The Iteration List

Marjut links to this Cross-platform calendar that really works. I'd like to present you a similar calendar we (as in me and a bunch of friends) have been using successfully for years (10-or-so?) to decide the days we can all get together and have a game. All it requires is that everyone is reachable through email. I can't take credit for inventing this, but I am pretty sure we were among the first in my peer group to adopt it.

First, you need an email client that supports monospaced fonts (like Courier). Otherwise this'll look horrible. HTML tables should work, too, though. Otherwise, this is perfectly cross-platform. It also works great when pasted into a Wiki page.

On the horizontal lines, you write names. On the verticals, you write days. Like this:

       December
       0                 1                   2                   3
       1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
       t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f 
Janne  
Ville
Kalle
Sanna

(This is the ├╝bercomplicated version; it fits an entire month on a single line, including weekdays. It looks complex, but it's actually quite easy to construct, you just smash through the entire number key pad in order, and repeat twice. I'll leave it as an exercise for you to figure out how to do the weekdays. :)

Then, you fill it up for yourself and send it to your friends.

       December
       0                 1                   2                   3
       1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
       t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f 
Janne  + + - - + + + + + ? ? + + + + - - - ? ? - - - - - - - - - + 
Ville
Kalle
Sanna

Note the clever uses of different symbols: "+" means "yeah, I'm okay"; "-" means "no way"; "?" means "I don't know yet; it depends on other people's plans or something".

Two minutes later, the compulsive email reader Kalle responds, and he has copied your table, and added his own information on it:

       December
       0                 1                   2                   3
       1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
       t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f 
Janne  + + - - + + + + + ? ? + + + + - - - ? ? - - - - - - - - - + 
Ville
Kalle  - - - - + + + + e e e - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
Sanna

Note a new character: "e". Using "e" here means many things, but mostly it means "I already have some other plans, but I can cancel them, if this is the only day that suits everyone else." I.e. it's a "+", but not a very strong one, and it would be greatly appreciated, if whoever makes the decision would not choose this date.

After a while, also Ville and Sanna respond, resulting in a table which looks like this:

       December
       0                 1                   2                   3
       1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
       t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f 
Janne  + + - - + + + + + ? ? + + + + - - - ? ? - - - - - - - - - + 
Ville  + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + -
Kalle  - - - - + + + + e e e - - - + - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
Sanna  - - e e - - - + ? ? ? + + + + + - - + + - - - - - - + + + +
                     * *           * 

From this table, it's easy to see what would be suitable dates for everyone (marked with "*"). The initiator of the sequence suggets Thursday 8th, and everyone agrees. And while they were at it, they agreed on holding the 15th as "tentative", so that they get to continue the game if it's not finished in time. One of the advantages of this calendar is of course that you can immediately see who might not make it - and while everyone is equal, missing someone might not be.

As you can see, this is quite simple. In extensive testing, we've noticed that the range of "yes", "no", "dunno", "not really, but can be arranged" is quite sufficient for even complex calendar iterations of tens of people. At some point someone will probably need to converge two threads of calendars together, but it's usually just an easy cut-n-paste job. You are, of course, free to invent your own characters... or just use "+" and "-", if you think it gets a bit too complicated.

Update: Markus points out that there's a script on the web that creates the matrix for you automatically! Wonderful (though in Finnish)!




Comments

This looks like something that we've been using to sort our play nights as well, tho ours is a bit more simpler. We tend to play long in to the night and thus only days when the following day is free are an option. People have kids and families also tends to cut down on the available days. Also taking out workdays and other days one usually wouldn't be availabe are removed.
As I already wrote to Skrubu, here is the system we use:

Pe 2.12 Name1, Name2
Ma 5.12 Name1

Pe 9.12 Name1, Name2, Name3
Pe 16.12 Name1
Pe 23.12 Name1

If you have something special you want to let people know you just write your name under this and state your business.
I'm going to be suggesting your to our gaming crew tho, but I think they'll reject it for being too... complicated :)

--Shrike, 23-Nov-2005


But when communicating with people who don't even know what a monospaced font is, or the name of their email client for that matter, your system, however filled with more nuances than the Really Simple Calendar, just doesn't work.

