Jon Udell has a fantastic post where he shares his frustrations about getting people to use calendar syndication. He says the real problem is getting more people to, first, use electronic calendars.
"The idea is to establish a critical mass by brute force, and allow people to see how, over time, sources that are structured and can syndicate will remain in the game, and sources that aren’t will have to sit out on the sidelines."
"It’s turning into a nice case study of how organizations and individuals can negotiate shared responsibility for calendar information that’s of common interest. But that’s a story for another day. First things first. I need to give people a reason to care about using a calendar program — any calendar program, could be Outlook or Apple iCal or Google Calendar, so long as it exports iCalendar — in preference to a spreadsheet or word processor. Although the geek tribe can scarcely imagine why, that first step is a doozy."
I think calendars are the best examples of the power of syndication. You may be reading this post in your RSS aggregator and think I'm crazy but shared calendars is one of those collaborative technology use cases that fits naturally with what people are already familiar with, managing their schedule (and for many people, managing a family's schedule).
I can sympathize with Jon's mission. In fact, I am also encouraging the use of calendar syndication in my community too. But there one key constituency who must be served to move this forward: Parents!
First, some background. My wife and I moved our family calendar from her PDA over to Airset a little over two years ago. These posts on the Enterprise 2.0 blog (the site formerly known as Collaboration Loop) provides more background about our objectives and the alternatives considered.
After switching to a shared web calendar the management of our family calendar became much easier. I no longer had to call my wife to see if we were available and we spend much less time synchronizing our day. You can't believe how much of a relief this is until that pain is gone.
Since then my wife launched a parent website for our local middle school. The primary attraction, of course, is the calendar. Fortunately, this school has a really good principal, Mr. Sanders (sorry, I can't help but call my kid's teachers and principals Mr. and Mrs.). Mr. Sanders picked up on the web calendar concept quickly and agreed to work with us. We use three calendars: one for school events, one for district events, and one for partial or full days-off. A fourth calendar consolidates all of these into a single calendar.
We made Mr. Sanders an administrator and work together to keep the events up to date. Two years later I am happy to report that the calendars have been kept up to date and Mr. Sanders has done more than his fair share of the work (to be honest, he enters most of the events now).
The results have been great. As a parent I can't express my appreciation enough for having a trusted calendar I can turn to. For many parents the calendar is simply a web page on the parent group site. But for my family school events blend nicely with our web calendar. They even provide color coding of events to make them easy to parse.
Below is how our family calendar looks. This view shows one week on our calendar. I tried to find a week that wasn't too busy (btw, I had to look ahead two months :-). You can see the color coded events that come from different calendars. The medium-blue events are from the middle school, the pinkish events are from our family calendar, and the purplish events are from the school district calendar. Partial or full-days off are colored with red so they stand out.
Our oldest child started high school this year and I am really missing not having that school calendar online. Being new to the school we didn't feel comfortable approaching the principal about doing this at the start of the school year. As a result we get multiple email updates during the week (probably averaging 5-10 messages) telling us what is happening. Of course, I rarely have time to read these messages since they come out all sorts of time during the day and they often repeat themselves. But when I need to figure out what events are coming up I have to search my email for these notices. Needless to say, I am really missing our school calendar. Our high school has a new principal who just started a few weeks ago. Hopefully, he is as sharp as Mr. Sanders (note to self: have Mr. Sanders talk with Mr. Johnson about calendars...).
Back to Udell's point about getting critical mass behind electronic calendars and calendar syndication...The key people in this are parents. Parents have to coordinate far too many calendars: school events, games, practices, dance classes, recitals, birthdays, anniversaries, doctor's appointments, and it goes on and on.
So Jon, keep aggregating your events to demonstrate what calendars can do. But, focus on how you can make a parent's job easier with calendars and your efforts will be better rewarded.