I Spy

Well, not really, but some people might think so, or feel intruded on…

To back up a bit, and put that in context, I’m currently contemplating ways of making Stuff To Do, my web based todo list/time tracker/work organizer more able to track when a user is active. Currently, it marks you as active if you do anything at all in its web page. The reason I adopted this approach is that I want the program to help the user out, not make the user a slave to the program (ok, switching tasks, hit start..stop…stop stop start stop start start…bleagh!). However, even this approach relies on the user keeping the window open, and visiting it every now and then, which is less likely if you get ‘in the zone’ and are concentrating on your own work. A couple of methods for dealing with this come to mind:

  • Platform specific binary that can be installed to keep track of when the user is active. This would be the most accurate way of determining that information, but also the most intrusive, and probably the least convenient for end users, who would have to install something on their machines.

  • A reminder. Instead of tracking the user, try and get their attention to come back to the web page and let the app know they’re still alive. Not very appealing, because the concept of “bug the user so they pay attention to me”, which is not in keeping with the “be unobtrusive” philosophy of the system.

  • A small pop-out window with “active?” javascript code embedded in it. On Linux (Gnome’s window manager at least), you could even set this little window up to follow you around the desktop in order to register the fact that you’re active. Advantages: web based, more accurate than the current system. Cons: annoying window following you is….well, annoying. Having a little window open all the time might be an annoyance as well.

Thoughts? Would you use any of these, or consider any or all of them too high a price to pay to keep track of your hours?

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