After about two months of development, I released a beta version of Obtract to my classmates and a few other friends to gather feedback. I then released several minor updates to the application addressing some of the major issues.
The feedback was varied and included some comments I expected as well as some surprises:
- Some users tried clicking the buttons in the monitor window (labeled "productive" and "distracted") when they felt productive or distracted. I added an additional label above the buttons to more clearly indicate the activity the buttons were referring to. The comment brings up an additional issue of what to do when a user feels distracted, rather than being measurably distracted.
- I received a few questions about how the application keeps track of time that you are off of your computer. There was some additional confusion about how the application works when the computer is off or sleeping. I think the design needs to be improved to more clearly address or account for that time.
- Several users complained that the application did not work properly on two screens. I knew this would be an issue, but I did not expect to have as many beta testers with multiple screens as I ended up with.
- Certain activities (specifically chat and email) were difficult to categorize as either fully productive or fully distracting. For instance, one user said that email is often productive for a few minutes, but quickly becomes distracting after that. Using something like a threshold, where a certain amount of time on an activity is allowed, is one possible way to address this issue.
- Some users reported getting angry at the maze intervention because it appeared too often. I released an updated version of the app that reduced the frequency of the interventions based this feedback.
- One user was concerned about the phrase "milestone," since that's more commonly used in project management to signify big accomplishments. He suggested I think of a different word.
- Several users wanted to be able to adjust the amount of time they could spend on distractions. Currently, it's set at 5 minutes, which is seen as being too strict. Some of these users also wanted the app to track you only during work hours, e.g., 9am - 6pm.
- It's fairly easy to avoid the maze by leaving a distracting app in the background, rather than bringing it to the foreground. One possible improvement is to make the maze stay in the background behind the active productive activity.
- Originally, the application would not allow users to make activities as being productive if they were distracted. I updated this in a release so that users can mark it as productive at any point.
- The bar chart in the monitor window was reported as being helpful to encourage competition between some users.
- Users wanted to see more numbers and more history, including how productive they were today, yesterday, etc. To narrow the application's scope for the prototype, I intentionally focused on the activities done today, but this would be a good way to improve the application.
- The SMS feature was not widely used.
- iCal integration was suggested as one valuable feature, so that you could see how your meetings affect your productivity and distraction.
- Without some context, the application is hard to understand. Improved labeling or a tutorial are two ways to address this.
- One user reported that Obtract helped them "get some shit done." So that's pretty good!
Based on feedback, I think that the application is an effective proof of concept of preventing digital distraction. But, I think there are several significant changes that would need to be made before the application could be called a finished product:
- The social aspect of the system is too revealing in some cases. I think the trendlines comparison makes sense to share, but revealing specific activities seems like it could be a breach of privacy.
- The application needs to do a better job of helping you understand where your time is going. Right now, it's focused too much on the top 10 activities.
- The app should be made to take advantage of the existing social networks. I should consider adding features to share your progress (or lack thereof) on those networks.
- It should do a better job of encouraging users to do better, and helping users figure out how to do better. How could it be more positive?
Going forward, it's possible that the app could be sustained by a subscription business model for teams, or it could cater to individual users and be sold on the Mac App Store. I will continue to gather more feedback and wait to see reactions before deciding what to do next.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Eric St. Onge
Please send questions or comments to eric at ericstonge dot com.