Customers upset with Google over Urchin software

They're waiting for a software upgrade; Google mum

A major upgrade to Google Inc.'s Urchin Web analytics server software is almost three years late and customers who bought the product worry that Google's silence and inaction may mean it will be discontinued.

Google acquired Urchin Software two and a half years ago, and since then has focused mostly on its hosted software-as-a-service (SAAS) product and apparently little on its packaged server software, upsetting the latter's customers.

One concerned company is United Diamonds Inc., which spent about $10,000 for the core Urchin software, additional modules and a support contract several months before Google acquired Urchin in March 2005.

For the Sun City, Calif., diamond vendor, which has about 25 employees, this was a significant expense, said United Diamonds principal Bruce Larsen. Still, the company justified the purchase because its Web site is its primary sales channel, and it needed a clear view into its usage by visitors and potential customers, Larsen said.

Companies use Web analytics software to track, measure and analyze their Web sites' traffic. This information can help a company decide how to modify its site's layout to increase sales, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of online advertising campaigns.

In addition to Urchin's technology, United Diamonds also liked that, as a vendor, Urchin seemed like a good partner, Larsen said. Unfortunately, things didn't turn out as Larsen expected.

A major upgrade to the software -- Version 6.0 -- due in late 2004 still hasn't been released. Even worse, Google won't say when, or even if, version 6.0 will ship.

"We are constantly looking at ways to improve our products and functionality, but we have nothing further to announce at this time," said Brett Crosby, Google Analytics senior manager, in a statement e-mailed by the company's public relations department.

Version 6.0 was the primary motivation behind United Diamonds' decision to spend extra on the support contract, which included upgrades at no extra charge. United Diamonds didn't renew that contract because it didn't receive the 6.0 upgrade.

Moreover, Larsen said he finds it difficult to communicate with Google, particularly after his Urchin sales contact left. Google invariably addresses his queries about version 6.0 and product plans with vague answers.

"It was a major investment, and we were looking to establish a long-term relationship with Urchin. I didn't imagine [this would happen] only a few months after that purchase," Larsen said.

Shawn Lee, an applications support specialist in the University of Illinois' Administrative IT Services department, is also uneasy about Google's silence over the product road map. Lee's department also bought the Urchin software before Google's acquisition.

"I wish Google would disclose their plans instead of keeping their current customers in the dark," Lee said via e-mail. "They are completely mum about release timelines."

An assortment of complaints from customers about Urchin 6.0's delay can be found in blogs and forums, including this discussion thread.

Google prefers the SAAS hosted model over the traditional packaged software model. In the SAAS model, vendors host software, saving customers from having to install and maintain applications, a benefit Google often touts when promoting its hosted products.

This preference for the SAAS model probably explains why Google has done seemingly little with the Urchin packaged software, while releasing regular upgrades and improvements to the product's hosted version, which is now called Google Analytics and is free.

However, Larsen and Lee prefer the packaged software version, which they call a fantastic, solid product, although at version 5.7 it hasn't been upgraded since 2005. Urchin 5.0 shipped in mid-2003.

United Diamonds chose the packaged version because it allows the company to keep customer data in its own servers. "We feel more secure knowing the data is protected by us," Larsen said. Moreover, having the software on the company's premises gives United Diamonds more control over it, such as the ability to tweak it as needed, Larsen said.

In a September 2004 news release announcing version 6.0 of the hosted software, Urchin promised to deliver the 6.0 packaged version upgrade by "late 2004."

A Google spokeswoman said that, since the acquisition, Google has never given Urchin customers even a "ballpark" shipping date for the 6.0 upgrade.

Google declined to say how many businesses use the Urchin packaged software. Prior to the acquisition, Urchin, which was founded in 1995, claimed more than 20% of Fortune 500 companies as clients.

Google's Crosby acknowledged that "there is still a lot of demand for Urchin in the marketplace," and the company markets Urchin 5.7 by offering a 30-day free trial license. Google refers customers to its channel partners if they want to buy the software.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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