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  • Adam Behringer

    Seattle, Washington USA

    Adam is the founder of BEEDOCS, an artisan software company that makes great timeline software for Mac OS X.

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v3: Flexible Date Entry

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I am pleased announce another new feature in the "it just works" category. For the v3 release, I have improved the way that date entry works. To explain the new technology, let's begin by reviewing the history of date entry in BEEDOCS Timeline:

When I first launched our timeline software back in 2005, I decided that allowing typed dates would be more flexible and more efficient than using a calendar picker. This method allows for BC dates and less keyboard to mouse transitions. This is how dates worked in BEEDOCS Timeline v1:

  1. Type a date in any USA style format.
  2. Date is displayed according to date format preferences.

This date entry method was flexible and simple for customers in the USA. It leveraged the natural language feature in Mac OS X so it was easy for me to implement. The main disadvantage was that it did not work at all for customers in other countries. This limited our software the USA market.

In December 2007, we released version 2 of BEEDOCS Timeline (for free). This version of the software was a ground up rewrite and changed many things including the way that dates were entered. The date parsing technology introduced is still the technology in use today. This is how it works:

  1. Choose a date format for date entry.
  2. Type a date in that specific format.
  3. Date is displayed according to date format preferences.

This new scheme (selecting the date format first) allows us to support date entry according to customer's localization settings. Now we can support customers anywhere in the world, which has been a huge business advantage for us. This is one of the only timeline products that supports localized date formats and over a third of our customers are outside North America now.

The disadvantage of the current design is that it is very strict and can be confusing for people. I came to realize this when I started to write the help documentation describing the feature!

The problem is that the date must be entered exactly like the format specified. If the format is set to "Jan 11, 2011" then the following won't work: January 11, 2011 or January 11. If you attempt to enter those a warning message will be displayed to let you know that the date wasn't entered according to the format you selected.

This is how dates will work in Timeline 3D, version 3:

  1. Type a date

Our new date recognition technology is flexible and simple for customers anywhere in the world. It works by comparing the date you typed to all the know combinations of settings in your language. It also is better at guessing the appropriate year if you don't type it.

So for example, lets say that an event has a date of "Jan 11, 2011" and you want to change it to "March 15." You simple type in "March 15" and the date will be recognized as March 15, 2011 and the format for that event will automatically change to hide the year and use the full spelling of the month. This works for any world date format that your System Preferences are set to use.

We still the same date format interface as previous versions, but these settings are now used only to control the date format after you have entered in the dates, they no longer need to be set before you enter dates.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Jeff SmithJanuary 11, 2011 11:45 AM

Fantastic news. The way dates are handled in Timeline 2 is my biggest frustration with the app. So glad to see this will be improved in v3. Bravo!

Blogger Adam BehringerJanuary 11, 2011 12:09 PM

Jeff, this was my biggest frustration with building timelines too. It was quite a technical challenge to get it to working for all the languages, but I'm glad it is done. This should make our application much easier to use.

Blogger MorbiusJanuary 11, 2011 1:33 PM

Just a general comment that I am pleased to see some news from Bee Docs. it's been so quiet on this blog for such a long time I had begun to think you had all died and gone to heaven.

Looking forward to the release of v3.

David

Blogger Adam BehringerJanuary 11, 2011 1:41 PM

David - The more I code, the less I blog. :)

2010 was a year of coding for me.

Blogger TimJanuary 24, 2011 12:53 PM

PROBLEM: The event date format field dictates what you can type in to date fields; for example, in bulk edit mode if my date format is "Jan 2011", Timeline would not allow me to key in "1/2011".

SUGGESTION: Timeline should allow me to key in the most exact date I have, then let me choose my level of visualization (just month/year, for example) later.

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