Archive for September, 2007

Wesabe No. 65 in the "Esquire 100"

September 15, 2007


The Wesabe crew is, well, frankly a little blown away to be named as No. 65 in Esquire Magazine‘s “Esquire 100,” their annual list of “the one hundred remarkable people, things, ideas, and places that we think will be making an impact on our culture, large or small, in the months ahead”:

The Wikipedia of Your Bank Account
A dot-com success story for 2008

This thing is extremely helpful. It groups every transaction into a category — dinners out, gas, music, whatever — so you always know how much you’re spending on what. And the tips from other users are actually useful, like how to avoid extra charges on your cellphone bill and where to find huge coupons when buying groceries online.

I’d like to think we made the list because I’m just as snappy a dresser as Benicio Del Toro, who’s on the cover. Maybe that’s not it. (In fact, it’s embarassing how far back I have to go in my Wesabe accounts before I can find a transaction tagged ‘clothing’…perhaps I should leave the snappy dressing to Jason.) It’s great to see Wesabe growing and getting more recognition, and I’m especially thrilled to have so many people joining, participating in Groups and Tips, and making the community better and smarter. (Benicio, did you get a good deal on that suit?)

LessAccounting, Facilitas, and the Wesabe API

September 15, 2007

This is awesome: two companies, LessAccounting and Facilitas, have now launched features for their sites that use the Wesabe API to import data for their users. Excellent!

LessAccounting launched their Wesabe integration a few weeks ago. They provide a simple, web-based accounting package for small businesses, including features to track expenses, sales leads, proposals, and invoices. They wanted to provide automatic account download for their users, so they have people set up a Wesabe account and import their data, and then they use the Wesabe API to track expenses for the businesses they serve. Since Wesabe is focused on consumer tools, letting LessAccounting create great small business tools using our automatic bank and credit card syncing services is fantastic all around.

BankSwitcher, the first product from Facilitas, is a service to help people switch their accounts from one bank to another. They just launched their site yesterday, with Wesabe API support baked in from the start. They use your Wesabe transaction data to identify automatic payments and deposits you have set up at your old bank, and to create a “Switching Checklist” that helps you make sure you get everything switched to the new account with no fuss. We’ve actually gotten this as a request for a Wesabe feature, but there’s no way we’d be able to get to it any time soon, so having BankSwitcher provide this service through our API is a great benefit for our users and theirs. (Rob Rubin, the Facilitas CEO posted about their launch, and their use of the Wesabe API, in Wesabe Groups.)

In both cases, our API lets these applications get data in a very consistent and cleaned-up format — they don’t have to do all the conversions and workarounds based on the variations that different banks use. Also, they can use the community editing features of Wesabe to present transaction names in a human-readable form. (Rather than getting a transaction name like ‘MC-PEETS COFFEE/TEA 13602 BE’, the API provides both that raw name and the name the Wesabe community has chosen for that transaction, “Peet’s Coffee & Tea.”). In addition, with our automated syncing tools, their users can get their data uploaded automatically.

The API is free — these are not commercial relationships. We provide the API free for other applications because we believe that the best thing we can do for the Wesabe community is to analyze as many transactions as possible, and provide everyone with the best information we can about where the great values are.

There is one limitation of our current API as it applies to these applications: we don’t yet have a third-party authentication system, such as the kind Flickr provides. Both of these companies, however, have agreed not to store your Wesabe username or password, and we’re adding that as a requirement of the API terms (that a Wesabe user’s password only be stored on their own machine or not at all). When we launch a 3rd-party authentication system, that will be better for everyone. We’re looking very closely at OAuth, a developing standard intended to address this problem, and working with the group developing it to try to make sure it suits Wesabe’s security requirements. My hope is that we’ll be able to launch support for this standard, or for a higher-security option if we can’t use OAuth, as soon as possible.

I’d like to thank BankSwitcher for asking about the Wesabe Data Bill of Rights, and asking if there is a way for them to adopt it, too. They raised some excellent questions about how the Rights would apply to businesses other than Wesabe, and I’m going to post about those questions here, shortly, so that we can discuss it. If Wesabe API users, or other businesses and web applications, were willing to adopt the Data Bill of Rights, I think that would be excellent for everyone.

Thanks to the people at LessAccounting and BankSwitcher for working with us on these API projects. And congrats to both of them for launching excellent applications — check them out.

Wheaties bookmarks for September 14th

September 14, 2007

Good reading for September 14th:

New feature: Loose tagging (and why it rocks)

September 13, 2007

We’ve just launched a major rewrite of the tagging system. We heard from many of you that minor variations in your tags made it hard to get an accurate view of your spending, and that you wanted us to make that easier.

