What Was Urchin? & How Google Analytics Was Related To Urchin?


Google Had Two Web Analytics Products: Google Analytics & Urchin Software.


Urchin Software Corp. was acquired by Google in April 2005, forming Google Analytics. In April 2008,—a free web analytics service that uses the resources at Google.

Google released Urchin 6. In February 2009, Google released Urchin 6.5, integrating AdWords. Urchin 7 was released in September 2010 and included 64-bit support, a new UI, and event tracking, among other features.

Google discontinued this product (Urchin) and sales ended on March 28, 2012.


History of Urchin Software


In this history of urchin, I’ve tried to explain the scenario before 2012 that how urchin works and what was the difference between Urchin & Google Analytics

Urchin software was a downloadable web analytics program that runs on a local server (Unix or Windows). Typically, it was the same machine as your web server.

The Urchin Software created reports by processing web server log files (including hybrid ones) and was commonly referred to as server-side web analytics.

Urchin was essentially the same technology as Google Analytics—the difference with Urchin was that your organization needs to provide the resources for log storage and data processing.

This software provides a Logfile of information that page-tag solutions alone cannot provide. Therefore, Urchin Software provides complementary reports that Google Analytics currently does not (or cannot because of its methodology).


Let’s look at some examples:


Visitor history report Tracking individual visitors enables you to view the path a visitor takes through your website as well as their referral information.

For privacy reasons, Google has deliberately taken the decision not to track individuals with Google Analytics. However, with the data collection and processing under your control, you had the freedom to do this with Urchin.

Each visitor was tracked anonymously. Error page and status code reports more than just complete page views (as is the case of Google Analytics), Urchin could download all your error codes.

Bandwidth reports: reporting on bandwidth allows you to view how “heavy” your pages are and how this impacts the visitor’s experience.

Login reports: If your website, every user has their own login area where they can be tracked individually. This supports standard Apache (.htaccess) or any authentication that logs usernames in the log file.


Differences between Google Analytics and Urchin


Earlier, With two analytics products from Google to choose from, how do you determine which one of these were right for your organization?

Google Analytics was perfect for most organizations, for two very simple reasons:


  • Google Analytics is a free service. This is generally considered a major benefit for small and medium-size organizations where budgets for analysis are tight.
  • Urchin Software was a licensed product.
Google Analytics

Google Analytics handles a large part of the IT overhead. It conducts the data collection, storage, program maintenance, and all the upgrades for you.


Urchin was generally considered a major benefit for large organizations where web analytics is a priority for the Marketing department and less so for the IT department.Maintaining your own logfiles has an overhead, mainly because web server log files get very large, very quickly. As a guide, every 1,000 visits produce approximately 4 MB of log info.Therefore, 10,000 visits per month are approximately 500 MB per year. If you have 100,000 visits per month, that’s 5 GB per year, and so on.

Those are just estimates—for your own site, these could easily double. At the end of the day, managing large log files isn’t something your IT department gets excited about.

Urchin also requires disk space for its processed data (stored in a proprietary database).

Storing and archiving all this information is an important task because if you run out of disk space, you risk file or database corruption from disk-write errors. This kind of file corruption is almost impossible to recover from.


Urchin Software does have some real advantages over Google Analytics.


For example, data is recorded and stored by your web server, rather than streamed to Google, which means the following:


Data processing and reprocessing


Urchin can process data as and when you wish, for example, on the hour, every hour. You can also reprocess data—to apply a filter retroactively or to correct a filter error.

Google Analytics reports are three to four hours in arrears and cannot reprocess data retroactively (in my opinion, the benefit of reprocessing data is the strongest advantage of Urchin).

Unlimited data storage

Urchin can keep and view data for as long as you wish. Google Analytics currently commits to keep data for a maximum of 25 months, Google has made no attempt to remove data older than this.

Third-party auditing

Urchin allows your data to be audited by an independent third party. This is usually important for publishers who sell advertising space on their site, where auditing is required to verify visitor numbers and provide credibility for advertisers (trust in their rate card). Google Analytics does not pass data to third parties.

Intranets and firewalls

Urchin works behind the firewall; which means it’s suitable for intranets. Google Analytics page tags cannot run behind a closed firewall.

Database access:

Urchin stores data locally in a proprietary database and includes tools that can be used to access the raw data outside a web browser, allowing you to run ad-hoc queries.

Google Analytics stores data in remote locations within Google data centers around the world in proprietary databases and does not provide direct access to the raw data for ad hoc queries. That said, the Google Analytics API does allow you to query your processed data.

Note: Urchin was sold and supported exclusively through a network of Urchin Software Authorized Consultants.


Criteria for Choosing between Google Analytics and Urchin


There are a few crucial issues to consider when choosing one of the Google analytic services, detailed in the following list. Generally speaking, apart from intranets,

Urchin is used mostly by web-hosting providers where deployment scalability for large numbers of websites is important.

Google Analytics, apart from being a free service, is used by organizations that wish to have greater control of their individual web analytics implementation.

When Google Analytics is the best fit: Select Google Analytics if you are measuring the success (or not) of your website, its ability to convert, and the effectiveness of online marketing.

Google Analytics is much easier to implement, has stronger AdWords integration, and by comparison is maintenance free.

When Urchin is the best fit Select Urchin if:

  • You have an intranet site behind a firewall that blocks Internet activity. Google Analytics is a hosted solution that needs access to the Internet in order to work.
  • You are unable to tag your pages.
  • You are a hosting provider wishing to offer visitor reports to thousands of customers. Urchin has a command-line interface that can be scripted to create and modify multiple website reports at once.

That is, Urchin has greater flexibility when it comes to large-scale, multi-user deployments.





The uniqueness of the Google approach, how Google Analytics is different from other approaches and what drives its business model. Considerations for server-side analytics, what Urchin Software was, how it is compared with Google Analytics.