Google IO Follow Up: Why candy is good for you

tldr; Innovation gets easier, loots = better apps sooner, look for substantial feature adds on RescueTime Android and full featured Chrome version.

Well, we’re back from Google IO. I can say, having been there three times running now– this one was rampant with the nerd herd stampeding from one awesomeness to the next like no other place on earth. Like squirrels in a nuthouse. Android momentum is, as they say, “off the chain”. Alright, I’m done with the memetheme, here’s the meat:

The best news is the claimed effort to de-splinter platform branches across all types of devices with Android, Chrome and the Chrome OS. This really will make the world easier, for a company like ours. This includes the drive for Ice Cream Sandwich release to bring phone, tablet, tv, and whatever Android device under the same tree. It lets us programmatically adapt to device capabilities inside one version of RescueTime rather than building from separate branches to separate targets. And that means you get our app on your device sooner, and likely more bug free. It also encourages us to think outside the box, by making funky lateral product spread easy, like maybe a realtime team pulse dashboard for your office lobby? or automatic coupon credits to your mobile dev for hitting goals in RescueTime?

As to the Candy Store at the Chocolate Factory: the practice of showering uberloots on attendees has its detractors, but my (possibly biased, heh) opinion is that this makes perfect sense: I was able to track down an issue with RescueTime on tablets that the emulator couldn’t help me with, in about an hour, thanks to having a tablet to test with in hand. Developers using Google tool kits get updates out faster than other platforms by virtue of Google sponsored test platform access.

Even more exciting is the chance to work on a full featured Chrome / Chrome OS version of RescueTime that will work online + offline on the browser and upcoming chromebooks. Using HTML5 and Chrome APIs *should* let us provide a seamless experience in both browser-only and full OS systems. When imagining this kind of dev effort, there’s a big difference between planning out your strategy, functional item in hand, chatting with the Google project manager and engineer who worked on the APIs, than sitting at a desk hunting StackOverflow and waiting on user group posts. It’s the fast track for good apps that a submit-a-form-lottery wouldn’t provide.

What do we expect next year? There’s an obvious collision course for Android and Chrome, I expect there to be news on that front. This kind of collapse-of-complexity innovation lets companies like us focus on what we’re trying to be best at: using data to help you understand yourself better, helping people get more done and hopefully getting them more quality play time while we’re at it, rather than tracking down the latest reason for some client feature to fail on some variously-patched desktop system on some archaic OS.

What would I ask from Google for next year? Let’s have more deep dive technical sessions. Maybe some more on linking between platforms and services (eg Chrome OS -> AppEngine). Most important for you to compete with Amazon to get the start-up pool? You need to provide some kind of migration path or toolkit for those of us with monstrous and complicated data mines. Smart, funded early startups are already past the prototype stage and can ill afford much platform layer costs. Finally, the idea of the Developer Advocate is great- build on that, and spread out geographically to get face to face outside the valley.

— Mark Wolgemuth

Should RescueTime Help Get You a Job at your Favorite Company?

tl;dr – Our friends at awesome companies are hiring. If you’re top talent in information/technology fill out this survey to let us know if and how we can help make some strong introductions. We’re not going to expose users’ data.

The other day we saw a post on Hacker News from SEOmoz advertising a $12,000 reward for software engineers. My first reaction was the thought, “I feel like I must know someone who would be a good match for this position.” We get this a lot because we’re always running into Y Combinator or True Ventures startup founders or friends at companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon who are looking for “only the best” to fill open positions on their teams. It’s always hard to recommend people for jobs without being able to vouch for them personally, either about their work habits or that they’ve actually worked with the technologies they claim to have worked with. But it occurred to us that we might be able to help solve this problem. We have the best users in the world! So we found ourselves wondering, “do our users want that?”

