New beta: Topic Timer block

Hi everyone! My name is Taylor, I’m a new product manager at Airtable working on the Airtable platform. Super excited by all the work the team’s doing, and to work with and learn from everyone here.

But first - a new block!

Say you’re in a meeting with lots of topics to cover - Topic Timer lets you pick a Base collaborator as a moderator and shows a countdown timer to everyone currently in the base, and then when the timer’s up lets all active contributors vote for whether or not to continue discussing the topic.

topic-timer

Click here to join the beta. Once you click that link, the “Topic Timer” block will be available in the list of blocks when you go to install a block.

We’d love your feedback – please reply with thoughts and suggestions in this thread!

P.S. The source code is available here, so you can remix it if you’re in the custom blocks beta.

If there was a thumbs down option, I would be clicking it right now.

No disrespect, but there are like 20 things that would probably rise to the “short list” of important challenges I would guess a product manager should be doing at Airtable. A timer block doesn’t even make the top 100 in my view.

Perhaps you are using this as a way to get your scripting feet under you and to know blocks a little better. That’s fine; it’s important for PMs to really know the product, but that’s an evening and weekends kind’a project, right?

Here is my short list of items that cause me to worry about Airtable and often hesitate when an important clients asks be about your product.

  1. Features that have been repeatedly asked for more than 5 years ago and remain unmet. All users faced with silence – when they articulate a simple, common, usual and customary requirement – need an advocate who will bug the crap out of the engineering team to add simple stuff like a Split() function. I’ve asked for three years; other users asked about it half way back into the previous decade. There are many feature requests in this category.

  2. Regular developer and end-user round-table discussions to understand where the feature gaps are. Ideally, you should be telling us how and when you hope to close those gaps.

  3. An actual technology roadmap available under NDA that will help us continue to support and recommend Airtable well into the future and to all our clients.

  4. Open-sourcing many of the blocks so that the developer community can extend and remedy shortcomings across the platform.

  5. An end user webinar about security and backup/recovery best practices with in-depth Q&A and with actual engineers in attendance.

I truly hope no one is spending a lot of time developing WebClipper 2.0. :wink:

Congratulations on your new role! Are you ready to rumble!

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This new ‘feature’ does not make me super excited. What would get me super excited is if Airtable would fix some of the glaring security issues that users have been harping on about for 5 years.

I also support everything Bill.French said.

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

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I am very sad at the turn this particular thread has taken.

I am sad that posts from valuable members of this community have been set to moderation. Their posts have useful information about the Airtable product. The original post explicitly asked for feedback by replying to the post. Why moderate that feedback because you don’t like what people have to say?

I am also sad that people are calling for a “thumbs down” option on this forum. I really like how supportive this community usually is and the ability to downvote a post would erode that sense of community. I would prefer a better method of upvoting and downvoting feature requests and product enhancements. (Whatever happened to the block madness contest from last spring that was going to pit different blocks against each other in a head-to-head popularity competition?)

I also do not find the topic timer block to be useful. I find that there are other better methods of conducting meetings and getting feedback from participants.

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Hi folks! Just a reminder that constructive criticism is welcome, but criticizing people is against our community guidelines. Posts that violate these guidelines will be flagged and removed.

@Jason It looks like Bill’s post is finally visible. I edited my post to not criticize any people, but my post is still hidden.

It’s possible that it’s an automatic flagging by the forum software. Several of us have had posts flagged for basic replies, with wording not nearly as charged as some of the posts above.

Back on the topic, I’m also surprised by this release considering the many things that users have requested for years, and considering some of the security issues that have been pointed out multiple times. I get excited about things like scripting and automations, and then I scratch my head at things like this. I understand that every new feature isn’t going to be a blockbuster, and I’m all for starting a new job with a quick win to help get some momentum, but of all the possible things to devote valuable development time towards, I’m genuinely shocked that this rose to the top of the list of things that could be developed quickly.

