Knowing when it’s been too many Days Since

[update: These ideas have evolved into the latest mainline version of Days Since. Here's an update.]

One of the early feature requests for the Days Since widget (which is getting over 400K page views/month now — more on that later) was the ability to get reminded when it’s been too long since one of your repetitive tasks was done. When you think about it, this kind of feature saves you a lot mental energy — instead of having to scan the whole list, you just look at those that have been flagged (or those turned red, etc.).

But does this mean there’s another field to enter (days until “overdue”)? Should you enter one number for days, or perhaps a full date upon which it’s due?

Every additional field and option is another bit of complexity which can turn people off. And one of the things good web apps have taught us is using the smarts of the machine to figure out some stuff for us humans is a big win. Things like a single search box that doesn’t ask lots of questions (what are you searching for? where? which category of stuff?) or a “quick add” button for a calendar that takes the whole event as a free-form string.

In the case of Days Since, we want to (1) Not add UI which might turn off current users (who don’t care about a concept of overdue) with clutter and extra complexity. (2) Try to have the widget do some of our work for us. (3) Not add much code & complexity to the widget itself.

One of the users of Days Since, Ping Zou, was looking for just this kind of functionality and decided to work with the Days Since code and add it. We’ve been tossing ideas and code and back forth, and have gotten Ping added as a first additional project member of the Days Since subversion repository on Google Code.

At the moment, Ping is a PHD student with the Electronic and Electrical Engineering Department, University of Sheffield. He has a blog (in Chinese), which you can see at http://sg71cherub.spaces.live.com/.

Ping has also generously done a translation of the strings for the main Days Since widget to Simplified Chinese — which is great, as Days Since has been lacking non-English translations. And for the the new features, we’re doing on a very small scale what many large projects (like Linux) do — have a “development branch” where new features and ideas are played with, and a “stable branch” where all our regular users are and changes are done carefully.

If you’re interested in getting the development branch (possibly bugs and all), you can add and play with the version of days since here.

And for everyone else, please keep any requests you have coming (in comments or in email). In time, the ones that provide value without getting in the way of current users will make their way to the stable, production-version Days Since widget.

Comments (6) to “Knowing when it’s been too many Days Since”

  1. How about a simple parser, no additional UI, as you enter the title of the new item if the string contains something similar to “-overdue 30″ it will consider it overdue in thirty days.
    “-overdue 30 repeating” would be nice.
    only two or three command words should be necessary, and non “power” users would not even know it is there…
    What do you think ?

  2. Hi Jeremy – That’s a good way of doing it to serve the power user while not distracting the novice. For starters, we have a method that’s more automatic, but doesn’t provide as much control — we’ll track the frequency on which you’ve previously reset the item, and let you know (with color, probably) when an item is “overdue” compared to how often it was done in the past.

    Once that is in, a way of explicitly setting a fixed expected frequency makes sense. Thanks for your ideas!

  3. I’m sorry, but this Idea of having things go to the top that have the most days past, is, well, stupid.
    I have some items that need attention every couple days, some only a few times a year. so, this automatic sorting is of no help at all, and in fact, disorganized my items so they are no longer grouped as I wanted. Please, just add an option to set an “alarm” day passed. This would not be confusing for a monkey!

  4. Hi Rik —

    With the current version, items don’t sort by “the most days past” — they sort by how near/over they are to your historical average. If you’ve tended to give your kids a bath every 4 days, the “give the kids a bath” reminder will float to the top as it gets close to, then over, 4 days. The effect should be much like what you described. Are you seeing this work, as you’re resetting your short-timeframe items?

    The problems seems to be that you had some hand-grouping that automatic sorting messed up from your perspective — one solution which would work regardless of whether the gadget sorts or not, is to add several copies of the gadget and put the different groups in different copies.

    What some people have asked for is the ability to provide a fixed recurrence (My kids should have a bath every 3 days, and I want the item to be overdue if it’s been longer!), rather than something based on average. That’s still possible, and could potentially live alongside the automatically calculated recurrence that’s there now. The downsides are UI complexity, and a few less reminders that’ll fit, because of Google’s ~2K character limit on preferences.

  5. I realized that people have two kinds of reminders for days since — ones they’re trying to do more regularly (kids bath) and then perhaps those that they don’t ever want to do again (take a drink). You want to see those items fall to the bottom as they fall into your past.

    With this in mind, I’ve done a small update to sort the items you’re actively resetting above those you aren’t, so you can mix the two types. And if you’ve never reset, then older items sort lower.

    We’ll see what sort of feedback, firestorm, or fizzle this creates .. ;)

  6. I see. Well, I vote for fixed reference option (with a line that turns red or something); don’t like the auto-sort based on average days to reset reset thing. Who’s with me?

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