As a RescueTime Solo user, we’re pretty sure you’re either already an overachiever, or at least well on your way to cementing yourself firmly in the top-tier of knowledge workers in your particular field (and yeah, your RescueTime profile proves it). One of the problems top workers may have is that they don’t have the time they need to focus on making progress toward their goal of working for the company they’ve always loved. They’d jump at the chance to land a gig at one of the exciting companies where everyone wants to work, but they’re just not networked enough or even statistically likely enough to have their resume noticed by the right person that would lead them to their rightful spot at their favorite company.

I think we can help! Not only can we vouch for you as someone who is in the top of users in your field in terms of efficiency, but we can also say with a great deal of certainty that you’ve been working hard in the skill areas in which the companies you’re interested in are looking to hire. We also have connections! RescueTime already has users, investors, and advisors connected to most of the top companies you’re probably thinking you’d like to work for. There are definite opportunities for us to make mutually beneficial connections there.

Top percentile talent is expensive to source because there are (by definition!) only a small number of people who match that description. Our business is built on helping our users become more efficient and it seems like it’s only natural that we can do something about the inefficiencies here. We should be able to save you time getting you in front of the people you most want to work with, while saving them time and money trying to find you.

Here’s where you come in. If you’re top talent in the information/technology space (and of course you are!) we need you to fill out this survey to let us know what you think of this plan, and to give us a better idea of how to proceed.

Let’s be clear. We are well aware this is a delicate thing to balance. We’re absolutely not talking about giving any of your information to recruiters or spamming you with emails for boring jobs that you don’t care about. That wouldn’t do anything but waste everyone’s time. Our focus for this is centered on the experience of our users. The companies we’re talking to about this are all companies we’d want to work at ourselves. This idea came from the Hacker News community and we want to be careful to continue to make something people want. Also worth noting is that if you are a RescueTime Team account user you and your team are off limits. We’re not about to let other companies poach your team members out from under you.

Here’s what we think we can do:
– Help users be more focused so they can improve their career in the direction they want.
– Connect users to companies we trust once we can vouch for them and their skills.
– Provide a way for users to show off their skills via a badge, or public profile summary.

Here’s what we won’t do:
– Expose users’ time and attention data.
– Sell users’ email addresses. We would act as a trusted intermediary between parties.
– Spam users with distracting job offers. We hate distractions. That’s why we made RescueTime.

So answer the survey and tell us what you think. And as always, thanks for your time!

We love surveys, yes we do. We love surveys, how ’bout you?

We love the fact that our users are vocal.  We get dozens of opinionated emails every day requesting features.  In the past, we’ve distributed a mess of surveys to get a understanding of which features were important to you.  But this survey is different…  It’s a more general “State of the RescueTime” sort of survey to try to help us understand more about you and your relationship with our product, how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.

So whether you are a current RescueTime user or not, we’d love to have you fill out this survey.  It’s 8 questions and should be super quick.  We’ll select 5 random participants to receive a free month of RescueTime (so be sure to include your email if you’re interested).

Thanks much to all– here’s the link:

RescueTime for Project Time Tracking (coming soon, but we need your help!)

As we get ready to launch some really really cool tools that will allow to you to block the distracting parts of the web, some of our team is starting to look forward to our next major initiative…  Projects!

RescueTime does a great job of tracking time, but doesn’t really do a very good job of allowing you to bucket that time into projects.  This isn’t an easy problem– lots of time (like email and is difficult to automagically bucket into projects.  But for all of the people who are laboring under the yoke of painstaking (yet still horribly subjective and inaccurate) timesheets, we’re hoping to be a solution.  And, of course, all of the managers who are trying to make sense of this timesheet data, we’re hoping to help you out as well!

So PLEASE- chip in with your thoughts.  You can weigh in here in the comments if you want, but (IF you are interested in RescueTime tracking time on projects), we’d love to have you fill out this super short survey:

Please click here to fill out the survey (it’ll just take a sec!)

You have our promise the it is (at worst) only moderately boring and will truly give you a hand in shaping the product to be what you want it to be.

Introducing: Business Engineering, the evolution of Business Intelligence

Define intelligence:

Intelligence is a characteristic of thinking, but it is also a thing to be acquired. This substance is different than information. Intelligence is information that has been discovered, processed, and presented in a way that encourages its other definition: disciplined, insightful thinking.

