Using Sandy with Web Snippets

Welcome to the third in my series of tutorials on getting the most out of I Want Sandy, the “virtual personal assitant” from Portland company Values of N. In the last two installments, I covered how to communicate with Sandy on the go using SMS and Twitter and outlined a Sandy-specific version of the Quicksilver append trick. This time, I’m going to show you how I use Safari’s new ‘web snippets’ feature so that I always have quick access to all the stuff I’ve stored with Sandy.

I know what you’re saying: ‘Web snippets? Isn’t that a Dashboard feature? Personally, I’d be perfectly happy if Dashboard never launched again!’ I know, I know; before figuring out this little trick I felt similarly. But, believe it or not the combination of Sandy and web snippets has actually made Dashboard useful to me for the first time since its inception. So put your well-deserved Dashboard skepticism aside for a moment and listen up.

Now that you’ve been using my first two tips for awhile, Sandy’s starting to know about a lot of your appointments and all your other little tidbits, but what’s the best way for her to give you easy access to them? Sure, you can query Sandy for individual bits of information when you’re on the go, but there are some things — like your calendar and TODO list — that you’ve just got to have close at hand in full. Creating web snippets out of Sandy’s monthly and tag views is the best way I’ve found to accomplish this.

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A ‘web snippet’ is simply a chunk of a web page that you select from Safari. Safari then creates a Dashboard widget that will be constantly kept up to date with the current content of that little bit of the web. What we want to do is to create web snippets out of the pages on Sandy that have our most relevant information. For my part, I’ve settled on the Monthly view and the view for my @computer tag (more about that in a minute). Here’s how I got those created:

  1. Login to IWantSandy.com/home.
  2. Click on Daily Digest > This Month (the ‘This Month’ link under the Daily Digest drop down).
  3. Click the web snippet icon as shown above.
  4. Drag the highlight box around the yellow pad part of the screen containing your reminders. Sometimes, the box will lock onto individual sub-portions of the page making selection easier, but you can also drag its corners around as well.
  5. Click the “Add” button in the top right.
  6. Dashboard will launch. You’re done.

Now, you’ll have a custom-made widget with all of your reminders for the month available anytime you invoke Dashboard.

So, how do I use this? And what’s so great about it? Couldn’t I just visit Sandy’s perfectly nice website anytime I wanted to view my stuff?

I’ve made two Sandy-related widgets: one for my appointments for the month and one for my items tagged @computer. I use the @computer tag in a GTD-ish manner to specify TODO items that I can accomplish at my computer (click on the image below to see a larger version):

Each of these uses demonstrates a different big advantage of accessing Sandy from Dashboard. The key is: the AJAX bits of Sandy’s interface still work here, so I can edit items and mark them as done directly from these widgets.

For example, when I complete an item from my @computer TODO list, I simply click the ‘x’ next to its entry in the relevant widget and the item gracefully fades away never to return:

Similarly, I can edit details of appointments if they change, simply by clicking on an item from my monthly calendar. The first click pops up a box with some more details:

Clicking ‘Edit’ brings up a form where you can change everything from the date to the description to when you want Sandy to send your reminder:

Each of these web snippets really starts to feel like a tiny little custom desktop client for a single specific bit of Sandy’s functionality.

One of the big lessons I’ve learned from my attempts at doing GTD has been the importance of putting your inboxes and other TODOs directly in your path, someplace you’ll stumble over them in the course of your normal daily operations. And these little applications are a really lightweight way to do just that, eliminating nearly all the friction involved in maintaining and making reference to my lists and reducing the opportunity for fiddling to a minimum.

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