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I tend to feel the same. However, I suspect some users will actually like this block and use it to some advantage in their businesses.

Separately, is the context - there’s a new product manager introducing a new quaint block, um… while a grease fire is flaring in the kitchen. :wink: The juxtaposition is undeniably worrisome.

You shouldn’t be sad about AI systems that get it wrong from time-to-time. This is not Airtable’s fault and we should not extrapolate these seemingly biased silencing triggers as the deliberate intention of the people at Airtable.

Ironically, I am kind’a neutral on this one (opposing thumbs sideways?). Communities are useful for gathering data. Approval is one data point; disapproval through narratives alone requires AI and we see how that’s workin’ out for us. :wink:

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My post was automatically flagged, but then still unapproved by humans (probably because of criticisms of people). I edited my post to remove any criticisms of people. I’m not allowed to edit my post any further by the system, but I would still like it to be visible. I can also remove the 2nd-to-last paragraph, if that would help get it approved.

I do too. I really like how Airtable is a platform that democratizes software creation.

I doubt this block took development time away from other more pressing feature requests. Custom blocks makes the creation of blocks like this relatively quick and easy compared many of the outstanding feature requests.

Perhaps - we don’t really know. But… we can probably surmise that the exposure of something like this is far greater in scope than we might think at first glance. For example, support questions, new enhancement requests, bugs that may be encountered, and of course the opportunity cost of the time @Taylor_Savage who must spend a lot of time reading my messages alone instead of arranging a really helpful webinar about security best practices. :wink:

So, I disagree - I am almost certain that this block does [eventually] erode resources in a non-trivial way.

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One thing I find lacking in this community forum is information about how to handle moderation issues. It has improved slightly over the past few months, but it still has a ways to go. For example, it isn’t possible for users to tell when a post has been flagged by AI versus by a human. It is also confusing when posts flip-flop in and out of moderation. Finally, it isn’t clear how much we are allowed to discuss moderation issues on the open forum.

At least we know that Jason is watching this thread.

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If the creation of the block and this thread prompts him to read your messages (both in this thread and across the board), then perhaps it was time well spent.

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Hi everyone! This post has, as they say, “blown up!”

Though I’m new to the community and some of the tone here is a little surprising, I’d certainly prefer a passionate community to an apathetic one. So please do keep the feedback coming. Posts are autoflagged for certain words and personal jabs, not for criticism of ideas. I promise I can take it!

On the frustrations expressed in this thread: I hear you. The team has been absolutely flat-out on improving, expanding, and, crucially, productionizing the product and platform. As someone just jumping in from the outside, I can’t stress enough how impressed I am with how much powerful, difficult work such a small number of individuals has been able to put out.

I think it’s clear though that the size and structure of our organization hasn’t yet caught up to the promise and potential of the product itself. A good problem to have - but a problem nonetheless.

The good news, perhaps: from my perspective, it’s clear we’re kicking into a different gear. The team is growing quickly, there’s a ton of internal energy, we’re building out a product organization, and we’re focusing. I hope you’ll start to see a shift. I expect you’ll keep me honest if you don’t.

From reading through this community forum and interviews with users as I’ve been ramping up, there are definitely some low-hanging fruit. But there’s also an immense breadth of potential features to work on, all of which are crucial to a subset of users. That is to me the challenge and beauty of Airtable - it’s so immensely flexible, the potential feature surface area is nearly infinite.

So my team’s focus in particular will be to make sure that these “invisible walls” of Airtable itself don’t hold back your ability as a user to set up exactly the workflow you want, or build any customization you want. With our limited resources, and in parallel with teams working to expand the features built into Airtable, we’ve been focusing in no small way on creating the platform capabilities for anyone to extend Airtable itself.

There are huge long-term/short-term tradeoffs to make here, and I’m sure we’ll make some mistakes in prioritization, which is certainly where we can use all of your help. I’m confident that the end-result will be far more empowering.

