Just talked about this with the folks from Zimbra (more on them in a later post), but the situation with scheduling is pretty much ridiculous. It’s 2005, and I can get satellite images of virtually any location in the world with a browser, but to schedule an appointment I have to exchange 3 to 5 emails, then manually create calendar entries. Nor can I get reminders of that appointment via the mobile phone infrastructure that’s been mainstream for what, a decade? This makes sense, how?
I was discussing this problem with Analisa Schelle from Ogilvy last week, while we were chatting on the business aspects of RedMonk, i.e. is it just us, or do we have help scheduling, etc? Unfortunately, given our (ok, my) fierce insistence on cost containment, it’s the former. Apart from some outsourced accounting, bookkeeping, editing, etc duties, scheduling falls pretty much on myself and my colleague. Normally this works adequately, in that we more or less manage to schedule and attend the meetings we need to, with a few dropped balls here and there.
But this process simply doesn’t scale. Think about how you schedule meetings with folks outside your own calendar system:
- Step 1: Determine your own availability
- Step 2: Communicate that availability to an external party; typically means cut and pasting or manually writing some openings into an email
- Step 3: If you’re lucky, some of these work, and you receive a reply which requires you to create a new calendar entry
- Step 4: If you weren’t lucky in Step 3, the available slots didn’t work, and the external party has proposed some alternatives so you’re back to Step 1. Rinse, lather, repeat.
I don’t know about you, but to me this process is crying out for innovation. Some of you are no doubt going to respond – what about Free/Busy? Outlook has it, Evolution has it, and it seems like it addresses at least a portion of the problem. And it does, sort of. The problem with Free/Busy, IMO, is that it’s distinctly non-intuitive within any of the major clients, hence no one uses it, hence it has little utility. Add in the fact that it’s read only, and I don’t think Free/Busy is the answer (is an average user likely to know what WebDAV is, much less how to configure their client for it?).
What I would love is to be able to offer – selectively or publicly – visibility into my calendar, with ACL based write access that’s easy enough for anyone to use. The sheer amount of time this would save come conference time, when 10’s or 100’s of people are asking for time with us, would be worth its weight in gold. It would allow us to push the burden of scheduling onto those who request our time. You want to meet with us? Great. Here’s the schedule, knock yourself out.
The current collaboration tools are so poor at this, however, that during OSCON I seriously intended to use our wiki as a calendar and scheduling tool. While that’s in part a reflection on how flexible and useful wikis are, it’s more an indictment of the state of collaboration today.
In many respects, scheduling is similar to the situation with web publishing prior to the introduction of blogging tools and wikis. At their core, blogging tools and wikis are nothing more than a dramatically simplified interface for posting content to a website and editing it. It’s not tremendously complicated, and not something that was terribly difficult before they existed – for non-technical users. Likewise, we have some primitive tools for sharing calendar information, but they’re not even close to being ready for Joe User – which limits their utility for everyone.
So to vendors or open source projects with interests in calendars, collaboration or scheduling, my recommendation is to solve for blank in this equation: blogging tools are to web content as ______ is to calendars.