How-to: Track top-level web site usage with Time Sink

Our time-tracking app Time Sink relies on window titles to track your activities. This approach works great for most use cases, as window titles are supplied by the vast majority of apps out there, which means Time Sink is able to keep an eye on nearly everything you do.

But when browsing the web, relying on window titles can sometimes be problematic: Many sites don’t include any site-specific information in their window titles. For instance, a news site may just have the title of the news article as the window title. So if you were interested in finding out how much time you spend on that news site, Time Sink apparently wouldn’t be able to help, because there’s no way to tell which site those news stories came from.

Other sites do include some site-specific data in their window titles, but what that is will vary by site, as well as where it appears within the window title.

The good news is that Time Sink can track site-wide time usage for both types of windows—it’s relatively simple for sites that include site-specific data in their window titles, and it’s somewhat more involved for sites that do not.

The relatively simple way

Some sites include a bit of unique information in each page’s title, which makes tracking them simple. YouTube, for instance, appends ” – YouTube” to every window title:

Any site that does this is easy to track with a pool, regardless of which browser you use. (This example assumes Safari.)

  1. Drag any opened YouTube window (in Time Sink’s Organizer window) to the Pools section of the Organizer window, and drop to create a new pool.
  2. Expand the Safari (assuming you used Safari, of course) folder in the Pools section, then expand Safari (the app within the folder) to reveal the window title.
  3. Select the window title and press Return to edit it. Change the window’s title to * – YouTube and press Return again. The * is Time Sink’s wildcard, and it means “match anything.” In this example, it will match any number of characters that are followed by the ” – YouTube” bit.

That’s it; Time Sink will now add all time spent on any YouTube page (in Safari, at least) to that pool. In general, there are basically three versions of the window title that you could see. Here’s how you’d edit each in a Pool to track the site in aggregate:

  • unique tidbit – words ==> unique tidbit – *
  • words – unique tidbit ==> * – unique tidbit
  • words – unique tidbit – words ==> * – unique tidbit – *

Related tip: If you want to track YouTube usage in any browser (actually, any app that can load web pages and includes page titles), right-click on the Safari application entry in the pool, then select Track Across All Applications:

This will change the application name from Safari to Any Application, and now all your YouTube time will be captured in one pool. (Are you sure you want to do this!?) You can also, as seen in the screenshot, change the name of the pool to reflect that it’s no longer Safari-specific.

So much for the simple sites…

The somewhat more involved way

For sites that don’t include any unique information in the window titles, things get more complicated. Consider Reddit, which uses the title of the post or the subreddit’s description as the window title:

Unfortunately, there’s no way to track these windows as all belonging to Reddit, because there’s no unique information to identify them as Reddit windows. At least, there’s not if you’re only willing to use Safari to browse the web. But if you’re able to use Google Chrome or Firefox, then there is a way, thanks to their support for a huge number of (Chrome | Firefox) extensions.

Note: We’re looking into whether we can develop a similar extension for Safari; if we can, we’ll announce it here and potentially distribute it with Time Sink in the future. For now, though, you’ll have to use one of the other browsers to make this work.

(The following instructions are for Chrome; if you’re using Firefox, you’ll want to install the Add URL to Window Title add-on, and set it to only show the top-level domain.)

Start by installing Chrome, then launch it and install the URL in Title extension. This little extension does exactly what its name implies: It puts the page’s URL in the window title.

After you install the extension, go to its Options screen. (Chrome > Preferences, click on Extensions on the left side of the page, scroll down to URL in Title, click Options.) Here you’ll find you have full control over exactly what gets added to the page title, and where it gets added. I have mine set up like this:

You can include additional info, such as the path, but really, the base URL is all that you need for Time Sink to use. Once set up, here’s how those same four Reddit pages now look to Time Sink:

At this point, you can switch back to the relatively simple way to set up a Time Sink Pool to track your time on Reddit (or whatever other site you wish)—create the pool and edit the window title as needed (reddit.com – * in this case). The beauty of this approach is that you can track any site, regardless of what strategy it uses for its window titles.

The downside, of course, is that you have to use Chrome or Firefox to do your browsing—at least for now; hopefully we’ll be able to come up with a Safari extension at some point in the future.

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