The Calendar Problem

I have three calendars on my bulletin board in my office. One is a standard calendar that clearly shows the days with Sundays highlighted and holidays easy to pick out. The second is the school calendar. This one-page calendar shows the whole school year at a glance. If I can find the month we’re on, it’s easy to find the next school holiday, or to see when spring break is, or when the teachers start. The third calendar is a lunch calendar. Currently, it shows what’s for lunch in the high school cafeteria last May, but soon enough, it’ll be replaced with the current menu.

CalendarOn my whiteboard, there’s a large calendar showing all of the things that have to happen before school starts, and when they’re going to get done. This one changes every day.

In my Palm desktop software, all of the personal events and appointments are listed. By looking at my calendar, I know that Megan has a violin lesson today, and Emily has a dentist appointment next Thursday. This calendar syncs with my wife’s calendar, so I’m always up to date on the events happening in the household. By “syncs,” I mean she updates, manually, my Palm pilot. There isn’t a way for her to say, in her calendar program, “this is something John needs to know about. Send it over to his calendar.”
On the school district’s web site (, there’s a calendar on the right side that shows all of the school events happening this week. I can also find other school events happening throughout the year. On each school’s page, I can see the events for that school, along with the district events. These don’t include sporting events, though. The athletic calendar has more events on it than all of these other calendars combined. That’s over at Schedule Star.

If this isn’t all bad enough, sometimes we like to share resources. If I want to use the meeting room in the board office, I have to check the paper calendar hanging on the wall in the reception area at the board office. If a sixth grade teacher wants to take her class to the computer lab, she has to sign up on an electronic calendar on her building’s staff drive. She may sign up weeks in advance, only to find out at the last minute that some other teacher has removed her name and signed themselves up instead.

There has to be a better way to do all of this. Unfortunately, it’s not easy. Here are some of the challenges:

  • No Standard Format: Each calendar application uses its own system for storing calendar items. Some of these use flat files. Some use databases. Some get along with others pretty well. Other don’t. This problem will get worse before it gets better. Windows Vista is rumored to have a built-in calendar application which will not share data with Microsoft Outlook. Outlook, of course, assumes that the entire world uses Outlook, and gets very crabby if it has to talk to something else.
  • Too Much Information: If I could put all of the stuff I listed above into a single calendar, it would be unusable. I generally don’t care that there’s a freshman girls’ soccer game this afternoon in Westlake. I also don’t care that Mrs. Harris’s English class will be in the library on Friday and Monday during third period. There will have to be a way to only show the things I care about. That will have to be customizable for each person who uses the calendar.
  • Public vs Private: I need to know that my wife has a Creative Memories event at our house on Friday evening. She needs to know that, too. But that information doesn’t need to be on the school web site. The calendars have to integrate and synchronize without propogating all of the data everywhere. In some cases, we have to know that other people have something scheduled during a specific time, without necessarily knowing what that thing is.
  • Everything Changes: Our Parent-School Organization does a wonderful job each year of producing a “PSO Calendar” that is mailed to every student’s home each August. It has all of the school events for the year. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting a CSV file (or maybe an iCal file, see “no standard format,” above) that contains all of those events. People can import those events into their PDAs and personal calendars. But when Central School’s open house gets rescheduled, they’re not going to know. It’s not good enough to just import the events, because they’re just a snapshot of the schedule as it exists today.

I don’t know that we can solve all of the problems. Actually, I’m not sure we can solve any of the problems. But it’s definitely on the list of things to work on this year.


Author: John Schinker

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