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Features to Look For in a Web Calendar System

Listed below are some of the features we think you should consider when shopping for a web event publishing calendar. While you may not need each feature listed below, it's good to know which features to look for. The conclusions section has links to spreadsheets with feature checklists you can use for comparing different packages.

Calendar Views
A good web calendar should have support for month view, week view, and day view. A list view is also very helpful.
When you really need support, there's nothing more important. Find out what kind of support the vendor offers. Standard support types are:

  • Email Only
  • Email/Forum Support
  • Telephone Support
  • Telephone Support w/ Remote Session

Telephone support is the most desirable, and Email Only the least desirable. Remote session support can allow support staff to actually view your computer's desktop to help troubleshoot very difficult problems. When shopping for a calendar, look for the phone number of the business. If it's not published in the Contact page and Support page, you're dealing with a company that actively doesn't want to talk to you. You can draw your own conclusions about what that means.
Security System
Your needs really dictate this. If you're going to have only one person maintaining the calendar, then you won't need an advanced security system. If you're going to have many editors, with approvals, and other controls then you should carefully look at the security features each calendar offers. If you only want people with logins to view your calendar, make sure that's a supported feature as well.
It's important that users have access to high quality documentation. Having good documentation helps users help themselves with questions and reduces your support load. A printable version of the manual is also desirable. Manuals and tutorials are a sign that the vendor is a professional business and cares about it's customers.
Resource Management
Many organizations want to schedule and manage resources like class rooms, conference rooms, vehicles, etc. A web event calendar with resource management can solve two issues at once; it prevents double-booking resources, and it publishes events on the web. A lot of web calendar vendors will tell you their product does resource management. Well, kind of... What they usually mean is that you can create a calendar for each room. This approach has three issues. First, it raises your licensing costs. You have to buy a calendar for each room. If you're a school with 28 rooms, that's 28 calendars. Second, it forces you to create duplicate event entries in your calendar if a single event uses more than one room. Finally, it doesn't allow you to organize your calendar in a way that is natural for your environment. For example, a school might want to have a calendar for Sports, or Extra-Curricular activities. If you're making a calendar for each room, your ability to organize events is lost. If you need resource management, look for a system that makes resource management an integral part of the product. Additionally, you should look for planner/Gantt/bar chart views for resources.
Data Export
It is important to be able to extract data from your calendar. This can be used for importing events into newsletters, extracting data for use in other areas of your web site, or creating custom reporting and billing statements. Any web calendar should support CSV and iCal (RFC-2445) format at a minimum. Support for RSS/XML is also becoming a desirable feature.
Data Import
Whether you're just setting up your calendar, or if you want to regularly bring data from other systems into your calendar, you'll need to import data. At a minimum, import should support CSV and iCal format.
Email Notification and Reminders
Most organizations want a calendar system that can notify interested parties when new events are added to the calendar, and generate reminders for upcoming events. If this is a feature you need, check that not only regular users can subscribe to reminders and notifications, but also make sure that system administrators can create reminders for other users.
Section 508 Compliance
Section 508 refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act. It provides guidelines on web accessibility. Government agencies and supported institutions (universities for example) must create web sites in such a way that the vision impaired can access them. This is where the list view mentioned earlier can be useful. A normal calendar grid is of only limited usefulness to the sight impaired because much of the information is encoded in the column/row relationships of the display. A list view provides friendlier and easier use for the visually impaired. A good indication of whether the software may be compliant is whether the web pages that are generated pass validation using an HTML validator like the W3C Web Page validator. If a calendar generates 1000 errors, it's probably not going to work with a screen reader used by a disabled person.
Advanced Features
Advanced features that may be desirable in a calendar include:

  • Custom Fields - Can you add your own entry fields for events?
  • Ajax Support - A web technology that let's you use calendar data in other areas of your web site.
  • RSS Feeds - Provide a way that users can subscribe to calendar information without having to visit your site each time.
  • LDAP/AD Authentication for User Authentication - Simplifies administration and password management.
  • Time Zone Support - If you have users in different parts of the world, then this is necessary to avoid time confusion.
  • Localization/Internationalization - Supports different languages, date, and time formats.
Next: Hosted or Installed Calendar Software