Logging is in vogue and here are 3 reasons why you should care

Logging – for a large part of the history of computer software, creators of software products have had a love-hate (but mostly just indifferent) relationship with logging. They love logs when products run into problems – which is more often than most people would imagine; they hate logs because software doesn’t do anything automatically and they have to tell it to log its every whim and fancy; and when software runs the way it’s expected to, well, then nobody really cares what’s in the logs. It’s like what parents are to a teen, love ‘em when you need something, hate ‘em when they make you explain where you were at night and don’t really give too much thought when they’re not doing either.

The situation is not helped by the fact that logging sits on the intersection of two very important concerns of software businesses and developers – how to use the least amount of computing resources and how to take the least programming effort possible to achieve what you want to, respectively. And guess what, logging requires resources and you have to write actual lines of text by hand to ensure it’s done; clearly not a tenable position. And so, best case scenario, it gets treated as a necessary evil; worst case scenario, it gets cut down mercilessly. Or, at least, that was the case until very recently.

Over the last few years, logging has come out of the shadows and it’s now actually fashionable to talk about ‘log management’, ‘log analytics’, etc. A number of factors have caused this shift and many of them are the same things that cause any such shift – abundance of cheap computing resources, more powerful hardware and a good availability of open source components. It has become as simple as setting up one tool-chain to get started very quickly on understanding what’s happening in the logs from your application. However, beyond being easy enough so that anyone with even a little software experience can do it, here are three reasons why you should care about it and get started as soon as possible.

There’s hidden data in your logs that you don’t know of

Logs are a geologic record of exactly what went on in your product over time. Not only do logs give you access to what happened at a specific point of time in the past – the traditional use, analyzing them also exposes trends in the usage of your product and in problems that your product runs into. These data points are useful to product managers and support teams alike to understand users and provide them a better experience. Traditionally the domain of time-consuming discussions and ineffective surveys, this need can now be served effectively by looking at the insights hidden right inside data your already own.

With a low barrier to entry, anyone can get in on the fun

There are several log analysis products and services covering the spectrum from comprehensive log management to hosted log analysis and visualization, which offer a range of plans for their services. Irrespective of whether you are a startup or an established large company, you will be able to get a solution that exactly fits your needs. With such a solution, you will be able to keep dumping information in logs while deciding which of it is useful at a later stage. Unfortunately, so will your competitors.

You can actually use logs as a data sink

While it seems counter-intuitive, there’s a perfect case to be made for using logs as a way of storing and processing data. While you have to use resources and spend development effort when trying to store data about various events and objects in your system, with logs all you need to do is dump that data into the logs. Then, with an appropriate setup, you will be able to extract the results you want out of these either on the fly for immediate action or later for historical analysis. Definitely beats having to worry about creating the perfect database design to hold all the data that you would ever want for analysis.

Given the state of log management and analysis ecosystem, it’s not only easy but also hugely beneficial to look at your own logs to derive knowledge about your users and your product. This is sure to result in stronger products and better user experiences. Happy logging!