Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

Calendars worked better when they were manual, did they?

Before calendars became electronic, having the right system in place was a signal of professionalism (admittingly abused as status symbols quite often) and calendars were very personal.
At the right level one had access to a personal assistant (the one without the D between the P and the A) who organized and maintained all aspects captured in the calendar. Inquiry of 3rd parties into your calendar was facilitated by a high powered neural network (a.k.a. the human brain) that translated the individual calendar entries into the information density deemed fit for the inquirer. " Information density" also called " information precision" is an interesting concept, that seems hard to translate into time planning software.
The information density decreases with distance to you
Your PA would know how to answer an inquiry about availability depending on your whereabouts, previous commitments and most importantly the relation/distance of the enquirer. It could range from a simple "No, try again another time" to "He's in Beijing, back next week" to "I'll slot a phone conference in for you at 17:00 GMT+8". With the rise of the digital assistants and calendars this flexible response got lost.
The first generation was entirely personal, while contemporary system will give you "available slots" or (if granted) a full detailed view. They still don't tell you where the other person is (you could use Google Latitude, Foursquare etc. for that) or will be (TripIt might be able to tell you).
Since calendars are no longer accessed only by a single person a conflict arises: one one hand we like it simple, on the other hand a lot of contextual information is needed to provide automated access at the right density level. Data protection and privacy concerns complicate matters further.
There are tons of solution attempts around which all fall short of taking information density into account. Some try to offer more than one calendar that you then can share with different people, some use tags, but I have yet to see one that can take an itinerary approach: I'm going on a trip to Orlando (usually in January). This sets timezone and location, but doesn't block time (unless a presence request indicates a different location outside a "reasonable radius"). Then as part of the trip I schedule sessions and meetings (that would block time then).
Short of having my own PA, that's what my calendar should be able to:
  • All the basic functions calendars have today: entries with and without people, repeating entries, reminders etc.
  • Hierarchical entries (the itinerary approach mentioned above)
  • Ability to switch into different timezones without altering the system timezone. Offer a shortcut based on where I am or will be in the day/week I'm looking at
  • Some clever mechanism to qualify entries, so enquiries (free time lookup etc) can return more or less information based on the enquirer (that one is really hard). Why can't a freetime lookup not include: "I need a specific location", "Online", "Phone" as qualifier. This includes what goes into my "public" calendar
  • A mechanism to figure out "What is the best option of the following given slots for the group of attendees" (probably online interactive)
  • The ability to track lead times (if I'm in the office and have a customer meeting at their place, I want the travel time blocked and eventually adjusted to traffic conditions)
  • The ability to plan preparation times when planning a meeting (that's a tricky one too) - so I can more efficiently plan time
  • Configurable meta data, so I can tie related calendar entries to customers, projects, goals etc.
  • Feature to drag task execution on and off the calendar - good for planning longer work (a task can have more than one calendar entry)
  • Ability to see public calendars on/off in my calendar in groups. Currently I need to switch them on/off one by one
  • more stuff I will think of, when working with the calendar again
Of course, your style would be completely different, so my wishlist wouldn't fit yours. Would it?

Posted by on 09 September 2012 | Comments (0) | categories: After hours Software


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