While traditional analytics detail what users tap in an app, they don’t show what happens in between. If only developers could watch their users in action. With Y Combinator-backed Watchsend, developers can get a peek by remotely recording users’ screens, and learn how to refine their apps.
Whether the app is in beta or live, Watchsend users can specify exactly what pages they want to record, which are then encrypted and secured in its data base. All recordings come with screen annotations of taps, swipes and presses, as well as a timeline of the user’s actions. App developers can then go in and view them, using very specific search terms to navigate the vast number of videos collected.
After a past project called Mosaic consistently garnered low reviews, Watchsend co-founders Zain Shah and Ishaan Gulrajani spent two weeks personally calling up users to figure out what was going wrong. The main problem, they discovered, was that people weren’t pressing the prompt needed for the app to start– a problem that could have been solved simply by looking over a user’s shoulder.
Watchsend is meant to complement traditional app testing methods such as conversion rates and A/B testing, not replace them. “There’s a lot of stuff that you get from traditional analytics that’s absolutely indispensable, and we don’t claim to be able to give you any of that,” Gulrajani says. “But there’s a lot of stuff that analytics misses out on, stuff that you didn’t think to track.”
Instead, it’s offering an alternative solution for apps where user progress is harder to track. For example, analyzing data from mobile gaming apps can show at what level users are dropping off, but its a lot more difficult to determine exactly what the user is doing wrong. Maybe the ladder to the next level is blocked by in-game shrubbery, or that last gem to be collected is too hard to find. Analytics also show which pages are reached by users, but not how far down they scroll before clicking “next” or “buy”.
A couple other startups have already identified this problem, but none have approached it at the scale that Watchsend has. UserTesting and Usabilla are two services that provide panels of users, so developers can watch them interact with the platforms. Another option for companies is to independently find and pay volunteer users. With Watchsend, companies can track and record all of their real users as soon as they open the app. This ability also provides a more natural setting for developers to monitor actions.
“They’re providing the same kind of qualitative feedback that we are, but we can do things like scale to thousands of users and give you more information for your buck,” Shah tells me.
While the results could provide huge insight into how consumers are actually using their apps, the privacy implications of such a service need to be addressed. Each company using Watchsend determines for itself what to track and what should remain private. Developers can mark specific prompts or pages as private (such as credit card entry or passwords), and the information will be pixelated by the Watchsend software.
Users don’t necessarily know they are being recorded, and disclosing the information rests heavily with the company. Gulrajani tells me developers can also add a button for users to opt out of being recorded. If a company happens to miss a page, Watchsend is also working on independently guessing and blocking sensitive information. No matter what preventative measures the startup decides to take, it needs to have this sorted out to avoid privacy scandals or losing out on big clients.
Watchsend has built a small user base during testing, including SmugMug, Directr, Streak and several other companies, but the founders say it is ready to expand. The service is free for under 100 recordings per month, $19/mo for 100-500 recordings and $69/mo for 500-3000 recordings. An Android and desktop version of Watchsend are in the works, but you can get a 30-day free trial for iOS here.