Interview With the Developer of StayFocusd Extension [DevDialogue]

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Extensions or add-ons help a browser to grow and enhance its features. The extension market has almost become as huge as the App arena and is growing with every passing day. While the world is just crazy about applications, developers are now also focusing on developing extensions that would increase the functionality of a browser. In an interview with TheAppleGoogle, Mr. Warren Benedetto – the developer of the popular StayFocusd extension shared his thoughts on the extension market, browsers and his Eureka moment.

StayFocusd is an extension for Chrome that helps you stay productive by blocking websites. How did you conceive the idea for the extension?

I’ve been a freelance web developer for the last six years, so I spend the bulk of my time in front of a computer. Unfortunately, I’m also completely addicted to information. If I let myself, I’ll lose hours and hours a day on Google Reader, Digg, Reddit, and sites like that. I have no willpower, so I needed something that would force me to stay off those sites and focus on work.

I used to use LeechBlock on Firefox, but when I switched to Chrome for all my development tasks, I found myself losing time again. I searched for a Chrome extension version of LeechBlock (or something like it), but there was nothing available at the time. Therefore, I decided to build an extension by myself, for myself. It was working really well for keeping me on task, so after a few months, I decided to release it to the public.

StayFocusd blocks websites after a particular period of time and does not let users access it throughout the day. Shouldn’t this be a concern for the website owners?

Nah, I don’t think so. The extension only has about 27,000 users, and I’m sure most of them only block a handful of sites. It shouldn’t make any noticeable dent in website traffic, especially for the kinds of sites that people typically block (Facebook, Digg, Wikipedia, etc.)

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How would you describe the extension ecosystem?

I have found the extension developer community to be very helpful and responsive to questions. The Chrome developers are pretty good too — I’ve filed some bug reports and feature requests, and they have actually been fixed/implemented.

Can you give us a sneak peek into the future of StayFocusd?

I’m working on a massive new release that will implement many of the most requested features: per-site timers, expanded Nuclear Option functionality, more customization, more prominent countdown timers, work/home profiles that can sync across computers, and much more. Some of these features will be folded into the free version of the extension, and some will be part of a StayFocusd Max upgrade that can be activated for a small fee.

Also, StayFocusd.com will eventually evolve into something that is actually useful for procrastinators, rather than the current “Shouldn’t you be working?” message.

Why have you chosen to develop for Chrome over any other browser?

My choice to develop extensions for Chrome was driven by necessity — I had chosen to switch to Chrome for work, so I needed something to help me stay focused while working in Chrome. I checked out the Chrome extension developer docs and realized that it would be really, really easy to do. Chrome extensions are built with Javascript, HTML, and CSS, so there was zero learning curve for me to get started. I built the first version of StayFocusd in a weekend.

Can you describe your Eureka moment with the extension?

I’ve had a couple of those moments. I got the most basic version of the extension — blocking one website after a set period of time — working with about 15 minutes. It was just a few lines of code. That was when I went “wow, I could really build something cool like this.” That the first eureka moment.

The bigger one was when ReadWriteWeb and Lifehacker wrote up the extension on the first day it was released, and I got 10,000 users within about 24 hours. That’s when I realized that this was something a lot of people could really use.

A third was when I saw a huge uptick in installs in late spring, and I realized that the extension was being used by students to help them focus for finals. I always pictured the extension helping people like me, who work online all the time for a career. I was surprised to find out that the majority of my users are students using the extension to focus on homework.