I am a big fan of letting users drive the features of a product. In fact, we’re about to release a ranking survey based on the feature suggestions in the thousands of emails we’ve received over the past few months.
But one often-requested feature that will likely not be included in RescueTime is pie charts.
The very early mockups of RescueTime did have pie charts and I kinda liked them. They broke up the bar-chart monotony and just seemed more fun. As I continued to show and refine the mockups, it wasn’t long before crafty students of data visualization told me that pie charts were evil. It didn’t take much listening and much research to agree with them. Here are a few points for the consideration of pie-loving RescueTimers:
- Human beings are a lot better at eyeballing length than angle. If you don’t believe, check out the illustration in the sidebar of the Pie Chart Entry in Wikipedia.
- In Show Me the Numbers by Stephen Few the author says “I don’t use pie charts, and I strongly recommend that you abandon them as well.” Few says that pie charts communicate poorly. Robbins agrees. So does Tufte.
- Pie Charts (with small slices) require a legend which necessarily has visual separation from the data.
- Rotating a pie chart changes perception a bit, especially when the slices are of similar size.
- Pie Charts convey magnitude poorly. It’s difficult to eyeball the difference between a 22% slice and a 26% slice.
- When the rubber meets the road and I test pie charts with RescueTime data with Pie charts, it just conveys less meaning (with 10 slices).
All that being said, I think that we could convey the “part-to-whole” information in your usage data a lot better than we are.
So, pie-people– I’m going to do my best to comply with the spirit of your request (“we want better part-to-whole visualization!”) rather than the letter of your request (“we want pie!”). Stay tuned for it!
Not a lot of people know this, but RescueTime was built on a part-time basis. We’d steal time in evenings, on weekends, and sometime on vacation to build what we’ve created to date. Add this to assorted travels around the holidays and we’ve been positively slammed. With the volume of new users we’ve gotten, it’s been all we could do to keep up with bug-fixing and customer communication.
This is about to change.
I’m happy to announce that, for the first time, the RescueTime team is working on this full-time. We’ve quit our jobs, dropped our consulting gigs, and actually moved down to Silicon Valley (from Seattle, WA) to focus on RescueTime.
What does this mean? You’re likely to start seeing dramatic improvements in performance, new features, and a heckuva lot more communication on this blog. Stay tuned!
We told a select few people that we had applied to YC with RescueTime. A bunch of people “got” why we were doing it– though quite a few people expressed concern. YC offers a fairly small chunk of cash for a comparatively large slice of equity (2-10%, depending on the startup). “How could that possibly be a good deal?” was a question that was not uncommon. We also often got, “doesn’t YC only fund college kids?” (actually, no– the average age is quite a bit higher than you’d guess).
I’d like to run through a few of the thoughts that we have on the YC value issue.
1. The biggest is hubris. Or (we hope) a lack thereof. Our team consists of three people who have built and sold companies before (little ones)– we could easily fall into the trap of believing we’re actually GOOD at it. Glenn Kelman’s guest post at TechCrunch couldn’t say it better– most startups fail. Most entrepreneurs fail. As it turns out, succeeding before only marginally increases your odds of startup success in a subsequent effort (source: The E-Myth Revisted– a cheesy but smart book on entrepreneurship… Glen’s post also cites a study in this area).
With a little success under your belt, it’s easy to start feeling infallible– you start calculating how many millions of dollars you’re giving away with 2 or 3 percent of stock and it stings. But, the vast likelihood is that you’d be better served focusing on getting to the “finish line” rather than how full your pockets could be when you get there. If you can embrace this idea, the idea of giving away a few percentage points of common stock to increase your chances at ANY success is a no-brainer.
2. Negotiating power. YC has proven itself (in just a few short years) to produce above-average startups and is a high-efficiency source of deal flow for Angels and VCs. YC does investors a great service by sorting through a mess of them, mentoring the best, and making those connections. Because of this, a YC company is bound to get treated with a lot of respect when negotiating with VCs. If the VC suckers the YC company into accepting crappy deal terms, there’s a pretty good chance that they will no longer have access to future YC companies.
