Date Extraction

At the last Social Computing Club meeting an interesting idea came up for discussion. We were trying to figure out what the easiest possible way to schedule an event could be. But in order to do so, we needed to figure out where people got their event notifications from, so I’ve compiled a mini-list.

  • Email – A lot of people plan new events by email. Some of these even do it by attaching a new ical event to the email for the recipients to add to their calendar. Attaching an event is the most efficient way for the recipients to manage the event, not necessarily so for the sender. The proposed solution, by Jon Schull, was to simply forward the email that you received with a subject line of “Tomorrow at 8, Meeting with Fred” (for example)to a specified email box. This will automatically update your calendar with this event and attach the email as data. This is would be very easy.
  • Instant Messenger – I, personally, plan a lot of events through AIM. Similar to the email solution, one could simply forward a new event to an AIM bot. An issue with this, however, lies in the fact that you don’t have the prior conversation automatically attached to the event (for context).
  • Web Sites – Browsing around web sites and spotting a new event (such as ‘FooBar Concert, 8pm, July 1, 2005’) is the final location, that I can think of, where an event would exist. To test this theory, I wrote a quick GreaseMonkey hack which parses through some selected text, looks for something representing a date, and returns the date in a properly-formatted time (you can check it out here). Note: It doesn’t actually do anything yet, but hopefully will soon. It currently only supports phrases like ‘tomorrow’, ‘yesterday’, ‘evening’, and ‘morning’ – which are much much easier to find then all the possible date formats.

In all, it’s an intriguing problem: Constructing some form of an interface through which users can most easily maintain their calendar. At least one feature that I would find to be intriguing would be if someone says to you “Are you available tomorrow evening?” your calendar application would be able to tell you what time to meet would be best. and maybe even what location? Anyway, it’s all just a bunch of speculation right now, but the Lab for Social Computing is going to try hacking on it and see if they can take it somewhere. I’ll be interested to see what the results look like.

Posted: March 28th, 2005

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