This is the first in a multi-part series on selecting a web calendar for your organization and web site.
Introduction to Selecting a Web Calendar
The web calendar market is a very crowded and confusing one. It’s really difficult to understand what to purchase. As a web calendar vendor, we understand the market and what features people are looking for in a calendar system. Our goal is to help you find the right calendar to meet your needs. We’re going to focus on helping you select a web calendar, but before we can get there we should review the types of calendars on the market.
Broadly speaking, the kinds of calendar programs are:
Event Publishing Software
- This kind of software is designed to publicize events on a web site. Examples of people using this kind of calendar are schools, churches, universities, corporations, etc. In general, if you want to put a calendar on your web site, this is what you want. Sometimes this software can be used by small groups to coordinate their activities. If your greater need is to know what people are doing rather than coordinating group interactions such as meetings, this category can be a cheaper alternative to Groupware.
- A PIM is a personal information manager application. An example of a PIM would be Outlook without Exchange. PIM’s typically include a to-do list function, contact manager, and may include Email capability. PIM’s usually do not have a web publishing feature.
- Software designed to coordinate large numbers of people. It’s usually deployed in a corporate environment. The major use of this software is to allow scheduling meetings between many people. Typically this kind of software can check free/busy schedules and tell you if a proposed meeting time will work for the selected attendees. Examples of this type of software would include Microsoft Exchange, IBM/Lotus Notes, and Novell Groupwise.
- This is a kind of catchall grouping. Things that would fall into this category would include employee scheduling, and appointment scheduling software. Some event publishing software calendars may be suitable to these needs. If event publishing calendars can be used for your application, they will usually be much cheaper than specialized software.
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.
- 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.
- 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. Video tutorials are a sign that the vendor is a professional business and cares about it’s customers.
- 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.
Calendar 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 JSON is also becoming a must-have feature.
Calendar 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 and Text Message 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 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.
In part 2 of this series, we’ll be discussing the different software models (SaaS, Plugin, Installed Software, Plugin/SaaS Hybrid).