3. Connections and introductions. Throughout the 3 month program we’ll be going to weekly dinners and mixers with the other founders as well as assorted interesting Valley folks. At the end of the three month period, YC puts you in front of a room full of VCs and Angels (commonly known as “Demo Day”).
4. Recruiting (and being recruited). We’d love to think that this isn’t our last startup (whether it succeeds or fails). We’d love to think that RescueTime is going to succeed. If either of those hopes come true, we’re going to need to know smart people who might want to work with us (or want us to work with them). YC alums are a great network for this. Many hackers would rather work for a YC company than Google!
5. Mentoring. This goes back to hubris a bit. We have a lot to learn. There are very few ways to spend three months that would have a better shot of making us smarter entrepreneurs than spending with a pile of geeks hand-picked by Paul Graham and friends.
6. Marketing. Having the YC “stamp” can get you in the door with a lot of publications (both on and offline). It’s not a sure thing, of course. I’ve worked with a lot of marketing firms (and seen a lot of dollars change hands) and can honestly say that the cash value of this cannot be overestimated.
7. Fun. Mom always said to enjoy life. How could the YC experience not be amazingly fun and rewarding?
So, is YC a good deal? At the end of the day, it comes down to math. But we’re willing to bet that it is.
Thanks to the thousands of people who have signed up for our beta for their patience. We recently made some big strides with our scalability– we’re trying hard to make sure that new RescueTime users are greeted with a zippy and reliable service.
Here are a few of the most recent RescueTime features:
- A weekly email summary of your data. This is the first step (and it’s optional) towards allowing RescueTime users the ability to get at their data without visiting RescueTime. Next steps here include widgets (iGoogle & NetVibes), an API (for fellow geeks who’d like to roll their own apps with their data), and more.
- Ignore Apps! Many people run apps that they don’t really want recorded… SETI@Home, 3rd party screensavers, remote access tools, etc. If there’s anything like this that’s mucking up your data, you can set it to be ignored and it will never make it to your data. Clean and tidy!
- Delete Data. Privacy is a huge concern for us, and we take the trust our users have put in us pretty seriously. Any and all records on the site now have a delete option. Are you concerned that you just surfed a job search web site at work? Kill the data if you want. It won’t make you look productive (it will basically look like idle time), but you’ll sleep better.
Here are a few things on the horizon:
- Bugfixes galore (obviously). We’re seeing a LOT less bug reports of late (while at the same time inviting new users in greater numbers), which is a great sign!
- Support for users who are behind proxy servers. Many of our new users would like to use RescueTime at work but can’t because they are behind a proxy server.
- RescueTime Public Groups. This is our most exciting upcoming feature! We’ll be creating public groups that anyone can join, allowing them to see how they compare to other people in the group. Groups like “freelance web designers”, “startup web programmers”, and “professional bloggers” should reveal some interesting data!
- RescueTime Pro. This will be our premium offering, designed for businesses and teams that want to enhance their productivity with RescueTime.
- Create private groups that are as big or as small as you want… A company could have a group for all employees as well as groups by department.
- Compare how you spend your time with other people on your team.
- View the aggregate data of the group over time (is your team getting overrun with meetings? Buried in email? Now you’ll have proof!)
If anyone (whether they are a manager or not) is interested in participating in the RescueTime Pro functionality beta test drop me a line (email@example.com).
Releasing software is a scary thing. Every time I read a review trashing a particular piece of software, I always get an empathy-powered stomach ache. Somewhere out there is a developer or a designer who believed in that product and is/was proud of it. They may have lost their way as they were developing it, but at some point they cared. And nothing feels more like a kick in the junk than someone telling the world that your software is crap.
So when you launch software, you are silently praying that:
A) The app isn’t going to keel over as soon as a lot of people start using it. Scaling software (especially software with lots of data) can be challenging.
