Coordinating times for meetings or calls is one of the most persistent headaches, and one that wastes time and energy. The best strategy is the following:
This is theory, but in practice all sorts of wrinkles come up, and even in the best case the organizer is left leafing through a chain of emails trying to figure out who can make what times.
Invy is a sleek looking and easy to use iPhone app that is designed a mobile-first solution to this problem, or at least most of it. (Note that there have been a long series of other solutions, like Outlook, but leave that to one side).
The organizer has to use the Invy app, but the others do not: they can be contacted via email that links to the Invy website, where they can do their part of the dance.
Here’s the landing page on the iPhone:
I’ve created a Invy with two possible times to another of my email addresses to test, one not registered with Invy. I acted as both sides of the negotiation, turning down one time and selecting the other, and tried the chat: discussion is essential in these cases if you want to avoid email. At the end, on the iPhone side as the organizer, I picked the final time.
Here’s the web UI:
Invy added the event to the calendar on my phone automatically, after I — as organizer — selected the time/date for the meeting. I also received another email as the invitee with an .ics calendar file as an attachment, so invitees without Invy could import that to their calendars.
It all worked perfectly, aside from some minor UI issues. For example, when presented with just a single option for a meeting, it wasn’t clear how to say no. Turns out you have to agree to the time/date by clicking on a checkmark, and then unchecking it. Otherwise, smooth.
I would like to see a slight enlarging of the use case, if only for those with Invy installed. If I have proposed a variety of dates for a pending Invy I’ve organized, or if I have said that some time/dates are possible in an Invy I have received from another user, I’d like those to appear on my calendar as being ‘penciled in’. I use the convention of putting a question mark at the end of the event’s title, like ‘Dinner with Carlos?’, as a way to indicate penciled appointments. This would help me avoid booking something in one of those penciled spots while the Invy negotiations were still in process.
Also, there is no way as yet to indicate any preference across various time/dates, which is very common in coordinating meetings. Yes, a lot of that could be embedded in the chat, but a simple way to click on ‘better, good, worse’ on each might be helpful.
At any rate, leaving that elaboration aside, Invy is great, and I will be using it immediately. I am involved in a series of interviews for a project, where I am trying to schedule times with a long and growing list of brainiacs in the social business field, all of whom are just as busy as I am. This will help me immensely, although it’s a use case where the penciling feature would be extremely helpful, so I can avoid double bookings.
ReCraft Your Calender: DiaCarta
Unlike any other planner, Diacarta™ allows you to create a picture of your day. It’s easy. Start with a clock and add an icon for each thing you need to get done.
I will take another look when 2.0 comes out, with syncing. I like the idea of seeing what shape a day has at a glance, pictorially.
Live mythically, I always say, and what better than a cave painting to tell you what to do?
I saw a mention about Alarms, a new Mac OS X take on calendars.
The UX is based on a bell-shaped toolbar icon, which opens a top-of-screen calendar when clicked, pushing down and graying out other running apps:
The app presents a left to right scrolling arrangement of hours. You can click anywhere and create an event, and at the time that the time for that event reaches ‘Now’ (as time passes the hours move to the left), an alarm goes off. This includes a blinking display of the alarm icon, and various tones can be selected too.Note that selecting a date on the calendar to the right allows other days to be displayed, and then the same calendar UI is presented but for that date.
An alarm can be created by dragging a URL to the icon, which opens the calendar display. You can then drop the URL on the time that you’d like to do something, like responding to an email (after grabbing the email URL), or writing a post (after drag-and-dropping the piece’s URL). I’ve even grabbed images and dragged them to the tool.
When the alarm goes off, the display pops a small display, and the URL can be accessed, or the alarm checked.
There is a keystroke setting to snooze tasks, and one for opening/closing the alarms calendar.
There is a deceptively important integration with iCal:
My calendaring is all over the place right now. I use Google Calendar for scheduled events, like calls and meetings, and until recently I used Remember The Milk to track larger scale activities, but that app’s biggest benefit is integration with Gmail and it breaks every time Google updates the tool. That makes it pathologically annoying.
I have been experimenting with CRM capabilities of some of the products reviewed in the Streams In Business research project (which I am finishing up this week, I swear!). But the jury is out on that larger scale coordination.
On the finer grained, moment-to-moment task management, Alarms is appealing. It’s faster than writing a note to yourself, and much faster than creating an event in iCal. It’s conceivable that it might even take over the more traditional schedule-a-telcon sort of task, but I think to edge into that region it would have to integrate email invitations, and a number of other features. If the developers behind Alarms could do that, and still keep it small and simple, it would be a real winner.
Google should try to build social products based on calendaring and coordination. Instead of chasing Facebook in the social gossip and grooming end of the pool, why not come down on the end of sociality most amenable to engineering: tasks, events, meetings/meetups, and so on. This is also the part closest to social business, note.
I have been heads down on the Streams In Business research project (formerly ‘Microstreams In Business’) and working like a madman to collate information about the growing list of products that I am investigating. The goal of the project is review applications designed to support modern collaboration and coordination of business activities based on the streaming metaphor popularized by Twitter and other well-known social networking applications. I have reviewed over 10 applications so far, including IBM Signals, Yammer, Huddle, Socialcast, Bantam Live, Coffee Bean Technology, and others. (For more background information, see www.stoweboyd.com/tagged/mib.)
