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)
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 (employee monitoring software), 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 email@example.com).
Happy holidays to everyone!
We’re pushing a release now that’s pretty exciting for all of us, and is a great pre-cursor for things to come. In this post is a description of the new bits as well as some of what’s in store for the next release (Jan/Feb). Read onward… And, as always– if you have any feedback or ideas, please let us know!
Revised Site Navigation / Organization
There are significant (but hopefully painless) changes in navigation that makes the site simpler and a bit more powerful.
We’ve killed the “list” view in favor of putting paginated lists below each visualization. All of the power of the previous list view is available here — without requiring that you visit a different type of page to get it.
Truly Customizable Dashboards
The RescueTime dashboard is yours to customize however you like. Each visualization across the site has an “Add to Dashboard” link in the upper right hand corner which allows you to drop a smaller version of that graph onto your dashboard.
Really care about your email time? Go to that graph in RescueTime and add it to your dashboard. Don’t care about tags? Punt it off your dashboard with the little “X” control to keep things tidy. Or drag it to the bottom so you can look at it from time to time if you want to. Over the past year, we’ve come to realize that everyone has widely varying ideas on what a good dashboard should contain… So we’ve opened it up– build the dashboard you want to build!
Categories are no longer ours… They’re yours!
When we launched this feature, we did it with a collection of pre-defined categories. It was hard– YOU try to create a small list of categories where literally every application and web site fits neatly! We had plenty of people give us an earful about the fact that our categories didn’t fit how THEY categorized their tools. We listened! You can now do two things with categories that you couldn’t yesterday:
- change the category for an app or site. Before, categories were assigned democratically– you could “vote” for a new category, but if the world didn’t agree with you, you were out of luck. Now you can adjust categories however you like!
- add custom categories! Each user gets several custom category slots that they can use as they see fit. Are we missing a category? Add it!
We’ve done a significant overhaul to goals! We weren’t able to get every goal improvement into this release that we wanted to, but there are some great new features, detailed below.
- In response to pretty tremendous demand, we now allow for weekly goals! Set a goal for “more than 25 hours of work per week” or “more than 2 hours per week blogging”, or even “less than 5 hours per week social networking”! You can track your success with these goals and optionally elect to receive alerts (via email or even SMS).
- We’ve created a “Goals Summary” page where you can see a day-by-day (or week by week) overview of how many of your goals you’re hitting. And, of course, you can drill in and look at your individual goals to get more detail. Now that our dashboard is truly customizable, you can add your goals summary graph or any individual goal visualization to your dashboard.
- We’ve adjusted the visualization of goals a bit to make it a bit more clear how you’re doing with your goals.
- Group goals! For our business customers, you can now track groupwide goals. Want to set a goal of less than an hour a day slogging through email? You can do that, and track how many people on your team meet that goal and how many can’t shake their email addiction.
What’s coming for our next release…
We’ve got some more exciting things in store for you in the new year. Here’s a preview for what’s slated for our next release:
- Documents! One of our most requested features is an understanding of what happens “under the hood”– how is your time being spent in “general” applications like Microsoft Word, Excel, or Outlook– where you could be doing any number of things (some productive, some not so much). RescueTime is going to unlock the mystery and allow you to know which projects you’re really working on.
- Timesheet view. For individuals and business customers, we’re going to show an hour by hour breakdown of “flow” throughout a day, week, or month. See a dip in your “work” graph? Dig into the timesheet view to see why it dipped!
- More goals improvements.
- More exportable data.
- More exciting things that we aren’t going to talk about… yet!
Thanks for reading this far… Please let us know in the comments what you like, what you hate, and what you’d most like to see in our next release!
Hot on the heels of bringing on a new team member (Montana Low– read about him on our refreshed company page), we’ve just pushed a new release!
Accompanying the standard pile of tiny bug-fixes and improvements are a few exciting new features that we’d like to introduce you to.