Define engineering:

Engineering is the deliberate, analytical, scientific application of intelligence to the design or modification of a system.

Business Engineering requires superior Business Intelligence

Most data floated as Business Intelligence is more accurately labeled business information. It becomes the substance Business Intelligence when superior tools expose patterns and trends that are actionable.

Business Engineering is the practice of managing decisions based on critical analysis of intelligence about internal and external factors influencing the business.

RescueTime allows businesses to tweak the previously hidden algorithms that drive productivity of workforces. Data is scientifically gathered, and innovatively processed and presented in real time.

Businesses can re-balance work loads, uncover inefficiencies, and identify stalled or unusually successful projects while they are happening. Smart managers can introduce a measure of science into management itself: easily visualized historical information exposes trends one week to the next. Try several workflow processes, prove which one works best for each team.

Death of a Feature: The Impending Demise of Tags

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)

RescueTime for Employee Monitoring – What it means for RescueTime

Note: this blog post was prompted by this tweet — we’ve also gotten an email or two about the messaging change.  I’d meant to get this blog post out last week, but the release happened a few hours after I’d boarded the plan for my first vacation in a few years.  Apologies for the delay!

Last week we did a few dramatic things in terms of our business offering.  First off, our “marketing” site (the one new users see before they sign up– if you’re already a RescueTime user, you’ll have to log out to see it) is now much more business focused, with the individual offering significantly de-emphasized.  We also introduced a new product, RescueTime Pulse, which allows managers to see how employees are spending their time without the employees being able to see or control the monitoring software.  This is in contrast with our existing flagship offering (RescueTime Empower), which allows employees to see their own data and have some control over what is monitored and when.

We wanted to take a few minutes to talk about our thinking behind the new offering and what it means for RescueTime.

Our Thinking behind the Changes

  • The biggest reason we’re offering the new restricted version is because people wanted it. A restricted mode offering was literally the most requested feature from our business customers.  RescueTime is a software startup, which means that our first mandate is to build something people want…  Which may or may not necessarily map to what we THINK they should want.
  • Related, the site being more business-focused is a reflection of the economy in which we live.  Revenue and profit are king and we can’t expect to focus on free/consumer audiences forever.  While we will always serve that individuals, we thought the site should reflect our focus on business customers.
  • The restricted offering helps us understand the value of our “in the open” offering, RescueTime Empower, which offers open and collaborative business time management software. To date, we’ve been able to show that using RescueTime in this way improves productive behavior by 9% over two months of use…  But we’ve never been able to understand how employees behave when they AREN’T using RescueTime “in the open”.  A restricted version will give us this data, and will help us understand the TRUE effect of our open offering.  9% is a pretty impressive number (annually, it can literally represents hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of productive time for even a 10-person team).  But we think we’re about to expose a much more dramatic number– and we’re excited about that!

What it means for RescueTime

  • We will continue to serve new and existing individual customers.  It’s a rapidly growing audience for us (we love you guys), but free users don’t pay the bills and we don’t want to bury people in ads to make money.
  • It gives us the opportunity to help business customers change how they think about employee monitoring and time management.  When you want to change the world, sometimes you have to meet it halfway and drag it the rest of the way.  Armed with real data, we can tell our customers who choose the employee monitoring route what they and their team could achieve if they embraced a more collaborative approach.
  • Revenue = runway.   Again, we’re a small and young company who is trying to change how businesses and individuals think about time tracking.  That’s not going to happen overnight.   We truly believe that it IS going to happen, and this step helps insure that we’re going to be around when it does!

We still believe what we’ve always believed at RescueTime.  That time is a resource that should be tracked in the same way that any valuable resource is tracked.  That tracking time should be easy and shouldn’t interfere with being productive.  That managers and business owners should be able to see this data in aggregate to help them understand and guide their business.  That employees and individuals should be able to own their own time management, see their own time tracking data, and see how they compare to their peers.

As always, we welcome your comments (either drop a comment on this post or drop us an email at