Rethinking Time Sink

What follows is a bit of backstory on Time Sink, our utility that tracks how you spend your time using your Mac. If you’d rather skip the backstory, here’s the executive summary version: effective immediately, we’re cutting the price of Time Sink to just $5 ($4.99 on the App Store).

Why are we doing this? In short, because we think Time Sink is a very cool little utility, and we’d love to see more people using it. For the longer version, read the details that follow.

Once upon a time, there was a little app named Time Sink. This handy utility tracks every open window on your Mac, recording both foreground and background time for those windows. After it’s been running for some time, Time Sink provides an excellent picture as to how you spend your time on your Mac. If you haven’t tried it yet, Time Sink really is an amazing little app—it answers the “where did my day go?” question with ease, even though you may not want to know the answer!

When we released Time Sink three months ago, we had a vision as to who the customer would be: those people who need to account for their time for billing or reporting purposes, as well as those who are just interested in the details of their technical lives. We intentionally kept the program light, with no integrated billing or defined project tracking tools, focusing on creating a clean interface and set-and-forget operation. (Time Sink does export data for use in spreadsheets and databases, which is how we saw users using its data if they needed to create invoices or do more with the data.)

Now, three months into its existence, we’re finding that Time Sink isn’t quite right for either of the groups we thought would be interested in it. Those who need to account for their time need more features than Time Sink provides—billing and project-centered features are the two big items that really need to be supported for these users.

For those interested in the technical details of their lives, $19 was simply too steep a price to pay for what was essentially a toy to them. It’s one thing to be curious about where your time goes, but another thing entirely to fork over $19 to answer the question when you really don’t need to know the answer.

So what are we planning on doing about Time Sink’s shortcomings? In the near term, adding both billing and project-centric features will be complex and time consuming, and we’re not yet ready (given Time Sink’s sales to date) to make that investment. However, we realize these features are a key element of a time tracking application for professional users. So we know we need to get them done if we’re going to reach this group of buyers.

As for the technical hobbyists just interested in where their time is going…that’s why we’ve dropped the price to $5. We think this strikes a fair balance between affordability and providing a decent return to help us fund the future investments we’d like to make in Time Sink.

So if you’ve been waffling about Time Sink, now’s the time to give it another look-see. If you’re a professional user, its features may not be perfect for you today, but perhaps what’s there now is worth $5 to you. If you’re a hobbyist, you may find it very enlightening to see just where your time does go—who knows, maybe you’ll identify a time sink that will free up time for additional activities. And now, it’ll only cost you $5 to find out.

20 Responses to “Rethinking Time Sink”

  1. Tory Neidal says:

    “$19 was simply too steep a price to pay for what was essentially a toy to them.” $5 is too steep to demo it, too. Free is always good. Maybe you need to rethink the App Store. Like, in a year.

    • Rob Griffiths says:

      That’s why it’s available on our site, as a fully functional demo. Try it here, buy it wherever you prefer. As for “free is always good,” I guess so, unless you’re trying to run an actual business. Then free doesn’t work so well (outside an environment where you can charge for install and tech support help).

      -rob.

  2. Tom says:

    THANK YOU, thank you, thank you.

    Now I can afford this beautiful little app. Being temporarily (?) disabled, with my professional future in the fog, I’m currently not earning money, therefore, though I have quite a few “professional” skills, I probably belong into the “technical hobbyists” category, even though this hurts my ego.

    I only dearly hope that you won’t be bashed for this by customers who purchased it at the old price.

    Greetings from a faithful user of much of your great stuff,

    Tom

  3. Tom says:

    My, these measly $5 are such a tiny price. A steal. Do you folks @ Many Tricks then really imagine that you can commercially survive this way, decreasing the prices for your fine apps, one by one?

    What I seldom do: Today, celebrating the day, I allowed myself a Cappucino with Amaretto at the local Italian Ice Cream parlour, after my daily walk in this frozen northern German village … cost me just the same as Time Sink a few hours before.

    Just to get the relations.

    BTW about what I wrote before, re: being able to afford it: If I’d have had a use for it before, i.e. if I’d somehow have needed it, I certainly would have afforded it at the old price. It’s just that I didn’t need it at that time. But boy, how I loved it when I tested the demo.

  4. Appreciations for your ongoing openness and for experimenting with your business model! It’s great to see an independent developer actively try to find the best balance between the developer’s need to make a living and users’ desires to get great software which is value for money. I already use 3 of your apps, and will definitely take another look at TimeSink.

  5. Peter Maurer says:

    @Tory Neidal: There’s an upside to paying for service/goods: If you pay, you’re entitled to continuity and support to some extent. If you get something for free, on the other hand, you have zero right to demand a product that actually works. In some cases, you may actually be the product that’s being sold.

    It’s your own choice, but free is definitely not always good, at least not for everyone.

    —·—

    @Tom: Having quite a few apps for sale makes it easier for us to experiment with pricing, because we won’t go out of business just because we took a wrong turn when setting a price for one single product.

    Besides, the Mac App Store has changed the game entirely: Before the App Store, our biggest problem was making potential customers aware of our products. Once they had found their way onto our web site, their business basically had to make up for all those potential customers who simply never knew our apps existed — if you’re a relatively small company, there’s only so much advertising will do. And we’d rather convince buyers of our products’ quality than woo them with flashy ad slogans anyway.