And finally, please rest assured that this specific block is not what I’ve been working on :slight_smile: . This was actually finished a few months ago as part of a project to get more open-source block examples out there, but never made it out to beta - I just took a couple minutes to post it. I promise we’re working on some bigger things!

Looking forward to staying in touch -

Taylor

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If anything, I think this entire thread highlights what I’ve been feeling for a while:

  • I feel like the Airtable Team should do more community outreach and 2-way dialogues with users, especially the most valuable members of this (volunteer) community who have been providing the very best (free) technical support that people could ever hope for! :slight_smile: We are Airtable evangelists, but it feels like they have a closed ear to us.

  • I feel like the Airtable Team should prioritize bug fixes & fixing user interface problems, and then prioritize the important missing features that users have been requesting for years. For example, off the top of my head, something as simple as allowing the currency field to be used in another country (where they reverse the USA comma & period placements) seems to be a very quick fix & a high priority for our international users. Or something as simple as field values not getting cut off on the kanban view or in the linked record fields or anywhere throughout the system.

As I mentioned above, it often feels to me like Airtable has a “closed ear” policy to us, the valuable users (and true evangelists) of the product line.

An annual Airtable conference would also be valuable, so we could interact with the Airtable Team in person.

I’d like to point out that my criticisms of Airtable are meant to IMPROVE Airtable, so it can someday become a world-class product.

I honestly feel like this “Topic Timer block” came out of discussions that the Airtable Team must have had with one of their big enterprise users of Airtable. So it probably became a “pet project” for the Airtable Team, in order to appease this “one” enterprise user. It’s the only explanation that makes logical sense to me. As I look through the list of relatively useless blocks that could be removed from Airtable, I feel like it must have been the same thing with those blocks as well.

So, from an outsider’s perspective, it seems like YES, Airtable is listening to SOMEONE — but it’s the wrong set of people.

Oops, I posted that before I saw @Taylor_Savage’s reply above!

Thanks for posting your message, Taylor! :slight_smile:

Great to hear your positive feedback, and sorry for any negative tone in my messages above.

Great to hear that positive changes are coming to the Airtable Team’s approach to us + the product! :slight_smile:

I would love to be on the list of any users that you interview about their experience with the product. As an Airtable consultant, I work with dozens of companies at any given time that are using Airtable — so I really have my “ear to the ground”, as they might say.

I’m also working on a big public-facing Airtable project with a large publicly-traded corporation that I am not allowed to reveal publicly at this time, but I will be able to talk about it in November 2020! :slight_smile:

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Welcome to the Airtable community @Taylor_Savage! Thanks for coming back and posting a longer introduction. We’re glad to have you here with us.

It’s also good to hear that the focus of your specific team is on reducing the “invisible walls” that limit the adoption of Airtable. Many of those invisible walls are discussed on these forums and the source of the frustration in this thread.

It’s also great that you are interviewing users. You haven’t said which users you’ve been interviewing, but if you want all users to feel valued, I encourage you to include a public method of getting structured feedback from everyone, so that no-one feels left out. It feels disenfranchising to hear that you are talking to users without having the ability to join the conversation. To quote a popular musical, many people would like to “be in the room where it happens”.

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I’m not going to comment on this new block, not least because I haven’t used it, but, despite frustrations that users may have - and there will always be frustrations - my own view is that the frequency of releases and the usefulness of new functionality has been excellent in 2020. The scripting block, custom blocks, buttons and, now, automations are significant enhancements. Maybe the topic timer won’t hit the same heights, but overall I’d rate 2020 as a great year for Airtable as a product.

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Yep. I wrote exactly this in a direct message with @Taylor_Savage. With a multi-year perspective, it’s not difficult to see and feel good about the progress.

And to be clear, I believe there have been many successes in the recent past (like 12 months). As such, don’t misconstrue my comments - I have great praise for the team and much of the progress of late has been significant and wise.

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