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I have two apps (each with iOS and Mac versions) where people add items that appear in a list. Currently when an item is deleted from the list, it is permanently and immediately removed. I'm working on adding something that's usually referred to as either an "Archive" or "History", so that older items can be looked up and restored if necessary. The tricky part is that I would like to have features of both:

  • By default, it will act like a true archive. Nothing is deleted, just archived and removed from the main view. I expect most people will leave it this way.
  • However, I'd like to have an option to automatically clear out the archive after a period of time—a year, 6 months, or 90 days. This makes it a bit more like a "history", since it's no longer permanent.
  • When an item is removed from the main view, I'd prefer to have the button say "Archive" rather than "Delete". It should be clear that these items aren't permanently deleted. (At least not immediately.)

My worry is that someone will set it to clear after 90 days, forget about it, "Archive" something important to them, and then get frustrated when it's suddenly gone months later.

Is there any way I can address this? Or is it possible I'm worrying too much?

Currently I'm leaning toward removing the option to automatically clear out the archive. It would still be possible to manually delete specific items from the archive, or clear the entire archive manually. I'd prefer not to lose that option though—I think some people would appreciate it.

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5 Answers

I think of these as a bit different - archive is for storage of things, history is for tracking of actions. I think Archive is what you want, and people are used to the analogy (Google crammed it on them anyway), and you can delete things from archive. The Archive purging is cool - but I see your point. Simply stating (if it's possible) that there are n items pending removal/purge before they happen, can help with that. I bet most people will not set an auto-purge unless there is monetary reason to do so.

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Archive - A collection of historical documents or records

History - A usually chronological record of events

For me, both archive and history should perform the same action of storing the items in a 'vault' away from my day to day affairs, but when I access it, it should have everything from the beginning of time.

For the thing you are trying to achieve, I would label it to Move to Trash or something similar. The idea being, trash is an actual place in your application. It is cleaned up every 30-60 days like what happens in real life, the garbage truck collects trash once a week.

For the sake of introduction, when the user first performs the move to trash action, you can have a modal window explaining that things will not be delete right away and can be restored if needed. You can keep it recurring till the user selects Do not show again.

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If it's important people shouldn't archive it. Archive is like a out of sight, out of mind that gets cleared every x year.

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Based on GMail I see two the following usage patterns of the Archive / Delete possibility:

  • Some users use archive to have a clear inbox and delete mails if they are not interested in all
  • Other users just archive everything, also those mails which are not important or do not contain any valuable information at all
  • People who don't use the archive and just have everything in their inbox beside those mails that they really delete
  • Finally those people which don't delete anything at all and leave all mails in the inbox

The last point I added so that the list is complete, but I am not aware of anyone who is using this approach. But I know quite a few people who are using the other three patterns.

In your case I would ask myself first, why you would add some kind of automatic removal future? Is it because of the hardware costs or just to be able to remove something completely?

I guess the later approach is valid if the user has no chance to change some existing information. But then, how are you going to explain this to the user? The issue here is, that people are used to not delete anything anymore. The main focus the users have is just to remove something out of the view, but that they are able to get it back later. So if you are going to implement an auto purge, then the user has not a real advantage of the archive function, as it only contains a certain amount of the items. So why not delete them directly?

If you can afford it, I would not implement something like auto purge rather. If I do have an archive, I would like to have all items in their and not only the few lasts. Also anything that runs automatically in the backend is always really hard to design and explain to the end user (e.g. via user interface).

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Currently both apps have simple history options that allow recently deleted items to be restored. So I know based on feedback that some people want a way to clear those items out. It's possible those people would be fine with a way to manually remove items from the archive. In both apps the items being stored are relatively small, so storage space isn't too much of a concern. That said, storage space is sometimes limited and many people probably don't need "deleted" items to hang around forever. –  robotspacer Apr 23 '13 at 20:29
    
Then I would go for the approach that the user can archive items and manually delete archived items, if he doesn't need them anymore. if you compare this process to the real world, it is exactly what we do with invoices and other paper stuff. We put it aside and after a few years, people go through their folders and throw away stuff that is not needed anymore. This would be my suggestion. –  rit Apr 23 '13 at 21:11
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If I could point out that even deleted email in gmail are not ... deleted. I imagine an end user would have a hard time getting it back. For this reason, I know several people who don't bother clearing their inbox - it reminds them that google holds onto information longer than expected. Slightly off topic, but FYI, I guess. –  David Clarke Apr 24 '13 at 5:14
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After considering this further I've realized that I'm actually overcomplicating things greatly by trying to find a single solution that works in both apps. They serve very different purposes, and there's no reason to treat the same. More importantly, the differences between the two apps are the details that make it easier to answer this question, so trying to ignore those differences makes it impossible to find a perfect solution.

In one app, people are not likely to delete anything they care about. The app currently has a 90 day history of deleted items (or "trash"), and I'll be leaving it that way. This is more than enough time to notice if something was deleted accidentally. I don't think anyone has actually asked for more options at this point, so there's no sense in adding them.

In the other app, it's rare but not uncommon to suddenly need an item that was deleted months ago. In that case the app will have a permanent archive, and it will be possible to manually remove items from the archive. I may include options to automatically clear the archive, but it's probably not an important feature for most, so I may leave it out for the sake of simplicity and clarity.

Thanks for all the answers—I'd vote them up for being helpful if I could. I don't think any of them were quite correct, but that was my fault for not giving enough information to go on.

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