Anyone who has used Google Analytics knows this feeling: You’ve just gotten your developer to install “Analytics” on your site and you’re eager to see the results. You open it up and say, “Hey, where’s the data?” You are then informed that it takes up to 24 hours for the analytics data to start coming in… nice.

Enter chartbeat. A clever play on words no doubt, chartbeat is a very simple tool to answer a really simple question: “How many people are on my site, and what are they doing?” Chartbeat provides you with some simple JavaScript that you place in your site’s template (so it shows up on every page) and then 120 seconds after you upload your modified files, you can see real-time user information. Check out the sample dashboard and then come back to hear all the nice things I’ve got to say about it.

chartbeat real-time display

The above image shows just a few of the real-time widgets that are available on the chartbeat dashboard. The page density map shows the pages that people are on right now in addition to the area of the page that’s the “hottest”. Chartbeat even shows how long the page took to load on the end user’s machine (very useful for optimizing image sizes and deciding if that JavaScript library you’ve been using needs to be compressed). What a great segway into JavaScript and load times; in that past, I’ve struggled with slow load times of 3rd party scripts that I added to sites. Some take a few seconds to load, others may interrupt the page as it’s loading, causing a flash of content that’s supposed to be hidden, or headings that should be replaced with images, etc. Chartbeat doesn’t seem to inject any of these slowdowns at all.

chartbeat historical view

Real time data is all well and good if you’ve got time to burn; sitting and waiting to see which pages get the most hits and which pages your users are just plain ignoring, but what if you want to see charts and graphs that show visits over time? Chartbeat has a pretty cool “Historical” view that shows the traffic, page load time and more, but over the past day, week or month. If you’ve had a traffic spike and want to know what caused it, you can also zoom in on that section and play it back in real-time to see what pages users were coming from and what tweets were talking about you. I’ve recently added chartbeat to a few of the sites I help manage (you get 5 sites with the basic plan), and I’ve been really happy with the real-time view of the traffic, and it’s even helped me identify some usability issues.

Chartbeat offers a free trial for 30 days, and it’s $9.95 / month if you decided to keep the service.