B) People don’t use your software and think it’s crap. And when I say “people”, what I really mean is “people you don’t know”, because you’ve probably had plenty of friends and family tell you that you’re extremely clever and your software just plain rocks. Don’t believe them.
So it was with great delight that I read our first real review by a person who had actually used RescueTime by Nigel Powell over at The Red Ferret, a cool blog/zine about gadgets, technology, software, etc. I nearly blushed when Nigel said:
“I can honestly say that this is one of the coolest web applications I’ve seen in a long time.”
Of course, he also said:
“Of course knowing about your time sloppy lifestyle is not going to help unless you take action to correct the problems, which is why there are plans to implement a time management feature which will notify you when you meet or fail to reach goals for a period.”
Very true. Knowing about a problem (and being able to measure it) is only a first step on the road to better time management.
Check out the full article here.
Been a while since we shot out a blog post. Here are a few newsbits:
- We’re rolling out a lot of beta invites over the coming days after a fair bit of work to make sure that RescueTime can support a large number of users.
- I’ve added an RSS feed to the right hand side of this blog showing the most recently active topics from our customer support site. That’s our first line of defense for support, feature requests, and the like– head on over and join the conversation!
- We’re working on a few new (and exciting) features to insure that our users have full control over their own data (and their privacy!)
- Data deletion controls. Users are going to have the power to nuke any data that they want to. Whether you are visiting risque sites, heading over to jobster.com to search for jobs at work, or you just have some funky data because our service is acting up– you have the ability to control it.
- Data ignore controls. You can set RescueTime to ignore an application that might be skewing your data. Certain 3rd party screensavers and cool stuff like SETI@Home might result in your computer thinking you are spending “time” on applications that really aren’t being used. If it’s not a 1-time problem, then the delete controls might not be enough.
Next up on the block in terms of features will be centered around group offerings– allowing team members to see how they are working in the context of a group whether it’s a work team or just a group of friends.
Let me be clear… My productivity has SOARED since I’ve started using RescueTime a few months back (when it was early alpha and we had 3 users).
But we JUST shot out a small batch of our first beta invites and my productivity has sunk to a new low.
To give you a bit of background, I have a pretty diverse role at RescueTime. I wrangle pixels, create prototypes, dabble in flash, do some light rails work, etc. Because Robby and Joe are generally pretty pegged with the technical heavy-lifting, I bravely volunteer to do any sort of PR and customer interaction stuff.
The funny thing is that when you actually have customers and you go out of your way to be contact-able, they contact you. And because we’ve invited a lot of the more enthusiastic people on the waiting list, we’ve gotten a LOT of really amazing feedback (and I try to answer any feedback that isn’t anonymous). Add to that our swanky new people-powered customer service site at GetSatisfaction, and I’m spendng a ton of time talking to people. Which is actually pretty darn productive, when you think about it (okay, I feel better now).
More beta invites should be shooting out over the next week or so– the server is handling the volume pretty well (which was our main concern). Stay tuned!
I’ve been keeping my eye on GetSatisfaction for a while (they occasionally refer to themselves as “The SatisFactory”, which I love). They are building tools to allow customer service to be more interactive and more… fun. In doing so, they make it easy for customers to help each other out.
Before you get grumpy and say, “Just another way for businesses to offer crappy customer service”, consider for a minute what this offers a small company like RescueTime. We are a team of 3 guys with a long laundry list of things to do that can make the product and the experience better. At the same time, we’re fanatical about customer service. But, at the end of the day, anything that allows customers to find satisfaction without pulling us away from making the product better is pretty darn compelling for us.
Someday, perhaps, we’ll be in a position to need a dedicated service/support resource. In a way, I hope that doesn’t happen– there’s something magical about having the product developers talking directly to customers.
So, I’ve tentatively set up a RescueTime GetSatisfaction site. They are working out a few kinks, but I fully expect to replace our forum with this before we start inviting our beta users.