Revised Scoring System
A few months back we launched a scoring system to give people a single number to represent their efficiency (ratio of good time to bad time) and productivity (sheer amount of good time). The goal with these scores was to give people a clear understanding of how they compared to other folks and how they compared to people across their business teams.
The problem with the scores (which we heard loud and clear from our users) was that they were a bit complex/confusing. It was difficult to know what they meant and required a bit of reading/digesting for neophyte users to understand even the basics of how it worked.
So we’ve simplified matters and come up with a single score (“efficiency”) directly based on how you’ve rated your tags and/or categories. Under the score, we show you your total hours for the period (just because you’re efficient doesn’t mean your productive if you’re only working 4 hours per week… Sorry, Tim! ). And next to your score, we show you a comparison population of either the entire userbase or the business group you’re a member of (for our business customers). The end result looks like this:
We love the new look. We think it’s clearer, simpler, and it communicates our scoring system (and colors) a lot better, too. What do you think?
I am in love with filters. As soon as we had the concept of efficiency scores, I noticed a peculiar side effect. In the evening, when I was goofing off on the computer, I’d turn off RescueTime. Why? Because goof-off time was negatively impacting my scores and I wanted to clobber my co-workers. We firmly believe that being inefficient after hours is fine… Our data strongly indicates that sweatshop hours end up hurting us more than it helps us.
But clearly turning off RescueTime isn’t the answer, because we lose valuable and interesting data about ourselves. Enter, filters.
Filters allow you to focus the data you are seeing based on specific hour and date ranges. For example, in my situation the time I care about being truly efficient is 8am – 7pm Monday thru Friday. Once I’ve created a filter for this, I can look at a week, month or year– but ONLY be shown data (and be scored on) time within that criteria. But heck– I’m curious about my evenings. Do I ever work after hours? How much time do I spend productively on weekends? Blam. I create a filter that shows data only 7pm-Midnight on weekdays plus all day on weekends… That’s my “work/life balance” filter. Here’s a screenshot of what filter controls look like on your dashboard:
And here’s a shot of what it looks like to create/edit a filter (which you can access by clicking on the manage filters link shown above):
Note that free users can only have two filters. If you need more than that, we’d love to invite you to upgrade to a paying plan.
We hope you’re as excited about these features as we are. As always, we invite any feedback and would love to hear from you if you’ve got any feature ideas for RescueTime.
The Rescue Team is proud to announce the release of a powerful new set of features for RescueTime. Here’s a quick rundown of the new goodies and improvements we launched today.
Using the collective knowledge of all of our fantastic users (especially you!), we’ve been able to derive categories for the most used applications and websites in RescueTime. We think this is an extremely powerful feature since it further reduces the need to have to manually tag your data. They also allow for much easier comparisons without a group context than tags, which can often be pretty subjective.
Categories are here for everyone, and they work right out of the box. We recently realized how audacious it is for us to try to categorize every site on the internet, and we understand that some things will probably be miscategorized at first. To remedy this, we’ll soon be offering the ability to suggest categories for things in the event that our categorization engine missed something, or got something wrong.
We’ve enhanced the colors of all RescueTime charts to convey more meaning. Red bars indicate time for things you have scored as unproductive. Bright blue bars represent time spent on things that are productive. Default RescueTime blue represents things that haven’t been scored either way. Just remember blue good (the brighter the better), red bad. You can see the color changes reflected in the category chart screenshot above.
Thanks to everyone for their feedback about the Groups beta. There are still lots of great things on the roadmap for groups, but in this release we’ve added enough improvements and fixed enough issues that we feel like we can safely remove the beta sticker. Categories make your group easier to manage, since everyone’s categories are the same across group and individual views. Navigation between groups has been improved to make it easier to tell where you are. We’ve also added the ability to overlay the individual time of any member of the group onto any of the charts in RescueTime.
For our RescueTime Plus account holders, we’ve also added the ability to see a breakdown of the time each of your team members has spent in total, or in various categories or tags. Paid account holders will see this new graph on their dashboard, and on each tag and category detail page.
