Mode Playbook for Open Source Analytics

Mode Analytics is open-sourcing their internal analysis and data visualizations which can be tailored to common data structures in SQL databases.

By Benn Stancil (Mode Analytics), Dec 2014.

As an analyst at a company building tools for data analysts, I spend a lot of time talking to people about the questions they're trying to answer with their data. Surprisingly, analysts from very different companies have strikingly similar questions: we all want to know what drives retention, how customers interact with products, how sales pipelines are performing, the lifetime value of a customer, and a few other core questions.

We've worked on many of these questions ourselves, and produce reports and visualizations that help answer them. But if we've already done much of the work to answer common questions, why should others start from scratch? Can analysis be open-sourced, like so much software is today?

The Mode Playbook is the start of our effort to find out. Each Playbook report shows how we've answered a question like “How is retention changing?” or “How do customers use my website?” and includes a SQL query and visualization. They're built on top of an example users table and events stream—a data structure that's common in many companies. If you have a SQL database with these two concepts, you can make a few simple changes to the reports we provide and have access to the same set of analytical tools we've built over the last year.

Mode Analytics: Retention screenshot

Nevertheless, businesses and products are nuanced and the analytics tools that support them should be, too. Analysis needs adjustments and additions from domain experts—and in nearly every case, that's you, not us. For this reason, we exposed every step our work, including the SQL query and HTML, CSS, and Javascript code that powers the visualization. This not only makes data manipulations and aggregations completely transparent, but also makes them infinitely customizable.

But we know we didn't get everything right for everyone. Other methods could be more insightful, more efficient, or more robust. Analysts at Twitch added additional metrics to the visualization that tracks how users move through a website. Munchery helped us cut 20 lines out of a retention query. We're very grateful for these collaborations and hope they are just the beginning.

Mode Analytics: Paths screenshot

We plan to continue to open sourcing other internal analyses of growth, A/B testing, and finance metrics. If you have comments, suggestions for improvements, requests for additional reports—or best of all, analysis that you too would like to open source—please email me directly at By sharing some of our ideas, we hope that we can encourage conversation around analytical methods—and help turn common questions into answers for anyone with a few tables and a bit of curiosity.

Bio: Benn Stancil is the Chief Analyst of Mode Analytics, a company building collaborative, SQL-based analysis tools for analysts working with both public and private data. Prior to Mode, Benn was a senior analyst at Microsoft and Yammer, where he helped lead product analytics. Benn also worked as an economic analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.