Monday, September 28, 2009

Eating your own dog food

Last week was a big deal for My Web Brain. At the end of week we released some updates to the product (see this post). But the updates were not what made it a significant week. What was important - and heartening for me- is that I started using it for both personal and professional use and have now used it continuously for more than a week. 

Yes, I used the product prior, but that was largely borne of a professional interest in ensuring the quality of the web application as it developed. Nearly immediately after our iteration 3 (version 0.3) release I started using the application more naturally and with fewer roadblocks. 

While My Web Brain still requires a lot polish to round off its features, as well as exciting features that users would be willing to pay for, it is very satisfying just to have a new tool at my disposal to help me manage my time and efforts (and feel in control). 

It is very educational to use My Web Brain in a realistic way as well, as you start to notice where the pain points of the experience are. You also notice which features are important. For example:

  • The implementation of due dates (for actions) and tickle dates (for someday/maybe items) does not respect user timezones. I was content to let this feature slip to the next iteration but in hindsight it has a very detrimental affect on the tool. 
  • Currently when you process your thoughts you need to type your complete action name; you are not given any sort of default based on the thought you are processing. Surprisingly enough there are many times when the thought is sufficient detailed that this would be very useful and decrease the friction generated when processing thoughts.
These and other observation are surprising in their immediacy. I have many other features on the docket to implement but it is clear from my own use that tackling these basic issues will enhance my experience, and hopefully the experience of other users nearly every time they interact with the application. 

Using my own product is also inspiring. If I can provide value to myself, I can provide value to others. As each update is completed I  get excited about what changes are coming next; Even though it will be myself working hard to create them. 

Go ahead and try My Web Brain if you have not already. You only need a Google account, and if you do not have one you can create an account through the application. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

Updates to My Web Brain

I am happy to let you know I have just made some updates to My Web Brain, the GTD (Get Things Done) web application I have been developing. The update includes the following:


  • A bug that was preventing access to other pages in the unprocessed thoughts listing has been resolved. Unfortunately I had to disable the priority sorting on this list which would normally float priority thoughts to the top. Google is expected to release updates to the environment shortly which will make paging simpler. Currently, effective paging is somewhat of a black art for all but simple queries. I plan to restore priority (and other) sorting to the unprocessed thoughts listing as soon as possible. Note that when processing thoughts urgent thoughts are still prioritised. 
  • Some formatting has been fixed on the contact us page.
New and Changed Features
  • Support for Someday/Maybe items has been added. Someday / Maybe items can be managed independent via their own section on the website. As per GTD, you can choose to create a someday/maybe item when processing your thoughts. Each someday/maybe item has a tickle date, which will eventually be used to proactively remind the user of when they wanted to reconsider them.
  • URLs for thoughts have been made more readable and search engine friendly. Contexts, Reference Items and now Someday / Maybe items all use the improved scheme, with only Actions now remaining to migrate. 
  • You can now mark complete multiple next actions directly from the Today page's list of Next Actions without individually editing each action.
  • The Quick Thought form on the Today and Thoughts pages has been enhanced for users with Javascript enabled. This form no longer completely refreshes the page when it is submitted, allowing users to continue collecting thoughts without interruption. 
  • A few other stylistic enhancements have been made. 
The release includes a large increase in the JavaScript used by application pages. I expect the amount of JavaScript to continue to rise. However, the site does not require JavaScript and runs fine without it.

You might notice that I am no longer referring to number releases (this would be iteration 4, version 0.40) . Internally I will still number releases as they are made but I would like to avoid preconceptions about where the application is on the path to launch.

You should try out the new features and the remainder of the application if you have not already. Feedback, suggestions or questions are very welcome and can be made in the Google Group for My Web Brain or in the comments to this post. Have fun.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Web Brain 0.3 available for testing

My Web Brain release 0.30 has just been made live. My Web Brain is Get Things Done (GTD) web application currently being previewed throughout its early development.

This iteration (from release 0.20) took longer than expected but there are a number of user-facing changes you might notice:
  • You can now create reference items, either directly or when processing your thoughts. Eventually I would like the reference section to be a searchable journal that can pull in information from other services while recording your activities on the site.
  • All the data tables, including next actions, thoughts, etc received are somewhat more formatted and ideally easier to read and work with. I consider all style and web design to be a work in progress.
  • Thoughts now have a priority field that you can check while entering them. A priority thought will be processed first, sorted higher and visually distinct in the thoughts listing.
  • Actions now have a due date. At some point in the future you will have the assistance of a calendar widget to select the correct date, but for the moment text field allows a variety of date formats and even words like 'tomorrow', 'today', 'Monday', etc.
  • You can now view the originating thoughts that became an action or reference item. Currently there is no way to view an already processed thought except via the resulting action or reference item.
  • The Quick thought collection form on the Today page now supports a number of shortcut directives that can be appended to the entered thought:
    • A exclamation mark (!) will mark the thought as priority
    • A colon (:) will take you to the detailed thought collection form
    • A greater-than symbol (>) will let you process the thought immediately, and
    • Two greater-than symbols (>>) will automatically create an action in the current context using the thought text.
My Web Brain is still in active development but I invite anyone to try it out. You only require a Google account to sign in. Feedback is always welcome at the My Web Brain Google Group.