Saturday, April 15, 2006

Google Calendar: The Opportunity for a Significant Change

For some years I've lamented the fact that with four children, sometimes in four different schools, there wasn't an easy way for me to merge their school calendars onto my own. I imagined a service where organizations send their electronic calendar data, and I could choose the ones that I was interested in, and then see a customized combined version.

Again, the new collaborative web makes the idea of any organization going to the expense of "gathering" information pretty passe... And when I discovered CalendarHub, I thought I'd finally found the calendar tool that would make that vision possible. I've been using CalendarHub for a couple of months now, and I have nothing but good to say about it.

Unfortunately, when Google announced their new calendar program a few days ago, I found that I had to switch from CalendarHub. That was really bittersweet for me. I can only imagine all the work that CalendarHub has gone to as part of making their product so good. But Google Calendar is maybe a little better in ways that really count.

First, Google Calendar is faster loading for me. OK, since I frequently sit on the bleeding edge of technology, I am obliged to hand-hold family members to get them to see the benefits of something I like. I think most of my close family "got" CalendarHub, but it was just slow enough that they didn't really use it--or at least, they didn't use it like I was using it.

Second, the user interface is simpler and cleaner. While CalendarHub has a more professional look to it, Google Calendar seems to be much more functional for me.

Third, the integration with Gmail is significant--but more important is the fact that Google Calendar comes from Google, and so is likely to be widely adopted. Which means that it will be very easy for our local junior high school (or some forward-thinking parent) to set up a Google account, export their calendar data, and publish a URL with Google Calendar that I can link to. And this, I believe, represents the possibility for a significant social change with regard to calendaring. Of course, the technology has been around to do this for many years. But Google has the potential to bring it into the mainstream of life very quickly, and we'll all benefit from it. Except the CalendarHubs of the world.

It's interesting to note that with open formats like ical and csv, switching everyone in our family from CalendarHub to Google Calendar took under an hour--it was just exporting their existing data and importing it into Google Calendar. I think that may be representative of a lot of the newest technologies: when a technology is well-presented (and it has to be), it should only take a short amount of time to start using. And since we all have limited time and bandwidth, when we find something better, we are likely to switch. Loyalty is short-lived. Google is seeing this from the other side with Google Video vs. YouTube. YouTube is just better. Incredible to think that most of us didn't know anything about either of them a few short months ago. What an amazing time to be alive.

Having found myself on the losing end of a technology change (selling used computers to schools--seemed like a good idea six years ago!), I have to take my hat off to CalendarHub and say: I hope you surprise me by finding a way to survive the Google freight train. If not, thanks for producing something terrific and showing the way.

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