Why I made GoatCounter

Last year I was working on a product idea and wanted to add some basic analytics to measure how many people are visiting the site. I've also been wanting to add basic analytics to my personal homepage/programming weblog to measure if anyone is reading anything I write (and if so, what?)

Analytics are useful to measure things like “what type of content is popular, and should I write more of?”, “does it even make sense to distribute a newsletter?”, “how does the redesigned signup button affect signup rates?”, “is anyone even using this page I'm maintaining”?

I tried a number of existing solutions, and found them are either very complex and designed for advanced users, or far too simplistic. In addition almost all hosted solutions are priced for business users (≥$10/month), making it too expensive for personal/hobby use.

What seems to be lacking is a “middle ground” that offers useful statistics to answer business questions, without becoming a specialized marketing tool requiring in-depth training to use effectively. Furthermore, some tools have privacy issues (especially Google Analytics). I saw there was space for a new service and ended up putting my original idea in the freezer and writing GoatCounter.1

Why is it free?

Almost all hosted solutions are exclusively oriented towards business use. This makes sense from a business point of view – better to support 100 customers paying €30 each than 1000 paying €3 each – but it does leave a lot of people without a good/affordable solution.

I think it’s important to make the barrier of entry for software like this low as feasible to make actual meaningful inroads to “de-Google-fi” the internet a bit, and make pervasive tracking less common. Making it freely available (for personal use) is part of that. In my own online purchasing behaviour I find that even a small €1 or €2 subscription is quite a barrier, especially for personal projects. From what I see, I don’t think my behaviour is an outlier. Most people don't use Google Analytics because they're overwhelmingly impressed by it, but just because it's free.

The only other options outside of Google Analytics is to pay upwards of €10/month or to self-host something like Matomo, which also isn't free in terms of hosting costs, setup time, maintenance, etc. Never mind that average person running his photography website probably doesn't have the interest or know-how.

If you want to make the internet a bit better, then the only real option is to offer a SaaS for free, at least for personal use. Ideally I'd like to make it free for everyone up to n pageviews/month – like Google Analytics – but I do need to pay the bills 😅

What are GoatCounter's goals?

Without focusing too much on specific features, high-level goals are:


Footnotes

  1. A little context on the name: GoatCounter is written in the Go programming language, and I thought it would be fun to reflect that in the name. The original “intermediate” project in-between my original idea and GoatCounter was GoatLetter, a newsletter service with similar aesthetics to GoatCounter (something I will finish soon™). Probably subconsciously influenced by MailChip I ended up with “Goat”.

    I originally wanted to avoid using the word “Analytics” as it's 1) associated with invasive tracking like GA 2) something I have trouble spelling correctly 😅 “Counter” refers to “counting requests” (as opposed to “analytics”. It's a bit of a weird name, but memorable, so I guess I'll stick with it for now :-)