Firefox and Brave block all scripts but let others pass through. Depending on the "reputation" of the script, a browser may block it while it lets another script through. These situations lead me to use analytics as more of a relative tool to answer questions like "how is this post doing versus this other post".

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gabcimato profile image
Gabriele Cimato

Thank you for the post, this could not come at a better time!