Google Calendar creates a platform for "time" applications
Like many working parents, I juggle multiple calendars – my work calendar, two kids, spouse, school, church, visiting relatives, and supposed, an exercise calendar. So keeping track of all of the bits and pieces of my life is the bane of my evenings – I spend WAY too much time managing all of the multiple calendars. Just last week, I spent three evenings scheduling playdates for my two lovely kids – not my idea of fun.
So in an effort to get organized, I’ve been trying a slew of the new AJAX calendar products that promise to be an improvement over my existing online calendar (I currently use Yahoo! Calendar, which has kept my private life buzzing along happily since 1998). Having trialed a half dozen of them (including Airset, CalendarHub, 30Boxes, Planzo, and SpongeCell), Google Calendar is truly a best of breed in terms of ease of use and functionality. Here’s a quick overview of what’s different about the new product:
- Manage multiple calendars. I set up five different calendars on Google Calendar: my private calendar, a calendar for each of my two kids, a family calendar, and items from my husband’s calendar that we need to know about. With a check box, I can have all of these events appear or only one appear. This was a god send when I was trying to schedule playdates for one of my kids – I didn’t have other items on the screen cluttering the interface. On almost every other service I’ve tested, I could not do this. To me, this is a key acknowledgement by Google that we have many different layers to our schedules, ranging from our work calendars to weekend plans for the family.
- Easy to use. My calendaring sessions look something like this today: Click on add an event (wait for refresh). Fill in lots of little fields with information and click on OK (wait for refresh). I think you get the idea. Google speeds up the process significantly with its “Quick Add” box that understands natural language – so I can simply type “Dinner with Mom next Wed at 6pm) and it gets automatically entered. There’s also lots of AJAX enabled functionality that emulates a software product – I can mouseover a time period and a new event form opens. I can also drag and drop events from one time period to another (heaven!). Even better, if I receive an email in Gmail with event information in it, the service will detect it and ask if I want to add it to Google Calendar (see the screenshot below).
- Sharing. Many calendaring programs today allow you to share your calendar with others – but they usually require that the person needs to be using the same platform. With Google Calendar, sharing can take place on multiple levels. For example, I could publish a Web page with the “free/busy” schedule for my kids to help with playdate scheduling. I could also invite people to a dinner party, make the invite accessible as a Web page, and use the built-in discussion area to decide on the menu. And of course, RSS feeds for each calendar are also available.
- Open platform. I think this is the most interesting aspect of Google’s calendar. The iCal standard along with RSS means that I will be able to synch my work calendar with my Google calendar. Although tie-ins with programs like Outlook aren’t yet available, Carl Sjogreen, Google Calendar’s product manager, said that such functionality will be coming “soon”. Google is also partnering with Trumba to enabled “one-click” addition of events to your calendar (Trumba already works with calendar products from Yahoo!, Outlook, MSN Hotmail, and Apple). Also promised are synching capabilities to mobile phones. Carl also said that an API was in the works, which would enable developers to create new products on top of Google Calendar.
This API is what I believe truly makes Google Calendar a platform and game changing product. Just as the Google Maps API enabled numerous mash-ups like housingmaps.com, the Google Calendar API will create a new ecosystem of applications around schedules. Here’s an example: a hair salon could use Google Calendar to handle online appointment scheduling. Each stylist would have their own calendar, and a script would match the requested services with various schedules (a service currently offered by companies like spasalon.com). The analogy to Maps is particularly poignant if you think that Maps helped us control “space”; now Calendar is helping us control “time”.
The major question I’ve been getting the past day from pre-release press calls is how Google plans to monetize Calendar. In two ways: First, it will tie in loyal Google users even closer to the Google brand. As long as I am using Yahoo! Calendar, Google risks me using services like search. Also, it’s another entry point for people to come into Google and set up an account, versus using search quickly and then leaving. Yes, Google is acting like a portal and creating sticky applications!
The second is advertising around events. Google has “no plans” to monetize Calendar at this time, but the opportunity is definitely there. Let’s take a girls’ night out – I could plan the event and then ask my girlfriends for suggestions on the restaurant. Guess what kind of ads will likely appear around the event? Evite.com already puts contextual ads around its invitations.
One tip if you are thinking of switching to Google Calendar (or any other calendaring product): After you export your existing calendar into a CSV file, go through and delete any events that are recurring as they are exported as individual events. If you, don’t, you’ll end up changing individual events in perpetuity.
I’ve attached screenshots of Calendar as provided by Google, and also of what the Gmail interface looks like.
So, would I switch over from my tried and true Yahoo! Calendar to Google Calendar? I have to say that even though I love the interface and functionality, the decision is not mine alone – my spouse, who depends on the calendar as much as I do, has to agree with the change. We’ll be testing it over the next week or so but in the early get go, I’m finding it difficult to adjust to a new view of my calendar – I’ve gotten pretty attached to that Yahoo! view over the past eight years! But I have a suspicion that we’ll probably be using Google Calendar in the long run.
The bigger question is will Calendar be a “hit” for Google or just another so-so product. I do think it’s an advanced user service, in much the same way that Gmail attracts a more sophisticated email user. In that way, it’s a great fit with Google’s target audience of early adopters. I suspect that Yahoo! and Microsoft have AJAX calendars in development as well, which will go a long way toward keeping their core users happy and less eager to switch to an advanced product like Google Calendar. But for us “power” calendar user, Google Calendar is potentially the answer to our schedulilng prayers.
What about you? I’d love to hear how you use online calendars and how new services like Google Calendar will make a difference.