Essays on Technology and Culture

Antisocial Calendaring

There’s been a wave of new iOS calendar applications that promise to make calendaring “social,” showing you who you’ll be meeting, where you’ll be meeting, and do it all by integrating with your assorted social networks, primarily Facebook and LinkedIn. I gave three of these apps a try, though by “try,” I mean I installed them and deleted them within the space of five minutes. The first, Tempo lost me the minute I saw it had a reservation system, akin to e-mail app sensation Mailbox. Perhaps I’m a little old-fashioned, but I don’t like waiting longer than the download process to use an app. If your app isn’t ready to handle the load of new users, your app isn’t ready, period.

The second app, Sunrise, lasted long enough for me to sign into it with my Facebook account, only to discover that it didn’t integrate with the native iOS calendar, only with Google Calendar. While I’m wary of using Facebook to sign into anything, not being able to view the pre-existing calendar events on my own phone was a deal breaker. Deleted. A similar app, UpTo, had the same problem. Deleted.

After three application failures in a row, I backed up and rethought the whole thing. Why the hell does my calendar have to be “social” anyway? There may be some value to this in a business environment where you have specific meetings with specific people, but that’s what the event name and notes fields are for, yes? “Meeting with Bob from Sales” is enough information for me. I don’t need a picture of Bob, the ability to view his LinkedIn profile, or anything beyond knowing when the hell I’m meeting with him and why. Having a calendar access my social networks to view calendar events is useful to a point, but even with the Facebook integration in iOS and OS X, I find myself just manually adding the events I’m going to a calendar rather than rely on the global Facebook Events calendar, but then again, I get a large number of event invitations on Facebook.

This takes a lot of gonads to say, especially since I work for a social network, but not everything needs to be “social”. Back when I was exploring task managers in the days before had sync, I tried out Wunderkit, a task manager that was also its own social network. The idea boggled my mind. Whose task list am I going to follow? Why do I need to follow it? At work, we use Trello to manage projects and tasks for our various teams. It’s invite-only, and while I’m not exactly fond of it, Trello is clearly designed to be a group task service. It’s networked, but it’s a-social. There’s value in services like Trello, Campfire, etc., for small organizations to get things done, but they work best as an overview of what’s on the team’s plate. It’s up to the individual to manage their own tasks at the individual level.

Ultimately, I’m a believer in software that does one thing really well. To wrench this back to calendars for a moment, the only calendaring app that wedges in secondary functionality I’ve seen that remotely compels is Horizon, which integrates a weather forecast. But, my phone has a perfectly reasonable weather application that is literally a gesture away. It’s not hard, and I’m not pressed enough for time, that I can’t pull down the Notification Center and see if the weather is going to be crap.

“Social” features are an easy way to differentiate your app from the mass of similar apps in your class. There’s only so many ways you can cleverly display a calendar, show tasks, read e-mail, et cetera. Differentiation is hard. Facebook integration is easy. [1] When it comes to calendars, the one that still stands above the rest is Fantastical. Why? Because it is extremely easy to put something into it, and extremely easy to get something out of it. Launch the app, click the plus symbol, and type out a simple phrase: “Meeting with Bob in Sales at 2PM next Thursday,” for example. Fantastical knows how to parse that, and makes it easy to add it. Boom. Done. No muss, no fuss, no Facebook, and no waiting in line. If someone can find a way to make calendaring better than that, I’d like to see it. Really. Just a tip: making it “social” isn’t going to do it.

  1. Well, I’ve never used the Facebook API, but I’m sure it’s easier to code for it than it is to come up with a new, groundbreaking feature.  ↩