TimeScapers and TimeRank retrospective

I don’t like the term post mortem that much. Also, there wasn’t really much more than an interesting prototype and a group of beta testers at the end of our TimeScapers adventure, so I will just call this story a retrospective rather.

TimeRank? TimeScapers? What?

In 2011 and 2012 Gerwin de Haan and Charl Botha (that’s us!) set out to test an idea they had:

Would it be possible to take all of your tasks and your calendars, and then automatically schedule those tasks around one’s appointments according to priorities and deadlines?

In short, we wanted an automatic system that could tell us at any given point in time what the best thing was to take on next.

We had to build a web-based task (todo) system first, which we did in a few months (we had day jobs also!), and then we implemented the computational core that was able to solve this task-based constraint system. TimeRank was what we called both the system as well as the technique for the automatic scheduling of work. You can read the manual for more detail on the whole system. Screenshot1 shows the project/tasks screen and the deeply integrated pomodoro-like WorkUnits, and screenshot2 shows the planner output with automatically scheduled task sub-units in a calendar view. TimeScapers was the name of the company we formed.

Technically, the idea worked. Based on live Google Calendar data, and all of one’s tasks and time estimates (based on WorkUnits / pomodoros), TimeRank was able to generate, at the drop of a hat, a complete 3 month calendar, fitting in all tasks around all calendar appointments and configurable free time, hitting all deadlines and taking into account task and project priorities. If anything changed, you could just hit the “plan” button, and it would present you with a brand new planning!

Pretty cool right?

We ended up with an interesting technology prototype, about 30 beta users, but no real business plan or business mojo. Also, although the beta testers we chatted with also found the idea of an automatic scheduler intriguing, there were no real champions. Furthermore, at that point both of our day careers had taken wildly different and exciting turns, so on June 5, 2013 we decided to put TimeRank and TimeScapers in the freezer.

We still think the idea is interesting. 🙂

Tweet us (@gerwindehaan or @cpbotha) or email us if you’d like to chat about this or anything else!

Work in different time zones? We got your back.

During the weekend, a new version of TimeRank was rolled out to the server.

Since the previous roll-out on April 23, the following improvements have been made:

  • We are now 100% time zone capable. Even if you have different Google Calendars each in a different time zone, and you fly from one time zone to the next, TimeRank won’t drop the ball. Please make sure that your time zone is configured correctly in the preferences. When you do need to switch time zones, it’s important that your computer knows in which time zone you are (this affects the display of most dates in TimeRank, and in all other software on your system of course) and that you also configure the time zone in the Time Rank preferences (the Planner needs this).
  • We’ve upgraded a number of important internal libraries.
  • The date parser has been further improved. You can now write for example “tue at 5pm”, and it will set that deadline for 17:00 on the first Tuesday.

That’s not a very long list, but the time zone capability was quite an undertaking, and the internal library upgrades also led to significant restructuring. We are very happy with the results however, and can now continue building more features again!

Week 16 TimeRank update

I have just rolled out a new version of the software to our server. The following improvements have been made since the previous release on April 15:

  • The TimeRank planner now takes into account project importance when scheduling tasks. This means that tasks belonging to projects that you’ve sorted high in the list (by dragging and dropping on the Projects & Tasks screen) will now be scheduled as early as possible. More simply put: the planner makes sure you get around to things that are important to you, and not only things that are urgent. We’re still workin on this algorithm, so let us know what you think!
  • The planner screen has been improved: The controls can be hidden, and the calendar fills the maximum width of your browser until you activate the task detail screen by clicking on a scheduled block of time. This can be hidden again, at which point the calendar will fill the width again.
  • Google Calendar authorization handling has been made more robust.
  • On the tasks and planner screens, the task detail view also shows a clickable link to the project to which the task belongs.
  • WorkUnit duration can now be easily edited also on the Projects & Tasks screen.
  • Fixed a bug where editing task or project fields could break if you navigated to another project mid-edit.

Thanks for all your feedback so far. Please keep the suggestions and feedback coming!

First ever TimeRank released!

Dear users,

With great pleasure I hereby announce that we have just made the first release of the TimeScapers system under its official name: TimeRank.

As you might have noticed, we have been hard at work these past weeks on the TimeRank Planner, unique functionality of our software that tries to make educated suggestions on when you could consider doing which of your tasks. The version we have just deployed is still an early one, but does give an impression of what we have in mind.

Here’s a summary of all the changes since our previous deployment:

  • The software has  a fancy new name. The company is of course still called TimeScapers.
  • Early beta version of the TimeRank Planner. This also replaces the calendar view.
  • Project and task editing interface has been improved, crushing many bugs in the process.
  • The project detail interface now shows and allows you to add project-related workunits, analogous to those in the task detail view.
  • The Now! screen is now simply called Tasks. It has been visually improved, but is also up for revamping in the coming weeks.
  • The preferences editing interface has been simplified. It still has one known problem: It’s not yet possible to change your email address. Our preferences editing interface expert is looking into this, it has to do with some more fundamental functionality we still have to implement.
  • Many bugs fixed, thanks to feedback from many of you.

We have the following new features planned for the coming months:

  • More intelligence in the Planner, adding the ability to take into account importance and also your preferences.
  • A reporting module, so you can generate all kinds of fancy graphs and analyses of the work that you do. Personal analytics FTW.
  • A mobile app. We’re initially aiming for Android and iPhone, and we’re dreaming about voice recognition for task addition.
  • Many more usability improvements and bug fixes.

Thank you very much for your feedback up to now. We have tried to take care of as many as possible of your suggestions and bug reports. However, there are still some of your suggestions on the product backlog. Please do keep the feedback coming by sending mail to info@timescapers.com.

Yours sincerely,
Charl and Gerwin