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Joel on Software

Too Many Ajax Calendars

by Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, February 08, 2006

For all the Ajax calendars that are appearing, it's a shame I can't find one which really meets my needs.

I tried out Trumba, Kiko, 30 Boxes, Yahoo! Calendar, and Spongecell. I couldn't recommend any of them.

My needs are probably weird, but not that weird. Here's what I need a calendar to be able to do:

  • Enter flights. Many of these calendars only lets me enter things that start on 15 minute intervals, and flights are just not scheduled that way. Many of these calendars insist I specify the duration, which I don't know -- I know when the flight lands, but not the duration.
  • Understand enough about time zones so I can enter a flight. Flights from New Zealand to Los Angeles arrive before they departed. It's confusing but it's true and if I can't enter them properly on my calendar I'm back to typing itineraries in Word.
  • Allow my assistant to enter appointments and see my schedule, although some things may be private. Many calendars have this feature.
  • Notify me in advance of a meeting using some reliable mechanism. Surprisingly many of the hot new Ajax calendars omitted this basic feature because they're web apps. At the very least, I'd like something to pop up on Windows, which means a downloadable widget, and an SMS message on my cell phone. Different meetings need different advance warnings ... I need to be notified 3 hours before a flight at Kennedy but 3 minutes before a meeting in my office.
  • Print out something reasonable that I can take with me before a trip listing my complete schedule for the trip. Some of my appointments have driving directions or complicated notes attached. I just want a list of where I need to be, when, and it's surprising that very few online calendars can handle this.

Listen, I know that everybody is saying that the cool thing to do these days is Ship Early and Often, but when you ship half-baked ajax calendars that don't do much and then get Scoble to go nuts about how great they are, well, you're going to have a lot of people like me checking it out and realizing that, for example, no thought whatsoever has gone into printing, which is fine, it's a 1.0 release, but you know what? I'm not going to look at 30 Boxes again -- I've spent enough time evaluating it. G'bye. I've talked about this before -- it's the Marimba phenomenon -- when you get premature publicity, lots of people check out your thing, and it's not done yet, so now most of the people that tried your thing think it's lame, and now you have two problems: your thing is lame and everybody knows it.

Why so many Ajax calendars? My theory is that about a year ago, there was a lot of buzz (possibly true, possibly false) about Google shipping a calendar, and everybody thought, oh gosh, it's gonna be really good, like Gmail, and then Yahoo! is going to be embarrassed again, and run out and buy the best Ajax calendar company they can find, just like they did with Oddpost, making those very funny kids millionaires overnight. So people aren't really building calendars to sell to people like me who need calendars: they're building calendar companies to sell to Yahoo!, which, for some reason, has given up on the old concept of hiring programmers to write code, and is going with this new age concept of buying entire companies on the hopes that they might contain a good programmer or two, which, by the way, is a sure sign of trouble for a technology company.

But anyway, how many Ajax Calendar Companies do you think Yahoo! is gonna buy? You don't build a product for one customer. It's just too risky.


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