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“Hive Tracks” boxes the beekeeper

Editor’s Note: This article was published in February 2011. It is my understanding that the Hive Tracks software has been substantially improved since that time, so you might want to try it for yourself.

I’ve read so much about the revolutionary free software called “Hive Tracks” that I decided to open an account and give it a try. I got an instant case of claustrophobia. While this system might work for a lot of beekeepers, it would never work for me. Here’s why:

  • When I’m beekeeping I’m not at my computer and vice versa. I like to take a small notebook into the field with me, jot down notes, diagrams, and to-do lists, then go on to the next hive. No way do I want to transcribe this into a computer later. Life’s too short.
  • The hive diagrams don’t have a lot of the equipment I use—so when I’m clicking on the components trying to “build” my hive, I have to do without internal frame feeders, double screen boards, Cloake boards, moisture quilts, and triangle escape boards. They have “entrance reducer”—but only one size. They have “honey super”—but no way to distinguish a section super from a Ross Round from a plain framed honey super. There’s no way for the diagram to show whether your Varroa tray is in or out.
  • There are no hive components specifically for top-bar hives or Warré hives.
  • There is nothing in the diagram to indicate whether the frames are plastic, wax, or foundationless, although, you can indicate some of this under “Hive Condition”—which I don’t really understand. Once of the choices under foundation type (which is under hive condition) is “drone cell.” You can check this off, but you can’t say 2 frames, or 1 frame—you can only check it off, which doesn’t really tell you much.
  • Also the check boxes indicating hive condition apparently pertain to the whole hive. It’s just not that way in real life. Some boxes are going to be in better condition than others, but you can’t indicate that unless you write it in the description of the hive which is in a different section.
  • There is a place to add links to photos and videos, but there was no way to add sketches or hand-drawn diagrams to your notes. You could scan them and add links, but how handy is that? I like to stand behind each hive with my diagram and to-do list in hand—and then do it. Why make it so complex?
  • Worse, there is no place for a to-do list. When I’m doing a hive inspection, for example, I’m making a to-do list, right? You can add notes under “description” in a few places, but I don’t think of a description as a to-do list.
  • You can check off various boxes indicating diseases, treatments, feeds—but all you can do is check them off. So if you check off MegaBee, does that mean it has it or needs it?
  • Oddly, the program has my correct latitude and longitude, but couldn’t figure out what time zone I am in, and I couldn’t find a way to change it.
  • “Frame count” apparently means “frame count per box.” I tried to put in 30, but it wouldn’t take it.

I apologize if I sound cranky, but this program wound me up tight. Within 30 minutes I was ready to give up beekeeping and become a cattleman–but then, they probably have equally irritating software . . . and I’m not particularly fond of cattle. I like to think “outside the box” as they say, but I felt this program tried its best to stuff me into the tiniest crate it could find.

The best thing for you to do would be to go ahead and try it. Decide for yourself. Like I said, it’s free (a clue) and readily available. Here, I’ll even give you the link.

Rusty

Comments

jess
Reply

I’m a database person, and poorly designed databases are my #1 pet peeve (well, maybe #2 after the USDA oh wait, #3 after the EPA), so I have put off checking out this software for a long time. And now I can skip it completely! Thanks, Rusty!

James
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I’m one of the developers of Hive Tracks. I appreciate your willingness to try the software and for your observations on what is lacking … and yes, you do sound too cranky 🙂

Understand that this is a work in progress. We released it last August when we believed it reached a baseline of usefulness and have been improving it ever since as time and effort allow … we have other real jobs too! So, I would have preferred an email directly to us requesting some of the features (especially components) that you would like to see or for clarifications. I’m not happy with everything it does either, but I am finding it very useful and know that it will continue to improve.

Jess, you may be jumping to conclusions … you should check it out for yourself and then tell me it is a poorly designed database.

Mark
Reply

Are you really going to forego your own informed decision based on a cranky blogger? As the designer and developer of Hive Tracks and one who has been developing software for 25 years and I believe the old adage “the user is always right”. On several points this particular critic is right. We DO need a smart phone app and we’re working on it, we DO need a TODO list and we’re working on it. Hive Tracks is only 8 months old. When MS Word or Excel were only 8 months old I’m sure they might have gotten the same thrashing from this guy but is that really fair? The software is young and the software is FREE! We’re adding new features, fixing bugs and truly listening to users every day.

