Firebase Analytics vs. Google Analytics
When working with Google’s Firebase, you might have heard product names like “Google Analytics” or “Firebase Analytics” being thrown around.
Historically, there’s been a lot of confusion between these two products – are they one and the same, based on one or the other, or completely separate entities?
Even though the case has been made a lot clearer with recent changes, there might still be some confusion going around. So let’s explore both products’ history, their naming conventions, and their current situation.
The original Google Analytics
We start in 2005 when the original Google Analytics was announced. The product quickly grew in popularity due to its appealing feature set. It was free, came from a reputable company with experience in analytics and advertising, and provided a lot of data, including page views, referral traffic, session times, and more.
Google Analytics for Mobile
A while after the original Google Analytics became popular, the new trend of mobile app development emerged. With that, the GA team quickly started working on dedicated SDKs for both iOS and Android.
However, the biggest problem with the original Google Analytics for Mobile SDKs was the backend. It was still designed primarily for handling web analytics, which vastly differs from mobile app analytics.
In apps, you don’t really have page views, bounce rates, or referral traffic. Instead, you need to think about how users are interacting with the app, what they’re tapping, swiping, etc.
For that, there were custom events, which, although supported by the backend, always felt a bit out of place. This, in turn, resulted in issues, bugs, and bad development experiences.
In the end, the SDKs were deprecated and replaced by the new ones, but it was still a big stepping stone towards what came next.
As time went on, Google Analytics was improved. In 2012, the new major version came out dubbed Universal Analytics. It featured many improvements to tracking and custom events support.
Universal Analytics, in much-improved form, is still supported to this day, though it’s not recommended for use in new projects.
Google Analytics 360
Another bump on the road was Google Analytics 360, introduced in 2016 as a paid version of Google Analytics. It came with additional features on top of the free version, including advanced analysis, BigQuery integration, more detailed reports, and so on.
Over the years, a few features came to the free version, but GA 360 stayed pretty stable. It always was and continues playing by different rules when it comes to feature-set, but also long-term support and feature deprecation schedule.
In 2018, alongside DoubleClick, GA 360 became part of the Google Marketing Platform.
Google Analytics for Firebase
Also, in 2016, we finally got to see Firebase Analytics. It resulted from years of work redesigning Google Analytics from the ground up for working with apps and the way they behaved.
The GA team changed the main driver of the analytics from page views and sessions to events and custom properties.
The change received a warm welcome from the community, even though it wasn’t originally bug-free. The long list of issues included ones related to funnels, crippled reports, and lack of real-time view.
Over few years, the team mostly addressed the issues, and a few additional features were introduced (like AdMob integration). Along the ride, the name was also changed to Google Analytics for Firebase to reflect the underlying origins of the product. However, the original, shorter name remained the preferred choice of most of the users.
Google Analytics once again
With GA for Firebase becoming a success, the quickly put-together backend started to struggle.
That’s why in 2019, a more powerful backend was introduced. This one was able to handle a lot more load, came with many new features, and was again based on the events and custom properties model.
Along with the update came one more name change, with GA for Firebase becoming simply Google Analytics, causing even more confusion.
Google Analytics 4
But that still isn’t the end. As web apps (PWAs, SPAs, hybrid apps, etc.) became more popular and websites were becoming more like mobile apps, the GA team decided that it’s logical to use the same backend model used for mobile, for the web.
So the web and mobile apps gained access to the same backend, with similar feature sets and the same name – Google Analytics. However, to minimize the confusion for good, another name changed happened.
In late 2020, alongside a few feature updates, GA became officially Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – now default and recommended tool for web apps and mobile apps – whether they were powered by Firebase or not.
How GA4 works with Firebase?
And that’s where we are now. There’s GA4 – the primary version of GA, recommended for all new projects and for old projects to migrate to; Universal Analytics (UA) with a “legacy” backend model, meant only for the web, and GA 360 for enterprise customers.
Regarding how GA4 integrates with Firebase – it’s relatively simple, with only some terminology that you need to know. Firebase projects have 1 to 1 relation with GA4 properties. The data comes to your property through streams.
You can have multiple streams with each one of them connected to a different frontend, e.g., web app, iOS app, and Android app. That’s similar to how a single Firebase project (backend) can serve these multiple frontends.
That’s pretty much all you need to know to get started with Firebase and GA4 right now.
So, it’s been a long journey to where we are now with GA4. Starting from the original GA, then branching to the web (later UA) and mobile, which on its own, morphed into Firebase Analytics and with both coming together in the end, to form GA4.
Hopefully, the confusion and technical issues are all behind us, and we can focus on developing better apps with Firebase and the analytical prowess of GA4.