July 11, 2018

Would you pay for a browser extension that blocks distracting website features?

I'm currently working on Intent – a browser extension that helps users be more mindful of how they browse the web.

To give you a quick idea of how it works, here's a screenshot (tweet link):


The idea came about when I wrote some specific tips on getting less distracted by social media (https://nelo.is/writing/stop-scrolling-mindlessly). I quickly realized how blocking features you find distracting is so convoluted. Basically, I'd like this to be the one extension you need to install to control those distractions.

I'm starting with giving the option to block feeds, AI suggestions, and autoplay. Will possibly branch to adding access confirmation, usage timer, and hiding from seen indicators. However, I'll carefully consider how each feature contributes to the whole idea of adding intent.

I'm really excited about using design itself to counter addictive design – reversing Nir Eyal's ideas.

A few questions:

  1. Would you pay for this? If you're comfortable sharing, how much?

  2. Which features from your favorite websites bother you most? For example, I find the Facebook News Feed, YouTube AutoPlay, and Instagram Explore tab to be a huge time sink.

  1. 2

    I think there is definitely a market for this (I'm usually good, got a few blockers that I need and generally don't use time waster sites) as there are countless apps to block sites, reduce distractions, track time etc. that are paid and seem to be doing well.

    However, I think for this service there is A LOT of competition and the main way to get it to work is to invest heavily in marketing it. Otherwise, you will just drown in the mind-boggling number of similar use case services. Just follow PH for a couple of days and you will see that weekly there are like 2-3 different apps that tackle this segment in some way. But you can also take that as validation of the idea and maybe use some ideas others have!

    1. 2

      I'm trying to differentiate Intent as a good middle ground between fully blocking a website and wasting time on it.

      The most popular services designed to be addictive have useful core functionalities. YouTube, for example, is the best platform for searching video content by far. But AI-generated suggestions, and auto-playing videos are designed to keep users engaging even if they don't fully want to.

      My goal is to get rid of those addictive parts of design, and hopefully, make each interaction more intentional.

      1. 1

        @Arqu Thanks! I really appreciate your response and thoughts on marketing this product.

  2. 2

    I used to run RescueTime but over time it got less useful. Not 100% sure why though. Maybe you could also auto-detect websites where one spends either long time periods or visits frequently and do a friendly nudge-reminder: "Why are you here? Whats your intent?" -> User needs to select work/leisure/dont know and you can then suggest to limit time on this particular page

    Also not only disabling features but a whole site makes some sense in my point of view. Like I sometimes happen to type "facebook" or "twitter" into the adress bar without a real intent what to do there... (Hello internal triggers) What migt help is to have som kind of accountability buddy (your plugin?) show up and ask me why I am here and what I want to do here + how much time do I want to spend here. (then interrupt me after x minutes) -> and if you're using the mechanics of "hooked" you could just "cut off" the newsfeed items after a few minutes... no new content = no more triggers and interest to continue = back to focus.

    But back to your question: paying?

    Probably not. As it is not a "burning pain" thing and more of a "vitamin" to improve. I could imagine using a free version (which still provides a lot of value) and having to upgrade to a pro version to make more individual adjustments and configurations as a power user. Like if you can set a default time for "block fb.com for 2 hours after each visit" and I want to change that to 30 mins only. Or if I want to say only show "30 fb news feed items" instead of your default "only show 10"...

    You could offer to extend the facebook browsing time for a small fee / donation which goes 50% to you as the plugin provider and 50% to some other charity (kind of a dark pattern for fb addicts.... but hey).

    1. 2

      I feel the same way about RescueTime. It's a really powerful product but the UX just sucks too bad to use it to it's full potential. I wanted to make it categorize each activity by client, so I can totally automate billing., which it has the potential to do since it can figure out which files your working on in your text editor, but every time I gave up. It's also really restricting in unusual places. For example if you want to set a Goal Tracker you can only do it either every day or Mon-Fri 6AM to 8PM, or some other times I can't remember. My point is why the restriction? Anyways I realize I should probably be telling them this but thanks for listening Patric 😬

      1. 1

        I was so frustrated with RescueTime's UX that I attempted to work on an alternative. https://nelo.is/making/timecheck

      2. 1

        My pleasure ;-)

        Yeah, if you like the product you SHOULD take your user-duty seriously and tell them... No other way for them to learn and improve

    2. 1

      Awesome thoughts! Will keep these in mind.

      I'm thinking of say, instead of not showing anything on your News Feed, you can opt to show your next agenda instead, amount of money wasted (based on users' hourly rate).

      1. 2

        Yeah, good idea. I like the positive engagement way more than the negative "you already wasted x hours on youtube" ;-)

        But throwing a positive "next-useful-action" trigger or some motivational quote/video into the users way sounds great to get them back on track.

  3. 2

    I find auto playing music / videos annoying on some sites but not sure I would pay to stop it. Good luck with your idea though!

  4. 1

    Hey Aaron,

    I am your ideal customer for this project. I also honestly have this idea on my bucket list so I might be your competition one day 😉.

    I pay for Freedom , RescueTime, and Moment. I am borderline obsessed with Hooked. I don't have time to tell you everything I would like to see in this product, but I just wanted to drop you a line here in case you wanted to set up a call so I can help.


    1. 1

      Awesome! The hard part is reducing the features to the essentials, especially when you're flooded with ideas and excitement.

      Expect an e-mail, soon. 😁

  5. 1

    In one word - No.