Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Delayed reminder e-mails: iTickleMe, LetterMeLater, FutureMe, 3mindme, and Outlook

UPDATE: On August 27, 2011, 3mindme was shut down. See a recent post for more information. The old owner of 3mindme recommends NudgeMail as a substitute.

UPDATE: It looks like there has been an update to the original Gadgetwise post. Unfortunately, because it seems like all technology writers are born to disappoint, the author picked a bone-headed client-side solution like the Boomerang plugin for Firefox/Chrome despite so many people pointing out existing server-side solutions. In fact, a bunch of people posted lots of johnny-come-lately server-side applications like Good Todo, FollowUp, FollowUpThen, and NudgeMail. Why you would favor any of these over something like 3mindme baffles me, but I guess it's nice to have options. You certainly shouldn't ever need to use Boomerang though!
This recent NYTimes: Gadgetwise post got me thinking about an old functionality I built into my mail server (using procmail and cronjobs) back before I switched over to Gmail. Basically, I implemented exactly this "delayed reminder" feature in a sort of GTD "tickler file" (43folders) way. I think you could already do something similar in GMail, but you'd still come a little short. Let me explain how my old IMAP-based version worked.

I would send myself messages with a subject like:
tickle10: Ask Joe to return book he borrowed
That is, "on day 10 of this month, remind me to 'Ask Joe to return...'". When my mail server received messages matching that format, it would file them into "tickler files" that were just IMAP folders for each day; each folder had a name like "TICKLE.1" or "TICKLE.25". I then had a script that would run nightly and would move contents of "TICKLE.today_number" into my inbox and mark them unread.

Consequently, this acted exactly like a tickler file with folders. I "drop" a message into the folder for a day later in this month or next month, and each day I empty the folder in the front and move the empty folder to the back. I just had a script do it for me.

You could have GMail do ALMOST all of this for you. That is, you could have it automatically file messages based on subject into tickler folders. The problem would be to automate moving the daily folders back into your inbox. Perhaps you could just manually check today's folder each day. That would be a step in the right direction.

But then I realized that if the NYTimes guy thought of it now, and I thought of it many many many years ago, then maybe other people have thought of it too. So I did a Google search, and it turns out other solutions do now exist. Here's one I just found:
  • iTickleMe: http://www.itickleme.com/

    iTickleMe lets you schedule e-mail reminders by sending the service e-mails at addresses like INTERVAL@itickleme.com.
Of course, there is more than one way to skin an cat. Alternatives to iTickleMe include:But then I found a really simple and elegant non-commercial alternative:
Finally, apparently Outlook has the ability to schedule e-mails for later delivery. This won't be an option for, say, GMail users who access GMail through the web... or Thunderbird users in general. Does Apple Mail have this feature? Well, in the meanwhile, the on-line reflector services should work pretty well... and, so long as you can count on the server being up, you don't have to worry about your mail client at home crashing and not sending those delayed e-mails while you are away (plus, do you really need to keep your computer on just as a reminder server?).

So go check out 3mindme. I haven't tried it yet. I hope it still works. Sounds great!

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