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Where content meets technology

Sep 17, 2012

Feature Request: Expiring Scheduling Calendar Views

Scheduling meetings is hard but it is a lot easier when all of the participants are on the same calendar server (Google Apps, Exchange, etc.). Despite all of the advances in calendaring, coordinating with participants in other companies hasn't gotten much easier in all the years I have been working.  Yes, there have been little victories here and there like Doodle and Tungle (which looked promising until RIM bought it), but overall, we are still sending times when we are available and hoping we stay available.  This is an increasing problem as business relationships become more dynamic and less siloed by corporate boundaries.

Google Apps has taken a step in the right direction by creating a free/busy view of your calendar that you can share.  But I don't love that option because that gives permanent access to that view.   It would be better to generate an expiring link that would give the user a view of the free/busy times for a few days (until the meeting is scheduled).

Google, Microsoft, anyone in the calendar software business - please steal this idea!  Just don't patent it so that only one customer community benefits.



Sep 20, 2010

Calendar Feature Request: Meeting Buffers

A while back I wrote a post about how I use Google Calendar sharing to help my clients schedule me for meetings. Recently, I have started to experiment with a service called Tungle Me that essentially does the same thing but allows people to create meeting requests too. Calendar sharing is a great help but something is missing and I am surprised nobody has done anything about it.

There is a big difference between my meeting schedule and my availability. You can't assume that my availability equals all the gaps between my meetings because often I need to travel to and from a meeting and that makes time when I am not available. My hack-ish work-around is to schedule two overlapping meetings: one to block off my travel time, and another for the actual meeting. My colleague who is viewing my free/busy time calendar sees the two meetings as one block of time when I am unavailable. I guess instead I could create events for my travel time before and after. Both options are clumsy but they work.

I was thinking a really useful feature for a calendaring system would be to add a "buffer time" field when you mark an event to "show as busy." Buffer time would simply the number of minutes (before and after) to expand the event on your free/busy calendar. It could be a text input with a syntax of "30" (for adding 30 minutes before and after the event) or "30,15" (for 30 minutes before and 15 minutes after). Buffer time could also be useful on your personal, full-calendar view because it would tell you when you need to leave for your meeting. I imagine this may pose a problem for calendaring systems that share a single meeting object between all of the attendees because each attendee will have different buffer times. But this is not a problem that some good data modeling can't solve.

Hopefully the collaboration vendors will start to build this capability into their products soon. In the meantime, does anyone have a better work around than what I have been doing?

Jun 24, 2010

Kindle needs a "lend" button

Whenever Amazon announces news about it's Kindle product, like with the recent Kindle price drop, I find myself referring to my reasons for not buying a Kindle. So far they are working out pretty well for me. The strongest argument has been the inability to share (first on the list). When I buy a physical book, which is usually not much more expensive than the digital version, I don't just buy the ability read the book myself. I am also buying something that I can share with others. Frequently I mention a book to someone and grab my copy to lend. And roughly half of the books that I read are on loan from others. You don't get this experience from a digital book and I would miss it.

Personally, I would reconsider my decision not to buy a Kindle if it had a "lend" feature. Here is how it would work. If I owned a digital copy of a book, I could click a "lend" button that would bring up a list of my friends. I would be able to set the length of the loan. During that period, the lendee would have access to the book but I would not. As the owner of the book, I could retrieve the book and, in doing so, remove it from the lendee's library. This feature could also be enabled for public and academic libraries.

This move would be great for Amazon (or a competitor that did it first). It would encourage people to buy the reader device when their friends buy one. It makes the reader more valuable and viral. It would alleviate feature/function competition. You would buy the reader your friends have, not the flashiest product with the best C|Net review. Publisher's would probably not be so keen on the idea. They would see fewer eBook sales. I think this issue could be addressed by Amazon increasing the digital copy price and sharing more revenue with the publisher. For reference books and classics, the publisher could see sales to people who borrowed the book but wanted their own copy.

This reminds me of Kevin Kelly's classic post "Better than Free," where he lists characteristics of content that make it worth paying for. One of the characteristics is "Embodiment," which digital content lacks. Making a digital edition virtually transferable (and not copyable) would certainly add embodiment because it would make it behave more like a physical asset.

Amazon (or any other digital reader maker): please steal this idea (if you haven't already thought of it yourself). I would really like to see lending digital content happen.

Mar 29, 2010

Hippo's New Version Compare Functionality

Arjé Cahn recently screencasted a demonstration of the new version compare functionality that will be released in Hippo CMS version 7.4 (due June 2010). While (as Arjé concedes) versioning and version compare are nothing new, the Hippo team has added a subtle twist that I think makes a vast improvement.

When an approver is reviewing a change to a previously approved asset, Hippo CMS defaults to a version compare view. Adds, changes, and deletes are highlighted by color and strikethrough (see screenshot).

The concept reminds me of source code control system commit emails that highlight changes to code whenever anyone checks anything in (click on screenshot for a larger view). I do a lot of web development team mentorship and I have come to rely commit emails.

SVN Commit Example

They allow me to quickly determine if there are any material changes that I need to dig into and saves me loads of time (in the case of the screenshot example, no important changes have been made). I am wondering if the Hippo implementation adds excerpts of changes in their workflow notification emails. That would be convenient.

I really like the Hippo team's pragmatic approach to enhancing Hippo CMS. Rather than adding lots of a new "checklist" features (that make the product more complicated), they tend to focus on refining and streamlining functionality that customers probably already use. It is that "make it suck less" philosophy that makes software continuously better for the users but tends not to get recognized by most analysts and buyers.

Keep up the good work Hippo!

Sep 29, 2009

Feature Request: Audience-Inspired Keywords

In order to maintain my vendor neutrality, I refrain from advising software companies about their products. But that doesn't stop me from having ideas and opinions so I am starting a series of features that I would like to see. Please feel free to use them and, if you do, tell me about it! If you don't like an idea, let me know why.

Today's feature request can probably be implemented (at least primitively) as a minor customization on most content management systems.

Audience-Inspired Keywords

When a visitor searches for content on the site (or arrives at the site from an external search result), the presentation tier records the keywords that he used. These keywords are then listed as options that content contributors can use to tag their content. This would allow contributors to tag content in the language of their audience. To keep things manageable, there should be a mechanism for filtering out typos and organizing the keywords. There may be some system that would allow you to group synonyms so if people search equally for "bike" and "bicycle," the contributor only has to use one of those terms and the asset is returned on both "bicycle" and "bike" searches.

The original seed for this idea occurred way back when Arjé Cahn, from Hippo, told me of an experimental feature that used the terms a contributor used to search for related images and links as keyword suggestions for the asset he was working on. This feature idea takes it one step further by using the language of the audience, rather than the contributor. Another part of the inspiration comes from the "Best Bets" strategy where you train a search engine to recommend a certain set of assets when a specific keyword is used.