Webtrate: An Internet blocker for people with absolutely no self-control

As a freelance writer, I am intimately acquainted with procrastination. Once I finally sat down to write this article, I spent three hours checking email, getting into comment wars on Facebook, and generally avoiding having to download Webtrate, an app that I knew would block my Internet access and make me focus on the task at hand.

Webtrate is part of a growing trend: software that claims to increase your productivity by reducing distractions. In this case, the distraction Webtrate gets rid of is the Internet--unlike similar apps, which block time-sucking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Buzzfeed on a case-by-case basis, Webtrate freezes you out of the Web altogether. This is not an app for the faint of heart.

Webtrate is the brainchild of Will Little, a playwright who discovered his utter lack of self-control after he was unable to complete a single play within one year. After realizing he was unproductive because he couldn't stay offline, Little, along with a team of programmers and--surprise, surprise--freelance writers, created Webtrate to help boost his own output.

Getting started with Webtrate is quick and straightforward. I downloaded, unzipped, and installed it in under one minute. The program needs access to administrator's rights, so you may need to enter your admin password during the installation process.

Webtrate opens as a small, blue window in which you can choose how long you want to be blocked from the Internet--from as little as one minute, all the way up to a masochistic 23 hours and 59 minutes. Webtrate also gives you two options for blocking the web. The first option gives you an "out," because it only blocks the Internet until you restart the computer. The second option is iron-clad -- Webtrate will continue to work even if you restart your machine. You can also enter a goal for your Internet-free time.

The program will begin working as soon as you confirm your settings, though you may experience a slight lag--my PC froze for just a second. After this initial freeze, Webtrate didn't appear to be particularly system-heavy, but I also wasn't performing any CPU-intensive tasks.

When your Internet-blocking time is up, Webtrate will open a new window titled "Webtrate Work Plan." Here, you can track your progress: you can tell Webtrate whether you accomplished your goals (your written goals will be displayed in the window), give yourself a star rating for effort, and detail what you actually achieved.

From there you can see graphs of your progress. The top graph displays your monthly "work achieved" and your average effort rating. The bottom graph displays your progress over the past year. These are only as accurate as you are. If you're honest about the amount and quality of work you get done, here's where you'll be able to see if the Internet is actually what's keeping you from being productive.

Webtrate is available for Windows and Mac OS X and costs $8 to download. It's a solid application with a clean interface, and it does exactly what it sets out to do. That said, it has some shortcomings. For one thing, it lacks a timer, so there's no way to see how long you have until you're back online. On the one hand, this lends a Zen-like feel to the app--there's no way to see the time, so you may as well not think about it. On the other hand, it's annoying and problematic for people who work on deadlines or in collaboration.

Webtrate is also not for everyone. If you're trying to finish a creative project, such as a script, book, or long-form article, Webtrate can help you stay focused and minimize all distractions. But if you're a freelance writer or a telecommuter, it's probably impossible for you to work completely Internet-less for long periods of time. Webtrate is an all-or-nothing deal and that limits its appeal.


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