As for database design, I don’t see how that can be discerned from this cretic. Hive Tracks sits atop a well-designed and powerful database (and it ain’t MySQL) that utilized transactions, caching and rock solid relational integrity. Since we launched in August 2010 we’ve processed millions of transitions, inserts, deletes and updates without a single hiccup in the database. We are happy to hear about bugs in the software, problems with web pages, logic, exceptions, unclear meanings, etc. but not one of those has lead back to faults in the database. Not one.

So I encourage you and other beekeepers to think about the true difference in a sticky, propolis splattered notebook and Hive Tracks. It’s the same difference in Excel and an 1890’s accounts journal. They both do the same things to some extent… Sometimes you still right stuff down before it goes in but that’s where the similarities end. In your sticky notebook you cannot push a button to print sorted, formatted reports, or scroll through your list of hives, or find a failing queen, or know in a flash what you feed (and when) to a particular hive early last spring, or see you yard location and foraging ranges in a Google map. I’m sure I sound as defensive as he does cranky but hey… Hive Tracks is my baby and yes, I will defend it.

Kind Regards,
Mark Henson
Cofounder of Hive Tracks

Rusty
Reply

I’m sure you will improve Hive Tracks in the future. In the meantime, I prefer a “sticky, propolis-splattered notebook” to a sticky, propolis-splattered computer.

Btw, I like the way you compare your software to MS Word and Excel. Very humble.

Mark Henson
Reply

Hi Rusty:

Hive Tracks has undergone major improvements yet this old post has not been updated and continues to hurt our placement in Google. Please consider reviewing Hive Tracks again which now has a mobile version, Google map integration, and lots of other new features since this review was done.

Kind Regards,
Mark Henson
Author of Hive Tracks

Rusty
Reply

According to my stats, that old post got only 346 hits in the past 12 months. That is like nothing—less than one per day—so it can’t possibly be affecting your Google placement. I can write an update, with the info you sent me several months ago, but I’m still never going to recommend taking a computer/smart phone into the bee yard. Beekeeping is about my only reprieve from the digital world, and I look forward to it partly for that reason.

Mark Henson

The problem is not hits, the problem is perception. Ever since this post was created a Google search on “Hive Tracks” places it at or near the top. The name of the post is “Hive Tracks boxes the beekeeper”. So the first impression of Hive Tracks is negative. The benifits of Hive Tracks go far beyond a sticky smartphone in the bee yard. Just the forage map alone (a feature not available in the mobile pages) is something you can’t get eleswhere without serious effort. Belive me I understand the need to step away from the computer. But when I am at my desk, I need tools and information. That’s all we’ve tried to do… give beekeepers tools and information.

Phillip

I did a Google search for Hive Tracks. This post shows up as #4 on the list. The first three are from hivetracks.com. None of the search results on the first page link to any negative reviews of Hive Tracks (most of the results are generated from the authors of Hive Tracks). From a business perspective, I can understand not wanting the public to be misinformed in a manner that discourages them from using the product, but is that the case here? I suspect Rusty’s review is singing to the choir of folks like me who’d rather keep the digital world as far from their beekeeping experience as possible.

Mark
Reply

I’m certainly not comparing “2 guys and a box” to Microsoft. I was simply saying that every application has a version 1 and that’s a tough spot. Yes, we will improve Hive Tracks and hopeful one day win you over!

Rusty
Reply

Let me know when to try again, and I will. I love a good piece of software.

Mark Henson
Reply

OK Rusty, it’s been a little over a year since we last our last exchange where you asked us to let you know when Hive Tracks was improved. You’re a tough critic but we think we’re ready to try you again. So what’s changed?

