Death of a Feature: The Impending Demise of TagsPosted: June 29, 2009
We know that we’re going to have some angry users as a result of this decision– but for those of you who love tags, I hope you’ll read this post and (more importantly) try out the changes we’ll be rolling out next week before you get angry or kick RescueTime to the curb. So here’s the big news: our release next week is going to remove the concept of tagging from the user experience. Below we’ll detail what we’re adding/changing to compensate for this and (if you’re interested) why we’re doing it. We’ll also talk a bit of how you can get help if you are a paying customer and you are using tags. We’ll also show you some preview screenshots. We are really freakin’ excited about these changes– we’re making RescueTime less work, easier to understand for new users, and (most importantly) we’re making it easier to understand and improve your own productivity.
Breakdown of the Impending Changes
Tags are going away. As we looked at how our customers were using tags (the few who were using it, much less using it successfully), we saw people tagging things like they were categories (“graphic design”, “coding”) or saw people tagging things in terms of productivity level (“work”, “personal”, “procrastination”, etc). To allow for both of these cases, we’re expanding categories and making the act of categorizing (and creating custom categories) one billion percent easier (measure it when we launch! It’s true!). Further, we’re are implementing a smart default-categorization system that will provide our users with well categorized data out of the gates. Here’s a screenshot of the new categorization UI. It’s inline and it’s FAST.
We don’t show it in this screenshot, but there are two things we’ve added since this mockup. First, a category dedicated to software developers (a big slice of our userbase and obviously one close to our heart!). Two, we’ve added an inline “add custom category” selection that will make adding in your own categories close to as easy as adding in a new tag was.
So that’s attacking how most people were using tags– pretty much as categories (in fact, the average number of tags a tagged activity had in RescueTime is 1.26).
But we’re also attacking the “subjective” use case by enhancing how RescueTime scores work. First, we’re going institute smart defaults scores for all of the top apps and sites. This can obviously be subjective, but we think it’ll help people get up and running faster and have more meaningful data. Second, we’re going to make scoring easier and clearer. Here’s a screenshot of the scoring UI:
One click in any view in RescueTime and you can rescore an activity. Note that we are exposing categorization and scoring UI in ALL reports (rather than putting them a tab deeper like in previous version). All of these scores are now available in graph report form. Want to see how you spend your time in terms of productivity levels? Check out this graph:
This shows a week of my time with a breakdown of good stuff (above the line) and bad stuff) below the line. While it’s not strictly related to this issue, this seems like a fine time to note our new URL structure, which will allow clever folk to see reports with any granularity that they want. Want to see a graph of a day by hour? Fine. How about a WEEK or a MONTH by hour? Here’s an example of the new (human readable) URL structure:
We’re hoping that all of these changes will more than compensate for the sting that some will experience from losing tags. To learn more about why we’re doing this, read on.
Why We’re Getting Rid of Tags
We’re a metrics driven company. Any time we release a feature, we look hard at whether people are using it and how they are using it. When look at tags, we have some fairly ugly data to look at:
- The VAST majority of our paying customers are not using tags or not using them well (i.e. tagging Excel as “excel” doesn’t seem like a productive use of time).
- Most users have a minority of their time data tagged.
- The average number of tags a tagged activity has is 1.26… In other words, people are using tags as categories and are not taking advantage of the one-to-many powers of tags.
- When asked, most users who quit cite tagging as one of their reasons for quitting. “Seemed like constant work with tagging”, “tagging was confusing– it was hard to make sense of my data” are very common responses.
In addition to the data, tags create some big challenges for us. Creating visualizations of tags is difficult due to the one-to-many relationship (imagine a pie chart of tags- If Outlook is tagged as “work” and “communication”, where does Outlook time go?). Looking at a bar graph of tags, people mistakenly assumed that if they added up the bars, that’d equal their total logged time. Not the case!
But the biggest reason for nuking tags is that we want RescueTime (as it stands now) to be as simple as possible to make room for some of the exciting things we have in store for you. I remember reading a comment about RescueTime that really stuck in my craw (because it was RIGHT). Paraphrasing: “RescueTime is like a fireman walking up to you and saying, ‘Hey! You are on fire! You should stop being on fire!'”. RescueTime in the coming months is going to shift into firefighting mode– and help our customers stop being on fire rather than just letting them know that they are. We’re going to damn well live up to our name.
But why not just keep the feature and de-emphasize it? In an ideal world, this is what we’d do. But every feature that doesn’t bring joy/satisfaction to a meaningful percentage of our users has a cost. It clutters the UI, slows down our development process, and gives us something else to maintain until the end of time. Too much cost, and not enough benefit, in short.
What to Do if You Have Tags
As part of this release, we’ll be assigning automatic categories and scores based on the tags people have assigned. The 98% of our users who don’t use tags very much will have much improved data. The 2% who use tags a lot SHOULD have improved data as well (most people who tag don’t have all of their time tagged– this will help!). For those of you who have tags and desperately want to keep them, you’ll have the custom category capability should you need it. If you are a paying business customer, we will help you do this from our end to minimize the pain for you. In other words, we’ll learn from you which tags are critical and we’ll move them into a custom category on your behalf.
For folks who are anxious about this, we apologize. And we ask that you reserve judgement and give the adjustments a few weeks to sink in before you pass judgement. We’re are incredibly excited about what’s coming out next week (we’ve been using it on our dev server as we’ve developed it and it’s a huge improvement on a lot of fronts). We’re also excited about what’s on the horizon (API and a rash of cool productivity features, to name a few things)