Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is web 2.0 about to change the way we schedule?

Until recently, digital calendars and scheduling tools were just copies of the diaries, organizers and day timers that still compete for desk space with cell phones, laptops, desktops, and our other digital lifestyle accoutrements. Nothing seemed capable of replacing the big handwritten reminders in red and black, but new innovations in web 2.0 technology might have the answer.
Despite the explosion of digital tools, we still waste up to 30% of our time on mindless tasks like trying to schedule appointments. Without email, cell phones and some kind of calendar, it would be near impossible to schedule a basic conference call. First we pick an appointment timetable, send out an email and then follow up with phone calls. Now comes the hard part; Smith can only make it one day, Johnson the next day, Cohen the right day, but only at 3 pm, etc… The real timewaster comes from trying to resolve the schedule so that everyone can agree on a time.
Maybe the online services like Yahoo calendar, Google calendar, 30boxes, and Hipcal can help? With them, you can post all the information on a shared web calendar and everyone can check the schedule without you having to send out reminders. That’ll save you a few emails, but it won’t help you resolve the core problem. Some collaborative calendars let people edit the content, allowing them to change the time based on their availability. Great, now every contact is moving the calendar to fit his or her schedule and you’re still no closer to fixing the appointment or timetable for everyone. So it’s back to the phone calls and email tag while you try to juggle everyone’s preferences until you find a compromise.
So far, not so good. Online calendars and scheduling tools, despite their well-publicized technological advances just aren’t improving on the old method. But it’s not all bad news on the tech front, there’s one newcomer who might be heading in the right direction. WikiTimer is a little digital assistant cross scheduling tool that took a different view. Rather than simply try and digitize or improve appointment books and calendars, WikiTimer decided to focus on the real problem of resolving the schedule. It’s got the collaborative calendar that lets you and your contacts highlight your available times, but behind that it’s got an algorithmic problem solver who uses the information to actually schedule the appointment for you. While you sit back, the WikiTimer communicates with your contacts and politely engineers them toward a compromise. Without any stress or wasted time, the automatic scheduler has resolved your appointment. It’s like having your very own intelligent digital assistant.
If the WikiTimer is a sign of things to come, then it’s fair to say that we’ll be chucking out the old and welcoming in the new at long last. For business people, the home employed, freelancers, and those of us who get forced into arranging family reunions, this kind of tool will take the pain our of getting things done. That said, until I can convince Great Aunt Alice and her sisters to go online, web 2.0 isn’t going to solve every problem.

About the Author: Edmund Read is independent business consultant with a specialization in new technologies. Lead consultant to innovative new companies like and . Most recently a senior consultant to the Futurist Fund, . Spare time spent as a freelance copywriter, fiction ghostwriter, compulsive reader, and self proclaimed gourmet.


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