Scoble Follow-up: The Brain Behind the Triage Table

October 15th, 2007 by Mimi Yin

Robert Scoble interviewed us for 51 minutes. Still, I realized that there were significant things I had left out while caught in the headlights of the camera.

Here’s a brief description of some of the neat features in the Mini-Calendar and Preview Pane on Chandler Desktop.

More egregiously however, when showing the Triage Table, I failed to showcase the considerable ‘Brain’ that decides what metadata to show when for each item of information.

The idea of having a heterogeneous view of data is not new. In the ‘real’ world, our ‘collections’ are more often heterogeneous than not. Just open up your desk drawer and take a look.

It’s a simple, accessible idea until you try to normalize that data by cramming it into a table where every row of information needs to conform to the same 5 columns of attributes.

How do you fit

- Notes that have creators and editors and created on and last edited dates; in the same table as
- Messages that have a sender, recipients, and date sent;
- Tasks that have owners, reminder dates and due dates; with
- Events that have organizers, invitees and start dates and end dates.

The few places I’ve seen this done, normalization was achieved by whittling down what’s displayed to the lowest common denominator: Titles and Date Last Edited. This approach generally yields an information-poor display of data that is not very useful.

We achieved normalization without losing data by adding a layer of abstraction.

We grouped all of the ‘Who’ attributes into a singled column

- Created / Edited by
- To / From / Updated by

and all of the ‘When’ (Date) attributes into a single column:

- Created /Edited on
- Sent / Received on
- Starts on
- Remind on

The problem is, most Chandler items have all of these attributes so we needed a way to decide which attribute to show under what circumstances. This is a tricky path to negotiate and we’re continually refining our heuristics.

What is ‘most important’ is subjective, but there are a few rules that we believe hit a fair majority of use cases:

- Message items always display From/To in the Who column depending on whether the message is Inbound or Outbound.
- The Who column always displays ‘Edited by’ when an item has been modified by a fellow subscriber.
- Depending on ‘the current time’ we figure out the ‘Next Important Date’ is to display in the Date column. For example, event dates usually trump all other dates, but if an event has past but there’s still an alarm set for next Tuesday, we display the alarm date.

Either way, the bet we’re making is that it’s better to display something even if it’s the wrong thing some of the time than to display nothing at all.

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2 Responses to “Scoble Follow-up: The Brain Behind the Triage Table”

  1. Ross Boylan Says:

    I get a DNS error when trying to access the link for the interview.

  2. Aparna Kadakia Says:

    Hey Ross,
    It might have been a momentary glitch. It should be fixed now. I just tried accessing the link to the video and it worked fine.