And that's not because your system is in anyway bad, on the contrary, if it's been in use for some 10 years, it's probably ok. Or even maybe very good.

The users of the calendar are the problem. When presented with data which is based on a certain type of font, the users who read their mail with a fancy modern mail client and variable width fonts, can't interpret the information. They might even rearrange the data thus rendering the system useless. Same thing goes for those who's mail client doesn't show HTML (either it's been shut off from the preferences or one is forced to use Outlook for Macintosh from 2001 yes, there are still such neolithic software in use - imagine that!)

That's why, for 'normal' people (not nerds like me and you) the only way to get a joint understanding of things, you need to eliminate every possible thing that somebody might (by accident or due to lack of interest or knowledge) mess up.

Your system is beautiful for a specific targe group. I 'designed' (I can't really take credit for a list now can I?) mine to be used and understood by everybody.

--pni, 24-Nov-2005


This format wasn't designed as much for a target group as to tackle a couple of issues with the Really Simple Calendar type of approach. (Yes, I can claim credit, as I recall. I may be deluded. Maybe I should patent it, it's right up there with One-Click Shopping.=)

One, you can see at a glance when everyone has responded. In a list of names, especially among dozen(s) of unknown people, you'll lose track of what initials belong to whom, and whether someone's missing from a line. Here, you have a glaring empty line, a handy Pointing Finger of Doom indicator to pressure the final stragglers into line.

Two, it is designed to leave a degree of latitude for fixing dates. Too much advance filtering hurts the selection process.

Well... this may just depend on your personality type and time-planning habits. If I see a list of unsuitable dates, the devil in my temporal lobe shunts the mail into the To Do box to wait for advanced problem solving. There it gets promptly flooded by all the other fundamental questions in life. Here, on the first iteration, you don't worry about trying to adjust your schedule: you just enter your own dates. Once more or less everyone has answered, you can easily spot potential dates, consider the uncertainties, enter the negotiation stage: "X and Y have 'maybe' here, Z, you are the only 'no', and this is the only date with just one 'no' all month. Any chance of adjusting?"

Three, you can easily fit at least two months on screen, even on vt100s and pines. Month view, as opposed to a partial list of days. (Useful for those of us with combined Alzheimer's and ADD. What's off the screen is off the mind.)

But, yes: the general public does seem to find this format.. unfamiliar. The monospaced font is a big issue. (I'd love to say I feel empathy for people who don't understand "Please use a monospaced font", but I'd be lying. Damn! There goes the marketing spiel again!)

--ebu, 24-Nov-2005


Thanks, Janne! Now I never need to explain this again.

--J-Ko, 24-Nov-2005


When presented with data which is based on a certain type of font, the users who read their mail with a fancy modern mail client and variable width fonts, can't interpret the information. They might even rearrange the data thus rendering the system useless. Same thing goes for those who's mail client doesn't show HTML (either it's been shut off from the preferences or one is forced to use Outlook for Macintosh from 2001

Actually, this is irrelevant. If your HTML message looks like this: <pre> table data goes here </pre>

It does not matter whether you have HTML on or off, it works out the same regardless of what kind of a mail client you are using. Also, if you use a tab instead of spaces to indent the first line, it stays quite readable even with most variable-width fonts.

It turns out that quite a few people are capable of dealing with the idea of a monospaced font (i.e. don't assume all your friends are stupid; that's never a good way to deal with them). And frankly, most people who have a need for an iteration system such as this, have also the capacity to handle complexity with respect to fonts...

This system works pretty perfectly among a peer group. It's not designed as a general solution for the masses (that's what Outlook is for), and should not be treated as one. (And neither is yours, pni - it wouldn't work for my uses, as explained by ebu above. For example, there is no difference between "not answered yet" and "nothing is good".)

/Janne

--JanneJalkanen, 24-Nov-2005


The web calendar software application I've ever seen is this:

www.iki.fi/larry/matriisi.txt It just constructs the matrix of the day and lets you fill it in.