If you are an existing groups user and would like to add this feature, you can go to your billing settings page and upgrade your account. We encourage you to try out these improvements and send us your thoughts. There is a 30 day trial period included with all premium registrations.
It’s been a long release for RescueTime, but we’re pretty excited about some of the new features that we’ve rolled out as of tonight. Other than lots and lots of tiny improvements and fixes, here are some highlights:
- Autotagging: Not a few people have mentioned that calling RescueTime “ridiculously easy” was a touch ironic, given the amount of overhead involved with tagging/categorizing apps and sites. Our standard response was that it’s okay to NOT tag the sites you visit for a minute or two, but there are plenty of people who wanted everything tagged. For these tagging die-hards (and for the rest of us!) we now have autotagging, which can be used on your list of untagged apps and sites. Autotagging allows you to automagically tag apps and sites based on the tags that other people have used for that entity… With a strong bias towards tags that you’ve already used. It’s a great option for the “long tail” – apps and sites that you’ve spent just a few minutes on which add up to a significent amount of time. We still recommend manually tagging the big stuff– this is just a great way to classify a big chunk of the little stuff.
- Groups Beta: We’ve launched groups! RescueTime Groups allow you to look at data from a collection of users, which can offer some really interesting trend and aggregate data. It also allows you to compare how you’re spending your time versus the average team member. On a Group dashboard, users can ONLY see the aggregate/average data and their own data… Which means that the your personal data is not easily scrutinized by other team members (or even managers if RescueTime is used in a business setting). Of course, as Jon points out on our forum, a small group has some privacy implications (WhiteLists are a good way to go if for groups where this is a concern). Groups are free for up to 5 people, and cost $12.95/mo (per user) for larger groups. The first 30 days cost nothing and are obligation free. If you already have a RescueTime account, you can click the new “Groups” button and take it for a spin. Groups is in “beta”, which means that we have a lot more in store on this front. If you have any ideas on how Groups could be improved, drop us a line.
- Lots of cool privacy features. We already offer a lot on the privacy front, but we’ve just added the ability to toggle whether RescueTIme records complete URLs (google.com versus google.com/reader), OS Username, and window titles. Turning these off will limit you with some future features, but for some privacy-conscious customers, it might be worth it.
(We’re working on a REALLY amazing idea for RescueTime… It’s hard to tear myself away for a blog post. So this one will be short and sweet)
RescueTime gets the display names for applications in a pretty standard way. Unfortunately, applications are anything but standard in the way they report their names. We had a pretty helpful report from a user telling us that some of his most-used applications were showing with some pretty ugly names, like “powerpnt”, “uedit32″, and “visio”.
Brian Fioca (our local Ruby on Rails god) has whipped up a simple admin tool for us to provide “friendly” names for any app. In the past, we had to manually edit the database (which is a little unweildy).
So- If you have ANYTHING in your RescueTime data that has an ugly name, leave a comment here or drop us a line – firstname.lastname@example.org.
This morning we pushed live another new RescueTime update – both to the website and to the Windows data collector. There are some big additions and some subtle changes. Let me hit the highlights.
We added a widget builder page where you can go and create embeddable widgets of your RescueTime graphs. You can add them to your blog or website to show off how productive you are or motivate yourself to keep busy! We’ve heard somewhere that the fear of public failure is one of the best motivators, but I like to think about it as the satisfaction of public success. You can add your own title, pick your date range, and even set the colors to whatever you want (and make them shiny!). You can either go directly to the widget page or use the handy embed button to link to a builder for the exact graph you want.
You can see Tony’s widget on his personal blog. Widgets were ranked pretty high on our new feature request survey and we’re excited about them. I hope you are, too.
Other Website Enhancements
We’ve condensed the pages a bit, removing some whitespace and shrinking the header. We think this uses the available space better. I’ve also made some small changes that were frequently requested in feedbacks like remembering which tag slices you pick on the bottom graph on the dashboard, and allowing you to enter fractional values in goals (now you can have half hour goals, or 10 minute goals).
