Pat Egen’s Weblog

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If you send it will they come?

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I’m sitting here at Calconnect, ( a meeting comprised of vendors, universities and companies who all share an interest in Calendaring and Scheduling. As I sit here listening to everyone talk about standards and what the customer wants, it occurs to me that there are probably still quite a few people who do not realise what you can do with calendaring products today.

This thought generated today’s blog post. In a few paragraphs I’m going to try to shed some light on the great things you can do with many applications today and the things that are “coming.”

Ok, let’s use the following scenario. You are planning a meeting and you want to invite several people. There will be a conference room involved along with a projector, and oh, the people are all in different cities and possibly even different timezones. This same scenario could be a family reunion at a resort with dinner invites as well. You get the idea.

Next, let’s set the environment of the meeting organizer. In our scenario, the calendar applications are Outlook 2003, Lotus Notes 7.0 and Google Calendar. Double-clicking on a date on the calendar opens a dialog box where you can put in a subject for the meeting,set a location, choose a resource like a conference room or a projector, and select the attendees. When you save the entry, it then sends the meeting as an invitation to anyone who is not on your Exchange server or part of your mail network. Ok, easy.

Here’s where I wonder how many people realize that when you save this meeting, special files are sent to the attendees. These emails have a little attachment called an ICS file. Inside that attachment are all the meeting details – or the calendar smarts. This tells the calendar application of the attendee that this is a meeting invitation and go do something. Typically, when you open it in your email application a special box will pop up asking you to ACCEPT, DECLINE or suggest an alternative time. That’s pretty cool and the good news is in our scenario both Google and Lotus Notes will “behave” appropriately and let you accept the meeting and add it directly to your calendar. Now, that’s cool.

The reason I wonder how many people realize this works this way is because I was sitting next to a guy on a plane a few weeks ago. We were sitting there on the ground waiting to get permission to take off – the classic “tarmac wait and wait” state. The pilot said OK, we’re going to be here a while and the guy next to me figured OK, he would do some work and pulled out his laptop, cell phone and wireless card. Here’s where I was bad and sort of watched over his shoulder. Yes, I know, I was bad.

Here’s what transpired. He got on his cell phone and said “hey, I need to set up a meeting so I’m sending you an email asking for times you are available. Also, I’ll send you an email with the time and date of the other meeting too.” Then, he opened Outlook, sent the email, went to his calendar and manually added the meeting, not putting in the email of the recipient. Hm. His phone rang, and the guy said he got the email and needed to do it on another day. My seatmate then got into Outlook and manually moved the meeting to another date. When he hung up, I bravely said I didn’t mean to be eavedropping but did he realise he could have opened a calendar entry in Outlook, added his friend as an attendee and mailed it – thereby doing two things with one action. His eyebrows went up and he said – “really, cool.” And he proceeded to pick up the phone, call his friend and say “hey, I want to try something out.” He then did what I suggested and lo and behold it worked. Not only did it work, his friend tried suggesting an alternative date, my seatmate received the file and lo and behold it moved on his calendar. You would have thought I had showed the guy the way to the fountain of youth. Something so simple yet to him vital. Why didn’t he know about this – who knows.

That’s when I wondered how many others don’t realize this happens. Maybe it’s because they tried and it didn’t work so why bother? Not sure.

Taking our scenario a bit further, what I want is the ability to check when people’s calendars have open timeslots. This is called searching for Freebusy. The good news is there is work going on now to make this happen. This to me is huge. And taking it a bit further, I work with people in other countries and on different timezones. Calendar applications all seem to operate differently with regards to how they handle timezones. Part of the problem is each app uses a different source for validating timezones. Some of the work going on is to put in place something called a timezone registry where applications can simply “call home”, pull in the current timezone listing, hang up, and everyone is on the same page. Mostly. We’re not there yet, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

So, I’ll continue doing my random surveying of people to see how many realize you can do these kind of things with calendars. It should be interesting.


Written by pregen

June 4, 2009 at 4:42 pm

One Response

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  1. In my organization (state government) what I’ve seen is that training is superficial: here’s how to add an appointment, here’s how to send an e-mail. Meetings? Oh that’s the “Intermediate” class! Or else, “Well I don’t organize meetings so I won’t listen to that part”. Then they later transfer, get promoted, or whatever and don’t have the skills.

    Here’s another one (may be specific to Outlook): you can create a calendar for just a specific project. If you do, then the appointments on it work for milestones, timelines, etc. (you can use journals for this also). The data entry is then proper for date/time info and is obviously chronological… as opposed to what most people do which is type it into a spreadsheet and move rows around in a futile attempt to keep it straight.


    June 26, 2009 at 4:10 am

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