REMEMBER THE BULKY day planner? The mini-black notebook was derigeur for the business executive of the 1980s. The portable planners were stuffed with addresses, agendas, day planners, and to-do lists. Today these applications, and many more, are now online, thanks to calendaring software.
Several years ago online calendaring applications started surfacing as a companion to free e-mail services. Yahoo and Microsoft were early players. Google got on board last year. While the web traffic generated by online calendars is still a "drop in the bucket," according to HitWise, a website that offers news and metrics regarding online trends, use is growing. The traffic for Google's online calendar, for example, was up more than 300 percent between mid-2006 and January 2007. Still, the traffic probably accounts for less than 1 percent of the total for the search engine. Calendaring software developers are hoping that the use of the application will follow the same path as mapping. As more features including new 3D graphics are offered, more users are turning to the web first to check out the specifics on a geographic area and to get detailed directions.
Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft's MSN offer free calendaring for those who register with their websites. Apple includes its iCal application as part of the OS X system software.
Users can "populate" these calendars with notes on special events and prompts for e-mail reminders, as well as include items that will repeat themselves daily, monthly, or annually. A note on someone's birthday is a good example.
Most useful and fun are personal settings that allow for customizing. Calendar programs generally let users create "sub-calendars." One can be used just for career tasks, while another is reserved for volunteer duties, or a kid's school schedule. Of course, favorite text colors and requests for e-mail reminders are available, too. If a user didn't get to an event on a particular day, the item can be dragged and dropped onto a different day. Given that the calendars are browser-based, users can access them from anywhere, also as long as they remember their IDs and passwords.
Now that more are discovering online calendars, a new group of vendors is addressing other needs. Just this year Trumba introduced a "spud" in its software that lets a web manager turn a static list of events into a dynamic one. A student visiting a university's website can not only read about an upcoming concert in the quad, but can also click on the text and opt to add the event to a separate online calendar.
The idea behind the new technology is to encourage a student to add an event to an online calendar. Those who add an event to a calendar are more likely to attend, so thinks the executive team at Trumba.
"The mission of a university is to offer a lot of events," says Trumba CEO Jeremy Jaech. "They convene people to talk about things."
Naturally, he feels the higher education sector is ripe for using more applications that highlight online information for students and staff and that "push" this information onto personal online calendars. Currently one-third of Trumba's 4,500 clients are colleges or universities, says Jaech. Others include media websites and corporations.
Taylor University (Ind.), a private institution with close to 1,900 students, became a Trumba customer this past February. "We are using this for all sorts of events," explains Evan Kittleman, director of online communications. The liberal arts college posts academic calendar events, which include alerts on registration, and notes on openings and closing, but also lists sports items andcultural events on campus. Kittleman estimates that at least six new items are posted online each day.
He is most encouraged by the interactive aspect. "We promoted events with an [old calendar], but we didn't know if we were being effective."
The new approach allows for more monitoring. "I can look at the dashboard and see that more people are signing up for the RSS feed," he says. A web visitor who then opens an event off the RSS feed can download it onto a calendar. Trumba also has built-in tools that allow university web managers to push interactive event notices to email, create text messages for cellphones and PDAs, or note them on other web pages. A quick look at that dashboard on a day in early April showed that 73 users asked for event e-mail reminders during the past month; almost 40 added an event to a Google calendar, while 28 added to Microsoft's Outlook. Close to 20 others downloaded to some other calendar, or forwarded event information to a friend. If Kittleman assumes that most of those users are students, more than 7 percent of them were using the Trumba feature two months after it was introduced.
PeopleCube is yet another new vendor offering an online calendar content program. Its newer WebEvent application works in concert with Meeting Maker, a separate feature that allows a select group of users to schedule meetings. The latter creates instant links to a defined group of users and lets them create new events.
"This is an emerging trend," says Ann Hamann, vice president of marketing at PeopleCube. Those who want to meet can avoid the painstaking efforts of calling and emailing each other to check for free time because the programs automatically peruse online calendars for the blocks of time that are open for everyone.
PeopleCube currently counts more than 2,000 colleges and universities as clients. About 40 percent use WebEvent, says Hamann. Britain's Open University Business School is one such client. The school, which is part of the Open University system, specializes in distance education with a mix of international regional offices and online coursework. People can use the calendaring and scheduling products to set up in-person or virtual meetings. Stateside, Duke University (N.C.) has signed on to use the company's suite of products.
Trumba and PeopleCube offer licensing for their calendaring software programs and other related features. Both charge on a per-month, per-user basis and offer reduced rates for multiple users. Trumba's initial price is $100 per editor, per month, but the price drops for second and third users on campus.