Since tags run throughout three of the four tabs on the Wesabe site, and since they’re so significant as a tool on the site (relating to summaries and reports, targets, automatic editing and suggested tags, tips, goals, and more), Brad has worked for quite a while to get all of the uses of tags to work much more easily.

Here’s how tags have changed:

  • If you enter “Restaurants” as a tag on one transaction, and “restaurants” on the next, we used to consider case differences as two separate tags — now, they’re aggregated into one.
  • Likewise, “groceries” and “grocery,” and other plurality differences, are now aggregated together.
  • If you use punctuation differently, such as “work-expense”, “work_expense”, and “workexpense”, those are now viewed as the same tag.
  • Where you have variations, your tag list and your spending/earning summaries will show the tag format you use the most commonly. You don’t have to use the same capitalization as everyone else — you get to use the variation you like, without losing the benefits of aggregate data (how much people spend on average, connections to tips, etc.).

All of these features are designed to do the same thing: to allow you to _not have to worry_ about the exact wording you used last time, while still getting all the benefits you would get if you were exactly consistent.

We think the great thing about tags is that they let you be loose and informal with your organization, and that this is vastly better than older, more laborious strict-category systems. Up until now, though, there was a ‘penalty’ for being too informal, namely that not all of the data would add up. Now that’s fixed. You shouldn’t have to think like a machine or an accountant in order to get great results from Wesabe’s tags.

We learned a lot from the way Flickr deals with tags — they do a great job of letting you say “Dog” on one photo and “dog” on the next and linking those photos together for you. We decided there were some interesting differences between our sites, though, and we didn’t do exactly what they do. For photographs, ‘dog’ and ‘dogs’ have different meanings — the first is a photo of a single dog, while the second is a group of dogs. For financial transactions, the same isn’t usually true — tagging one transaction as ‘restaurant’ and another as ‘restaurants’ probably means exactly the same thing. Even looser variation matter less — ‘grocery’ and ‘groceries’ should be the same group of spending. Also, we decided to show you the variation you use most commonly in your lists and reports; I believe Flickr shows you the variation you used first.

I’ve long resisted making you add a ‘category’ and then optional ‘tags’ on top, even though it would make our job much easier as programmers. I don’t think it’s your job to do more work so that we have less programming to do; I think it’s exactly the other way around! Likewise, we didn’t want to make you work to be consistent with your tags in order to make your reports come out right; we wanted to do that work for you. As we release some of our other changes to the tagging system, coming up soon, you’ll see a common theme: you get to be human, loose, informal, and inconsistent, and get all the benefits that you would have gotten had you worked much harder, with a much more laborious and rigid category system. That’s what tags are meant to offer, and we’re glad to figure out all the ways they can work better with organizing your money. Let us know whether we got it right, and what else we can improve with tags.

Wheaties bookmarks for September 6th

September 7, 2007

Good reading for September 6th:

$4083 Swing in the Budget

September 5, 2007

A couple of months ago Wesabe moved from a free office in Berkeley (above my wife’s clothing store) to a much nicer office in San Francisco. We did it because we were busting out of the seams of the free space, and still hiring like crazy. I was especially happy because I hadn’t been able to spend much time working in the tiny Berkeley office with our engineering team. Understandably, they didn’t want to listen to me talk on the phone most of the day, so I usually worked from home.

After the first week at the new office, I started thinking about the fact that I had purchased my lunch every day. I also noticed a surge in my transportation spending:

$6.00 a day for lunch ($1500/year)
$6.30 a day for BART ($1575/year)
$84 a month for a parking pass, since some days I need my car for meetings ($1008/year)

Total: $4083 a year

Wow! That is a big swing in the budget. There isn’t a lot I can do about transportation costs, but I do have control over how much I spend on lunch (we have an espresso machine at work…so fortunately I’m not also dealing with the latte factor). Over the weekend I bought some meal storage containers at Target, and last night packed up leftovers for my wife and I to take to work.
I just created a new group on Wesabe called “Pack a lunch”…you are welcome to join. My goal is to spend an average of $2 a day on a packed lunch – that should save me about $1000 a year. If I can make the lunches tasty enough that my wife will also eat them, I can double our savings.

The thing I’ve noticed about making money stretch is that it involves choices. When our circumstances change…the way we live often changes as well. It was easy enough to adjust my habit of eating a sandwich at home to eating out, but it sure cost a lot more money.

Wheaties bookmarks for September 3rd

September 3, 2007

Good reading for September 3rd: