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Microsoft Preps Web Analytics to Combat Google

Microsoft is readying the first limited beta of its forthcoming Web analytics tool for release, it hopes, later this summer.

Code-named Gatineau, the product aims to compete with Google Analytics, which is already on version 2. So Microsoft has some catching up to do with Google .

Given that it's coming late to the party, it's no real surprise that Gatineau is similar in many respects to Google Analytics, but with a few classic Microsoftian twists.

"Of course it's quite similar to Google's Analytics product (which has been recently revamped, to mixed reviews), but apparently Gatineau will be able to leverage Live ID information … to offer demographic information," wrote MVP (Microsoft Most Valuable Professional) Kip Kniskern on Windows Live enthusiast site LiveSide earlier this week.

Those added capabilities will include the ability to segment Web site visitors by both age and gender.

"Questions are already being asked … about where we get this data from; the answer is that we do get this information from users' Live ID (formerly known as Microsoft Passport) profiles, but I would stress that we get this information anonymously, and there is no use of PII (Personally Identifiable Information, such as name or e-mail address) in the product," said a blog post by Ian Thomas of Microsoft's Digital Advertising Solutions group.

Despite assurances of anonymity, however, the use of Live ID data is likely to set off alarm bells with privacy advocates, who have always been suspicious of Microsoft's, or any firm's, attempts to gather data on users.

Microsoft acquired the base technology for Gatineau in May 2006 when it bought Canadian Web analytics firm DeepMetrix. The codename is the name of the city in Quebec where DeepMetrix was located.

The company began a limited alpha test of Gatineau in early January. Thomas said at the time that the company is hoping to launch version 1 by the end of 2007 but stated that was a goal, not a promise.

Meanwhile, Google Analytics version 1 was released more than a year and a half ago, and version 2 shipped in early May.

Google Analytics was designed to provide metrics that enable site administrators to measure the success of their Web sites, according to postings on the official Google Blog. One of its main strengths is that it integrates its reportage with Google's AdWords, the search giant's "pay-per-click" golden goose.

Microsoft's Gatineau will, of course, integrate with Microsoft's adCenter – its own pay-per-click engine. But at least one potential user who attended a recent Microsoft briefing in London, hinted on his blog that Gatineau will also provide integration with Google's AdWords.

Microsoft's Thomas cautioned that, at least initially, Beta 1 will be limited and that he couldn't predict how long it would be before additional testers are admitted to the process. He also said that the product is likely to gain more features as the beta progresses.

"The beta is a work-in-progress. We're planning to add more reports to the product before we consider it 'done,'" he added.