BEHIND THE SCENES
See the Forest for the Trees
Green the globe with Forest.
Forest - Stay focused
Be productive on work & study
Ever since we’ve had smartphones, we have become very attached to our phones. However, the focus-cultivating app Forest motivates users to put down their phones and be productive through a virtual tree planting. The app has not only helped many people strike a balance between life and technology but also turned the world greener, one real tree at a time.
We talked with Marcus Pi and Amy Jeng, the developers behind Forest, about how their idea took root and continues to grow.
Pi and Jeng developed the app in their spare time while attending university. But their idea needed some pruning at the beginning. “We first came up with the idea for making it a cute virtual pet, but we thought this would probably just make users think about playing with it and lose sight of their goal,” Jeng says. “We then thought that the static nature of planting trees better signified focus.”
Pi says once they had the idea, the next creative challenge was how to use it. At first they considered a sort of lock-screen app that would restrict phone use, but felt this would put too much pressure on users and perhaps even encourage them to figure out how to get around it, thus defeating the purpose. That’s when they turned to gamifying the app and built up a reward system that reinforced good smartphone habits.
Plant Thousands of Trees With Focus
But Pi soon found that gamification alone wasn’t enough incentive. “That’s when we thought perhaps we could encourage them by planting actual trees,” he says.
Because of their limited resources, the students soon turned to non-profit organizations for help. This sparked cooperation with Trees for the Future, an environmental group focused on reforesting. The app’s concept is simple: Periods of sustained focus earn coins. Collect 2,500 coins and Forest will fund the planting of a sapling in Africa. Pi says that it takes users about two to three weeks of focus time to earn enough for a single tree.
In 2018, Pi and Jeng travelled to see Trees for the Future at work in the field. What they found was a tight-knit operation. “We went to one of their workshops and met with local farms. They had farmland, but had no idea how they should plan it. The organization would teach them how to use tree fencing and irrigation, and help them grow their crops better. The farmers were truly happy with the services provided.”
Since 2015, Forest has helped plant more than 400,000 saplings.
Let Trees Really Firm up Your Focus
So, what was the response? According to Pi, users who participated in the tree-planting program focused an average of 480 percent more than other users. The app’s share ratio increased, too. “Everyone is willing to share this kind of eco-friendly idea and recommend it to others,” he says.
Among all the users of the app, Pi recalls one in Germany, diagnosed with ADHD, who left a lasting impression on him. “He was completely unable to calm his mind for school. After using our app, he was really able to concentrate on his studies and in the end got his degree,” Pi says, adding that special education teachers are exploring ways to work with Forest so that classes can plant trees together.
Much like planting trees, turning Forest from idea into reality was a slow and continuous process. For Pi, to create an app that can improve focus while planting trees on the opposite side of the world—and gather goodwill with each sapling—is an unbelievable achievement.
Pi and Jeng believe that Forest has pioneered a new model that brings developers, users, and non-profit organizations together. It not only increases user incentive and awareness but also provides NGOs with more exposure and support from around the world. The team’s experiences have influenced their next project. “We are planning to create a to-do list app themed on water in the hopes that we can replicate our experience with Forest, and have a positive impact on water resources and facilities,” Pi says.
We’re looking forward to seeing Pi and Jeng’s next world-changing app—and we can’t wait to one day see those 400,000+ saplings grow into a forest.