Some thoughts I had about using backtrack. The tl;dr - it’s game changer for my person-to-person workflows, because I can now magically go back in time, whenever I want, to create sharable, summarized, and transcribed artifacts of any interaction you have with or via your computer.
The problem I was having
While I currently work as an engineer, my background as a founder and doing product means that a lot of my work still happens via conversations with other people. This came up while I was doing a blend of product and engineering work at Kona working through product decisions on ad-hoc calls, advising folks in my network on career steps, and pro-bono startup consulting.
As I moved away from full-time product work and back to engineering, I was used to the output of my work being captured efficiently by the tools I was using to do the work. For example, when writing code in vscode, I expected the code to be auto-saved at a pretty fast cadence so I’d never lose work / lost track of what I was doing. I could also inline comments or add bookmarks in cases that my flow was interrupted, so I could come back right where I left off. Me and my text editor had a good thing going: I did the thinking and struck the keys, it did the rest.
But doing a blend of non-engineering work, I quickly realized that there was no such tool for my meetings, especially the ad-hoc ones. I consistently found that I was having very high leverage conversations, after which no one had reliable notes on what was discussed (whether with a customer, a teammate, or someone I was consulting). And it sucked- it cost me time, money, and a bit of my sanity knowing that I’d never recall that idea that just flowed out of my head and into the void.
What backtrack solved for me
Enter bactrack. The beauty of backtrack is that it serves as a backstop, an ‘oh shit’ button of sorts. For example: I just laid out the exact architecture we should use for a new feature to some engineers working with me. Or: I just helped solve for the next career step someone I’m consulting should take. Or event: I just explained how someone should phrase some feedback to their manager. Then the oh shit moment: oh shit, neither of us took notes on that - what did you say?
If you create value through conversations with other people, I would bet on the fact that you have had this ‘oh shit’ moment pop up. Sure you can take notes (but that puts a demand on your time) or hope others are taking notes (but then you’re relying on how good their notes are). Or you can just go back in time and create a recording of the interaction that is sharable, has a summary attached, and contains a full searchable transcript.
The good news is that you can do that, and it isn’t witchcraft, it’s backtrack. That’s just about the most succinct what I can describe how it has changed my workflow - I don’t have those ‘oh shit’ moments anymore. I just work at the speed of thought, and as needed, backtrack to capture and share those thoughts.
I won’t go over the exactly how it works, the backtrack team does a great job of that on their site, but I will share how it compares to other options I explored.
How backtrack compares
See above, but really either stifles you working at the speed of your thoughts, or requires you relying on however good the other folks in the conversation’s note taking abilities are. Not great.
Disclaimer: I am in contact with, and provide regular feedback, to the backtrack team (though I was a fan of the software before I ever talked to them). And I provided similar feedback to the rewind team (see my rewind review for what I told them) and chatted with the founders there, but was never invited to provide regular feedback. I don’t think this colored my experiences, but I wanted to share for the sake of full transparency.
I wrote about my experience using rewind before, and the summary is: I wasn’t really impressed. Without re-hashing that whole review, rewind felt like cool technology looking for a reasonable use case. Backtrack feels like a focused solution to an actual problem: let me explain.
First and foremost, their design philosophies are different: rewind does everything (minus some of their new LLM based features, which send a bunch of your data to OpenAI anyways) on device, meaning that it uses a lot of storage, and a lot of battery. The rewind team has done some impressive work to massively reduce the load of what they are doing on your machine, but just take a look at my review to see how massive the impact is on my 2022 MacBook pro - I lose ⅓ to ½ of my battery life by keeping rewind running, which is inexcusable for me in and of itself.
Backtrack, by comparison, is very light on battery and storage use because it only generates recordings when you ask it to. This is brilliant: I don’t need to record everything I ever do, I have better memory aids for that (again, see my previous review for details). What I do have are interactions where, within 5 minutes of them, I realize ‘oh shit, I want that recorded / documented and sharable’. And backtrack crushes that use case - whereas rewind (even as of writing) makes it difficult to actually share anything useful because of its focus of keeping everything on device (as of writing you can only share a GPT generated summary of a meeting … pretty much useless).
Lastly, I think the rewind team really missed the mark with how they’re pricing, whereas backtrack (again) nailed it. Backtrack’s pricing feels like Loom’s - you can use the tool as you like, but once you get over a threshold number of recordings, you start paying for them to keep more recordings on the cloud - that makes sense, and doesn’t put arbitrary limits on using software that is already downloaded onto my computer (you can always download your backtracks instead of uploading them to share - this prevents the transcription, summary, and easy sharing). Rewind, conversely, puts an arbitrary 10 use / month limit on their core ‘rewind’ functionality, meaning you can only use the app 10x a month. Even though it’s installed. On your computer … and is searching through other information, also stored on your computer… I don’t think I need to say more.
So while I still can’t find a real use case for rewind, I can’t recommend backtrack highly enough.