The big news in the online Hockey Analytics community yesterday, aside from the Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference, was the Andrew Thomas announcement that war-on-ice.com will be shutting down in the upcoming months. Although in many respects War on Ice was a competitor to my site (stats.hockeyanalysis.com and puckalytics.com) it was also a great site that was developed for different reasons and served a different purpose.
My sites were developed by myself over time largely as a hobbyist and a blogger. I started hockeyanalysis.com in 2005 after the ‘lost season’ lockout as a way to further enjoy my love of hockey and to participate in the newly growing online community of hockey fans like myself. Although I am not a statistician by trade (my background is in computer science) I have a fascination with digging into the numbers and so my intent was always to have a statistical/analytical viewpoint to my blog. It wasn’t long after starting my blog that I started writing code to pull data from the NHL.com game logs, play by play sheets and shift tables. Much of the code I wrote 8+ years ago still forms the core of my, now much larger, code base (that honestly probably needs a rewrite but it is stable and optimized so I dread the thought).
From the outset it was never my intent to build a stats website. Everything I was doing I was doing for my own interest. I wrote code to explore things that interested me. Over time though I realized that a lot of the data that I was creating would be of interest to others so over time I slowly started making that available and it developed into what we have today.
So, for the most part my stats sites were developed for selfish reasons. Sure, I was happy to share my work with others and am happy that so many people have found it useful over the years but what you see was largely created for selfish reasons. The stats you see on my sites are there because I, currently or at some point, had an interest in looking at them for one reason or another.
Although not that familiar with the details I can be fairly certain War on Ice developed somewhat differently. Not only was War on Ice developed from a statisticians and an academics point of view I am certain it developed with a much grander vision for their site than I have ever had for mine. To a great extent sharing my data was always a secondary project to mine while I get the sense than Andrew and Sam always had the goal of sharing anything and everything, including the kitchen sink if they could find a way to do it. While this is a big reason for its resounding success of the site and the impact on the community it may have also led to the eventual demise that was announced yesterday.
Although the open source, sharing model is often incredibly successful it isn’t unusual for projects to go by the way side when the original leaders move on. I have not spent much time looking at their code but based on the feature set they had offered on War on Ice I can only imagine how massively difficult it would be for an outsider to come in and pick up right where they left off in relatively short order. On top of that, rarely do the people who take over a project have the same level of enthusiasm, motivation, dedication, and emotional attachment to the project as the original owners.
So, while War on Ice will not continue to live on at some point, as with the ending of Extra Skater and CapGeek the hockey community will move on. There are other great sites out there and I am certain there will be new ones. Here are a few that you can check out:
- Stats.hockeyanalyis.com and Puckalytics.com (my personal recommendations obviously).
There may be others that I have missed so let me know and I’ll add them to the list. If you like a site and want it to survive support the site in the following way:
- If you use their sites in an article or tweet, link to it. The easiest way to support a site is to tell people about it. It’s easy and its free. It is also a great motivational tool to the site creator to see their work used, appreciated and acknowledged.
- If the site has advertisements, support its advertisers. That will help offset web hosting costs and time and effort to build out the site.
- If the site has donations, consider a donation. Every bit helps and it is another way to show appreciation for the effort involved in putting together the site.
- This may be the most important: Provide feedback, good or bad (just be nice about it). If you notice a problem, let the site owner know. If you have a recommendation or request, let the site owner know. If you love a new feature, let the site owner know. The only way sites will get better or incorporate the features you want is with support and feedback.
The future of Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Puckalytics.com
I want to briefly discuss the status and future of my two stats sites. Ongoing development (new features) of stats.hockeyanalysis.com has pretty much stopped and I don’t expect it to return. I still use the site and it is certainly more usable (quicker) on a smart phone or tablet so I don’t see it going away any time soon but I doubt there will be any new features added to it. New development will mostly take place on Puckalytics.com.
I am in the process of evaluating what I want to do with Puckalytics.com. There are a few routes I could go including just operating it largely as is. Another option would be to put the effort to grow it immensely and adding a ton of new features that you all have been requesting over the years or features that will soon be absent with the loss of War on Ice. These could include:
- More stats in similar format to what I already have (i.e. score adjusted stats)
- New stats like War on Ice had including stats like scoring chances
- Adding game by game data.
- Where possible add date ranges to stats
- Improving WOWY data including possibly looking at forward Trio’s as opposed to just pairs (a technical challenge but I think I can overcome it with creativity).
- Adding visualizations (definite must).
- Adding player biographical data and improving the player pages.
- Adding salary data and capgeek style features (could possibly partner with other salary cap sites sites or leverage some of the work War on Ice did).
- A gazillion other things that I aren’t coming to mind right now.
I don’t know yet where it will go but I can tell you that there will be a lot of effort required to put all of this together. With that said, I have a few questions for the community which you are welcome to answer in the comments or e-mail me privately at david (at) hockeyanalysis.com:
- If I started a kickstarter/gofundme campaign, how much would you be willing to contribute?
- Would you contribute more if I provided a guarantee that I would operate the site for at least 1 year? What about 3 years? 5 years?
- Would you pay for a subscription for advanced features such as stats by a date range?
- I will probably always keep the back end code (the scraping software, database structure, etc.) proprietary but if I opened up the website development would you be willing to contribute to its development? By that I mean contribute to the web site look and feel, user interface, visualizations of the data, etc.
I’d love to be able to add all of the features you want and I’d also love to guarantee you all that my sites will be around a year from now or even five years from now. The reality of all of this is that operating a hockey stats sites take time and effort and doesn’t pay the bills. This is why they disappear. People move on to bigger and better things that do pay the bills. Until someone finds a business model to make a a free, publicly available stats site profitable enough to live off of the reality is they will not last. I’d love to be able to make a 3 or 5 year promise to you all but I need to find that business model first and your feedback to the questions above would help greatly.
Thanks for reading and thanks for your feedback.
Update: I have started a GoFundMe project to get a Puckalytics.com enhancement project kicked off.