Very practical! Kudos to Larry for excellence in KISS.

- Markus

--85.76.130.7, 24-Nov-2005


In my version the "not answered yet" is the user that hasn't got any initials in the calendar. The "Nothing is good" is the same but the Really Simple Calendar leaves room for commenting. No need to learn and memorize symbols. No need to define in advance anything else than initials next to a date means ok. (simple!)

The Monospaced font is an issue. It really is. Taking your calendar, Janne, and looking at it in Arial makes it look like there's a lot of + signs at the 37th (!?) day, though the most seem to hang around the 24th-25th. The first two question marks on the "Janne" -line seems to lie at monday and tuesday between the 11th and 13th. It is not clear at all (png). By the way, have you noticed that though both Arial and Verdana are variable width fonts, their numbers are monospaced. Which is cool, but doesn't help at all in this case.

Arial distorts the information. You get data, not the information. Things like this make space shuttles explode.

And how much latitude for fixing dates do you need? I mean, either you can make it or you can't. Do you need know that maybe someone is able to attend some date, so you might maybe fix something? Or maybe not if they aren't coming. But you don't know. It's like saying: Ok, I might be in, let's maybe do it. It maybe rocks. Maybe not. You don't know. That's not really information, is it?

And your calendar won't work at all on the screen of a S60 phone. At least not in mine.

Still. If you have a at least 60 char display, monospaced font and everybody are familiar with the symbol system, your calendar works perfectly.

--pni, 25-Nov-2005


Um. You can make your HTML message monospaced. It works. It just needs that the first guy does it. It has never really been an issue for us. YMMV.

And we need the latitude. We tried your system. Didn't work for us, which is why we invented this. And the fact that someone might or might not be able to make a date is information: it allows us to make informed decisions about what kind of a player combination we might get on given dates. But, YMMV.

I don't really see what's the problem here - both have their uses. I was just presenting an alternate calendar, not saying that one would be better than the other. YMMV.

--JanneJalkanen, 25-Nov-2005


I was raving and drooling again, wasn't I. I didn't mean to. I just feel so strongly about some things. You're absolutely right - both calendars have their uses.

--pni, 25-Nov-2005


Heh. No worries. Yours is a good one, too :)

--JanneJalkanen, 25-Nov-2005


I created an English version of my automatically updated template: http://www.iki.fi/Larry/matrix.txt

--193.229.159.3, 25-Nov-2005


Excellent! Clean and simple!

I think you'll like this one for the same reason:

http://www.meetomatic.com

And also this description of its design rationale:

http://www.corante.com/getreal/archives/2005/03/21/how_to_build_a_meeting_scheduler.php

All the best...

-Marc

--Marc Eisenstadt, 04-Jan-2006


I wrote this application a long time ago for personal use, and gradually more and more people have been using it:

http://schedule.tedpavlic.com/

It's a meeting schedule generator. You create an account, login, and then create "scheduling groups." Others who have logged in will enter their schedules and then subscribe to your scheduling group. You can then view an schedule overlay of everyone in your group. You can select subsets of that group too.

It's a colorful interface. I think it works okay. Just wanted to throw that out there.

--Ted Pavlic, 15-Feb-2006


I should add that my application is based on weekly schedules. It concentrates on hour-by-hour availability Sunday through Saturday. It doesn't give you the option to specify specific dates; it only gives you the option of specifying weekly schedules.

This worked well in an academic environment because so much repeats week after week.

--Ted Pavlic, 15-Feb-2006


I found this is also does the same and is really easy to use.

www.skeduler.com

--Mike, 08-Jul-2006


This is good! Maybe putting it into cal or excel works better :)

--leion, 30-Jul-2007


I just built this: http://emailops.com It will build the scheduler for you with just a few clicks! Also solves the fixed with font problem, but sending an html formatted email with fixed width font specified.

hope this interests you!

-j

--jason, 23-Aug-2007


Add comment.
More info...     Comments?   Back to weblog
"Main_blogentry_231105_1" last changed on 24-Nov-2005 22:55:49 EET by null.

My latest photos

www.flickr.com