The research will be captured in a report, ‘Streams In Business’ that I hope to publish by the end of September. I am also scheduling some free webinars on the findings in October. If you would like to register for more information about the report or the webinars, please register here.
I have been delayed by at least a month in the research work because of family issues this summer, but I am also stumbling across new entrants in this field every day, it seems. In just the past few days I have discovered that my old friend, Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, is the chairman of a new stream application start-up called Podio, based in Copenhagen. I also had a demo of a Slovenian start-up’s product called Flowr the other day, and was introduced to the founders of a very interesting and innovative tool called Cohuman. I have been generally amazed at the innovation going on.
Cohuman has maximized the idea that tasks are the center of the new world of work.
The central element in their tool’s presentation are panels containing information of various types, like recent activity, profiles, projects, or tasks. These panels slide to the right as others are added.
I want to draw your attention to a single feature of Cohuman, task prioritization. In the image below you can see the tasks associated with the project ‘CoHuman Discussions’. at the right on each task there is a numeric value indicating the level of priority for the tasks. As you can see, the tasks are ordered by those figures.
The priority is calculated using a formula that tracks how tasks are dependent on each other, and other factors.
Here you see me blocking ‘invite team members to AdjectiveNoun’ with ‘overall work plan’, and that leads to a higher priority for ‘overall work plan’.
Because task dependencies can track across different projects, prioritization can be based on information that is not visible to the person intended to perform a task. This prioritization is an emergent property of the network of tasks and their relations to each other based on blocking, as well as direct actions taken by users. I can, for example, manually reorder tasks within a project, which also impacts the priority weighting.
I don’t have deep experience using CoHuman with dozens of projects and dozens of users, but I have a sense that the task priority features could become a major benefit to those user groups that learned how to exploit that feature set. I have often said ‘I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.’ That principle — of networked value shared by those in the group, commonly called the ‘network effect’ — underlies what makes this distributed task priority scheme so powerful. As each member of the group adds small gestures about task dependencies, or people’s assertions about task importance, the overall information about all tasks in the system gets richer.
CoHuman will be profiled in the report, and I am planning a webinar on the topic of tasks and coordination, examining how the many products support this vital aspect of work in groups.
Dan Farber’s scoop about LinkedIn’s plans to adapt to the new world that Facebook is making is almost anticlimatic:
[from � LinkedIn to open up to developers | Between the Lines | ZDNet.com by Dan Farber]
I talked to LinkedIn founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman on Friday at the Supernova 2007 conference about Facebook’s rapid growth and potential incursion into his territory. He told me that over next 9 months LinkedIn would deliver APIs for developers, ostensibly to make it more of platform like Facebook, and create a way for users who spend more time socially in Facebook to get LlinkedIn notifications.
One half of that message is just sensible: if you have a huge social network, why not allow others to build on top of it? The second half almost suggests conceding leadership to Facebook, as if Facebook is the really social social network, while Linkedin is some more functional thing that just so happens to work based on social relationships. Which is really what I have always thought was wrong with LinkedIn: it’s a bunch of business processes that are partially automated that rely on a large database of people’s relationships. It is, however, not the sort of place where you make or foster relationships. So, in a way, Reid is conceding nothing, since what Facebook is doing is intensely social, not just leveraging a big dataset of contacts.
In a similar fashion, Plaxo’s Ben Golub and I spoke the other day, and the ‘contact unmanagement’ company has released a beta of Plaxo 3.0: a real category shift, in many ways. Along with a long roster of synchronization options (like Google Calendar, Mac OS X Address Book and Calendar, Outlook, and especially, LinkedIn, which represents a whole new angle: syncing social networks (to be expanded in another post)), Golub and company have added a ‘Pulse’ feature that plants the product over in the camp of flow apps, like Twitter, Jaiku, and Facebook.
Pulse pulls new media traffic from your Plaxo contacts: photos from Flickr, blog updates, address modifications, and so on. I have already requested some kind of desktop tool (like Twitterific) for Pulse.
I find the Plaxo sync stuff sort of awkward, but that’s because I have my calendars and contacts spread out in a very unique way. I use Google Calendar as my actual calendar, and only sync to the Mac OS X iCal so I can sync to my phone. And I have addresses all over, primarily because I can’t sync between my Mac Address app and Google. If Plaxo fixes that I would be happy, but the Google address sync is still planned for the future.
I see Plaxo breaking into two twinned parts: synchronization of various sorts of coordinative data caught up in calendars, address books and to-do lists (yawn… useful, but so twentieth century), and a new (less boring) collection of services that are traffic-and-flow based.
Pulse is another run at the Nerdvana meme I have been pursuing for a long, long time. The basic notion of Nerdvana is that we want to have updates of all sorts from our contacts collated into a buddylist representation, which is where Golub tells be Plaxo is headed. I could see Brian Solis’ online presence, most recent status message, last five blog posts, and recent Flickr pictures, but linked to the buddylist icon for Brian.
[I can’t tell you how many IM companies I have have suggested this too, over the years, by the way. But again, we have to look to the upstarts to do the breakthroughs, I guess.]
If Plaxo heads this way, my recommendation will be to break Pulse out as a separate application, one that relies on data managed within the Plaxo platform, but sylistically and operationally separate. It has nothing to do with sync of data, and everything to do with media traffic flowing through personal relationships.
Both Plaxo and LinkedIn seem to be making serious business model adjustments, based on the new world.