• Hive Tracks is faster now, much faster
• We’ve integrated a Google map with overlays that allow the user to see “forage rings” of 1, 2 and 3 miles around their yards. I think this is the coolest feature we have
• A shared map where you can see other hives in your area (this is an opt in only thing, we are very careful with yard locations)
• We’ll launch a beta version of Android this month which will allow inspections to be created from the yard (iPhone is in the works)
• Reports, lots of reports about yards, hives and inspections (with MS ReportViewer)
• We have a server API that allows new applications to be developed using Hive Tracks as a backend ( https://www.hivetracks.com/WebServices/REST/AccountService/help )
• Track your honey, pollen and propolis harvests and associate your harvests with a hive or yard
• Share images of yards and hives on Facebook
• Deactivate a hive and remove it from view but keep the valuable information (queens, inspections, history)
• New hive components (a continuous request)
• Online help
• Event calendar where we publicize our speaking engagements (presentations of Hive Tracks to beekeeping clubs mostly)

One thing that’s really hurting us is that your original post about Hive Tracks does very well in Google. If you find we have improved is there any chance we could convince you to update it?

Kind Regards,
Mark Henson
Cofounder Hive Tracks

Kevin
Reply

Rusty,

I am sure you will be the first one contacted !

Kevin

Michael
Reply

I have been a software designer and developer for over 30 years. Yes think IBM mainframes as the start and General Ledgers etc. etc.. Normally you get what you pay for when it comes to software. In the case of Hive Tracks any of us using it are getting an incredible piece of software and hours of labor to develop it – and we haven’t had to pay anything.
Ask 100 beekeepers how they do a task and you can get 100 different answers. So for a program this young to cover as much as they have is amazing. Can they cover all of the different hive components out there and all the different types of hives – yes given time. As it stands Hive Tracks is the best attempt available for computer based record keeping.
Do I like every thing about Hive Tracks – No. But I will work with the developers and make my suggestions or requests. As with all software development they will agree or disagree. If they agree they will prioritize my request based on how many others it will help.

Thank you Hive Tracks for the work you have done.

Tarek O. Zaki
Reply

This is my third year as a bee keeper. I regret that I did not keep track of my hives in the past two seasons. Although I currently own an iphone and a MacBook air I am still hesitant to utilize them much further than my earlier versions of such technological devices. In fact I have acquired them as a means to “befriend ” progress. I am fully aware that many boomers share my feelings, this is why I will be taking the plunge & start using “hivetracks ” this year. I plan on mastering it well enough that I may be able to mentor other low tech fellow bee keepers like me.
I wish to express my deepest appreciation to the developers of this program, as for those who do not like it why are they bothering ? Stay with your paper note books & stop intimidating those who would like to help bee keepers find & master a technology that certainly will help us communicate, track & ultimately improve our bee keeping skills .
THANK YOU MARK & MICHAEL ,if I have any criticism or questions , I will POLITELY ask you for help, from the looks of it I feel that you will try to do so and this is all what an honest man can wish for from another.

Rusty
Reply

An endorsement of a product you haven’t tried isn’t much of an endorsement.

Gavin
Reply

Hivetracks is a simple and brilliant piece of software. I am from New Zealand and we have just starting to use it as my son is a beekeeper. I will be putting many Kiwi beekeepers on to this extremely innovative beekeeping software. As an accountant I know how important the management function of a business is, especially the ability to manage risk. If you loose you little notebook you would be hugely disadvantaged and you cannot back up a notebook. Also Beekeepers notes can be hard to read and for others to follow. The other huge risk if a beekeeper was incapacitated or seriously injured and its the families sole income… well need I say more. With Hivetracks its all there and because it is so easily to follow for. The family or another beekeeper will have constant access to all the important information so the business can go on. I highly highly recommend Hivetrack as an important part of any beekeepers risk management system. Awesome product Hivetracks! Keep up the good work.

Nels
Reply

Rusty,

Give it a go again, after beta testing the new version of Pro. Potential is way out there. Top-bar is in, I’ve made many suggestions to the devs about things that would be more helpful. Though the software right now is more geared to Langstroth users. The 8 frame will kind of work for Warré hives but there is not much to do with Warré hives as they shouldn’t require any maintenance. I think Hive Tracks has a lot to offer new beeks and old, I myself am a top-bar beek and would like to see more development for top-bar hives.

Joris
Reply

For anyone who’s looking for a much easier to use alternative that works like a charm on smartphones as well like iphone/android/… I’d suggest you try out https://www.mybeekeeper.com which I launched this summer. I decided to roll out my own solution after finding apps like hive tracks way too complex and outdated. Just try them out and see what you like best and go with that, now you have a choice!

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