    But now that the App Store is here, our reach has gone up by orders of magnitude. All of a sudden, a lot of potential buyers are more or less aware of our products, and we’re faced with the challenge to find the right balance between support cost and convincing as many of those potential buyers as possible to actually buy. We’re only beginning to understand the impact of the App Store on our business, but we’re independent, so we’re free to experiment and base decisions on the outcome of those experiments.

    Case in point: Desktop Curtain. We improved a former donationware app’s functionality somewhat, made its UI more appealing and easier to use, then started selling it for a seemingly ridiculous price. In fact, we even referred to this as an experiment openly.

    The sales numbers blew us away, while the number of support requests remained within reasonable bounds. So for the time being, we consider Desktop Curtain’s current price a win/win scenario. If the support load goes up, the price will go up as well.

    —·—

    @Mark Rowatt Anderson: Thank you! That’s the kind of feedback that makes us enjoy being open about our decisions.

  6. J. says:

    Some time ago I considered to ask you about an edu price for Time Sink. That’s obsolete now, thank you :)
    Would it be a big deal for you to make Time Sink executable on 10.4.11?

    • Rob Griffiths says:

      I don’t believe we can make Time Sink work in 10.4.x, as we rely on some features that aren’t present in that version of Mac OS X. (I’ll double-check with Peter just to confirm, but I remember discussing it during development.)

      -rob.

  7. Adam B. says:

    I think this is a great app at a great price and I think a lot of people would find it useful, I think you just need more publicity and or time to hear about it.

  8. J. says:

    @Rob,
    I’d be pleased to get a notice about 10.4 compatibility when you check with Peter. (You can just post it here; no need for extra email)

  9. Rob Griffiths says:

    I was right: Time Sink has lots of 10.5+ code in it, so there’s no way we can make it work in 10.4.

    -rob.

  10. Jeremie says:

    I’ve been thinking about getting Time Sink since I saw it (and it’s what grabbed my attention on the AppStore, and got me looking at your cool apps), however I haven’t done so yet for a perfectly good reason…

    … I know where my time is spent.

    Unfortunately I’m a developer and my main tool is emacs. I spend a lot of time there. And I’m a 2011 computer user, so the rest of my time is spent in the browser (because that’s where *everything* else is).

    That is what Time Sink will tell me, which I already know.

    What I would appreciate would be for Time Sink to also be able to tell me what websites I visit, and how much time I spend on them.

    I know a service already exists for that purpose, but it stores all my browsing info remotely online on their servers (which is scary as I know next to nothing about the company), and requires me to subscribe for a monthly fee. I’d like to be able to do that locally and for free.

    Not sure if this applies to other would-be users, but maybe…

    • Rob Griffiths says:

      Time Sink tracks every site you visit, assuming it’s got a window title. All of this is recorded, and it can be grouped in pools by site name, for instance.

      If something’s in a window on your Mac, Time Sink will (with very few exceptions) see it and track the time (foreground and background) that that window is open.

      -rob.

  11. Jeremie says:

    From the screenshots I’ve seen, Time Sink does not seem able to track the URL of the sites I’m viewing on Chrome, for instance, because Chrome uses tabs. Even if you track the title of a Chrome window to tell which page is being viewed at the time, most page titles are nondescript…

  12. Rob Griffiths says:

    Time Sink works on window titles, including titles of tabs in browsers. It does not work on URLs, or document types, or anything other than window titles.

    -rob.

  13. baldguru says:

    I came to the Mac App store to look at Desktop Curtain from a tech RSS blog post. Bought it after following the link to your web site and reading your very well done marketing copy. Then looked at other products after seeing how greate Desktop Curtain worked. Purchased Time Sink as a direct result of reading this blog, then popped $35 for Usher simply because I like your openness, quality and integrity… Looking forward to seeing what else you guys come up with!

    • Rob Griffiths says:

      Thank you very much for the business, and for the kind words. We’ll do our best to keep creating great software, and providing excellent customer support.

      cheers;
      -rob.

  14. Tom says:

    I can SO MUCH relate to what BaldGuru writes.

  15. I think TimeSink is by far the best tool that I have found yet. What kept me from registering (and using) it are shortcomings in the granularity of tracking. Because when I work on several projects, it all happens in different Browser Tabs and I’d need to be able to track tab titles in addition to windows titles.

    Perhaps this is easy to change? I’d be happy to pay the original 19€ for a tool that helps me really track my working time.

    Btw: When is Butler 5 coming?

    Regards,
    Ferdinand Soethe

    • Rob Griffiths says:

      Tab titles are tracked, because they become window titles when in the foreground – you can easily see this by opening two tabs in Safari and toggling between them with Time Sink visible. As each tab becomes active, it shows in the Organizer window. However, the problem is that at the OS level, when you move a tab to the background, it’s the same as if you closed the window – so Time Sink can’t tell the tab is open but in the background, versus simply being closed. If we can find a way around this, we will, but so far, we’ve not had any luck.

      Butler 5 is later this year, with Lion if things go well: < http://manytricks.com/blog/?p=862>

      -rob.