Permatime update (and more than you want to know about the weird world of timezones)

11 December 2008 (Thursday)

Plenty of updates to http://permatime.com recently, partly inspired by the spike in new visitors, referred by the comments and updated posting to do with the recent 37signals-live online realtime video event: first-time visitor friendliness, links, samples and bug-fixes.

(Have no idea what I’m talking about? Permatime.com is a micro webapp aimed at making it easier to share a point in time with people across different timezones. A sample (all the bells and whitstles) permatime link might be: http://permatime.com/US/Central/2008-12-04/11:00/37signals_live?link=http://live.37signals.com. More samples on the homepage.)

The first change was to give people who click on a permatime link for the first time an “guess” of the time according the users’ current GMT offset (difference from GMT / UTC).  The reason that is a “guess” is that timezones aren’t as simple as a GMT offset. Just because you are in, say 4 hours earlier than UTC/GMT in April (like, say New York or Santiago), doesn’t predict that  you are 4 hours earlier in February (No, in fact New York will be 5 hours earlier then, and Santiago 3 hours earlier).

So we do need to encourage first time visitors to enter a timezone to be sure, but we want to give them some idea of what the permatime they have clicked on actually represents for them, without a further click. What we have now is a balance between these two design principles. Let us know what you think.

A few small additional bits of crafting: every permatime gives you relative times (3 days away, 2 hours ago, etc). Plus, for the geek in all of us: there’s now a “Unix timestamp” timezone. Yay!

Also, (it was last week actually, but as it was ‘just’ a bug fix, I never mentioned it) ironed out complications with  “Today”  on the create permatime form: it was originally being calculated as of “Today” in GMT, rather than the basis of your home (first in the list) timezone. Of course I rarely saw that… and in fact never guessed that I needed to test for it. Problems like this would be much more obvious if one of the development team was based in, say Kiritimati (GMT +14). Wonder if anyone would like to fund me to trial that for a month or two (particularly when it’s so cold here in GMT-land).

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