Windows Data Collector Updates
Joe has been really busy fixing bugs and adding new features to the data collector, here’s a list of fixes:
- Dramatically reduced physical memory footprint for RescueTime.exe. Physical memory should now be around 2 MB (vs 32 MB) during most operations. Physical memory will jump to 11 MB when uploading log files to the RescueTime server, but should drop back down to the 2 MB range after the upload completes.
- Additional large file checks to prevent files larger than 1,000K from being sent to the RescueTime.com server.
- Removed updater service. This has been causing a number of our users issues and I don’t think we are seeing a whole lot of benefit from it. RescueTime will still check for updates upon startup and through the “Check for updates” menu option.
And here are the new features:
- URL support for Opera
- URL support for Flock
So now RescueTime uses less of your computer’s resources (well, it wasn’t really using them before but it looked that way) and supports Opera and Flock on Windows. Awesome.
That’s it! We’re already working on a new batch of improvements and new features (as always) so keep checking this blog for updates.
Tonight we pushed some of the biggest changes we’ve pushed to date. I’ll run through a quick bullet list and some of the reasoning behind the changes.
Part of the changes were UI changes– which can always be jarring to users. We ask that folks take a bit of time to digest, think hard about what they like (and don’t like) about the new stuff at RescueTime and drop us a line with their thoughts. One of the things that is amazing (and motivating) about RescueTime is that we are constantly buried in feedback (often positive, sometimes “constructive”). So keep it coming!
Change #1 – The calendar UI is radically changed. There are some big obvious wins here in that we introduced quick links to “today”, “this week”, and “this month”. We also introduced new glimpses into data that heretofore have been impossible– offering “this year” and “forever” links. We also now allow for quick toggling via the previous and next button, allowing users to click as fast as they want to shoot back or forth by a few weeks or a few months.
The downside is that now, to see a proper calendar you need to click on the calendar link– so it’s a click away. This gives us more real estate, which is a good thing– but it might not be worth it to lose the sense of “context”. What do you think?
Change #2 We removed the lists on the dashboard, leaving more rooms for “broad-stroke” data. Our rationale here was that the list information was fairly redundant with the graphs (though the lists are slightly more scannable if you are looking at totals). The idea here is that the graphs can be a portal into other “reports” that offer greater detail, complete with list views. As we continue to add cool information to the dashboard, real estate will be at a premium. Do the lists need to exist on the dashboard?
Change #3 Stacked Graphs! I am super excited about this one. On the dashboard, the “total time spent” graph (which used to be a line graph) now allows you to “slice” in 2 different tags, allowing you to see your total time spent, and how much your “work” time and “personal” time make up for of that time. Additionally, on all individual app and tag graphs, you see the time spent on that activity in the context of the total. Very cool!
Change #4 – We moved the top graph to the bottom on the dashboard (you can see mine at the top of the screenshot for change #3. This was to yield real estate for user goals (which are hugely popular). I’m madly in love with the stacking, however– so I miss seeing it. What do you think?
Change #5 We added some cool new tag management features. This includes the ability to rename a tag, merge a tag into another tag, remove a tag from all entities, etc. Not earthshaking, but handy.
These changes will be jarring for some… Mostly the new features are additions, but certain things were moved a click away for the sake of real estate. If you love the new features, shout out. If you miss something that existed (or was easier) in the old design, make some noise, too. We can’t accomodate everyone, but if we find out that some of the decisions we made resulted in universally grumpy users, we’ll make it right.
I just put up a link to the new Netvibes widget for RescueTime on the dashboard. You can check it out here. We also have an iGoogle gadget if you haven’t already noticed. Now you can make sure your productivity is staring you in the face when you’re thinking about wasting time by reading your blogs. Also, as mentioned yesterday in Tony’s post about pies (mmmm), we’ve put up our new feature suggestions voting survey. There are a lot of things we’re planning on adding and we want to make sure we address your immediate demands first and stay away from strange time-wasting tangents. So help us rescue our time by filling out the survey right now!