Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Full Transcript of Dana Gardner's BriefingsDirect Podcast on Calendar Interoperability with Scott Mace

Transcript of BriefingsDirect[TM] podcast with Dana Gardner, recorded Sept. 19, 2006.

Listen to the podcast here.

Dana Gardner:
Hi, this is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions and you're listening to yet another edition of BriefingsDirect. Today, an overview discussion on calendar interoperability and how open calendars are increasing productivity. Joining us is Scott Mace, editor of Calendar Swamp. Welcome to the show again, Scott.

Scott Mace: Hi, Dana.

Gardner:
You are an aficionado and an expert looking into the issues around calendar and calendar interoperability.

Mace: Yes, I have used a whole bunch of them but I’m mostly interested in getting them all to talk to each other.

Gardner: Right. Well, let’s just dive in and talk about a couple of things on a level-set basis happening in the industry, such the pending drop of the final version of Microsoft Office 2007 -- about three four months from now. People are monkeying around with the betas, developers are getting used to what they can do with their tool set and Office 2007 and the burgeoning chorus of Microsoft Live products. Why don’t you give us a quick overview and a catch-up on the Microsoft stuff?

Mace:
Well, Microsoft has made progress on iCalendar support, which will be very useful for getting the information in and out of Office 2007. As you know, the current version of Office hasn’t always been very friendly as far as getting your calendar data out to some other format. So, this support is going to be very solid.

The only challenge facing Microsoft is that the bar is moving. It has not stayed still while they have been finishing Office 2007. The new standard to watch is called CalDAV, which is an iCalendar extension that kind of makes iCalendar into a more of a service -- a Web service, if you will. And it’s easier to publish and subscribe to, as opposed to just import and export.

Gardner:
What do you mean by publish and subscribe? How does that relate to interoperability in calendars?

Mace:
The same way that you can subscribe to an RSS feed today -- such as this podcast -- you will soon be able to subscribe to a particular calendar. There is a mechanism to do this in iCalendar but it’s often not fully integrated, and so what you end up with is that you pull down an iCalendar file and it comes to you as a file. You don’t have a sense of flow.

If a new event is added, you might have to go pull it down again. In a way, CalDAV makes it a more "pushy" kind of phenomenon. It’s a way of more fully automating and integrating the flow of calendar information back and forth, especially when we start talking about specialized extensions like free-busy information. CalDAV is really the cutting-edge, and we are seeing that become a focus of great interest.

Gardner: Who is behind this particular standard? Is this a neutral third-party body? How does this standard become ushered into the mainstream?

Mace: The group that’s championing it is called the Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium, or CalConnect for short. Dave Thewlis is the executive director. I recently interviewed him at my Opening Move podcast over at www.gigavox.com, and there you have a variety of interesting participants. Most recently, Apple Computer joined CalConnect and announced that their Leopard server would include a full implementation -- in open source -- of CalDAV. So, they are promising to do an iCal server that will be open source that will support CalDAV fully.

Gardner: Just for the edification of our listeners, Leopard is the next version of the OS X Macintosh operating system that’s due, I believe, in April of 2007.

Mace:
That sounds right.

Gardner: As an OS X user myself, I am somewhat familiar with calendar subscription and publishing. In fact, my wife and I trade calendars; I can see her calendar and she can see mine, because we both subscribe to each other’s. We can also get the Red Sox calendar, which you know has game times, which is kind of neat -- and also U.S. holidays, which get embedded into your calendar. So, there is some of this already going on. Now, what’s going on within OS X in this calendar? Is that the same as the standard-based iCal, or is that something that Apple did on it’s own?

Mace:
No, Apple is implementing the standard as currently defined by CalConnect. We have work to do on other clients to support CalDAV. One of the most famous clients that’s supposed to support CalDAV out of the box is the long-awaited Chandler client from the Open Software Application Foundation, which is Mitch Kapor’s project to reinvent the personal information manager (PIM).

Gardner: So, now back to Microsoft and Office 2007. With the Outlook client within Office 2007, we’re going to see iCalendar supported, but not CalDAV. Is that right?

Mace: Not at first -- at least as far as I can tell. We may see some support forced in Microsoft Exchange. It seems like whenever Microsoft can go no further, they at least begin to throw support for such things into Exchange, which is fine if you are a corporate customer and an Exchange shop. As far as the more standalone Outlook client, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes some amount of time for Microsoft to support iCalendar. It's still the case that they support some of these standards somewhat grudgingly and somewhat later in the game than others, and now iCalendar is a good example.

Gardner: I certainly would find the use of iCalendar in Outlook productive because there are folks that I work with who are using Outlook -- that’s your calendar -- and I am using Mac OS X, and, as I said, I can subscribe to my wife’s calendar because she is an OS X user too. But when it comes to some of my contract workers and other friends, I can’t do that. I think that will be an important productivity boost if we could get that level of interoperability. Or am I overstating the case?

Mace: No, I think you are stating it correctly. Here is the other problem: Microsoft is not as focused anymore on following Apple’s lead on every little thing. I think you know this. The participant that needs to embrace some of these standards more fully is Google. I’ve heard it said by various knowledgeable people that if Google supported CalDAV in their calendar tomorrow, you’d very quickly see a response from Microsoft -- at least a commitment or a statement of direction -- because they’re simply so much more competitive with Google on the whole Office suite.

I believe that it probably would be less challenging for someone like Google to support CalDAV than for Microsoft, just because they don’t have all that legacy to pull behind them. But so far, Google has not committed to supporting CalDAV. I recently for the first time met Carl Sjogreen who runs Google Calendar and I asked him if they were going to join CalConnect and support CalDAV, and he was noncommittal. So, they have a lot of different things on their plate and won't get around to all of them, but I think that would be the ultimate leverage on Microsoft -- for Google to embrace it.

Gardner: Okay, I suppose another pivot point in terms of leverage with Microsoft -- in terms of their going to more standards -- would be from the other big player in enterprise messaging and calendar, and that would be IBM Lotus with Sametime and Notes/Domino. What’s the status of what IBM is doing vis-à-vis calendar?

Mace:
IBM is a participant in CalConnect and, unless I am mistaken, they were involved in the interoperability demonstration this summer, where a variety of different vendors demonstrated interoperable calendar free-busy information between various calendars. I believe that the IBM Lotus offering was one of those participants. So, they are staying up with the standards.

Gardner:
I suppose another interesting aspect of Sametime and Notes is the increased usage of RCP, the Rich Client Platform -- the Eclipse Foundation project -- as a basis for more and more of their client architecture. Does that have a relationship to calendar interoperability that you are aware of?

Mace:
Well, it’s interesting. I went to OSCON this summer and it wasn’t clear to me whether Eclipse was going to embrace within some their own projects any of the calendaring standards, or whether perhaps there would be some further effort at Eclipse. I think maybe there is interest there, and the Eclipse folks are watching this, but right now I haven’t heard vis-à-vis RCP anything about calendar support per se.

Gardner: It certainly sounds like a powerful and interesting thing to bring a publish-and-subscribe calendar function into a rich client standard. Even if it doesn’t become your main PIM, it could be something that would be of value, as well as an embedded RSS capability into some of these clients. Do you agree with that?

Mace:
Yes, and the thing is, if people don’t go whole-hog for standard support, what they will sometimes do is create a plug-in. I don’t know if that exists yet, but I could speculate that there could be an Eclipse plug-in that supports the Google Calendar API. This wouldn’t be the hardest thing in the world to build, and you are seeing a lot of effort and lot of activity around standards like the Google Calendar API, which is it’s own de-facto standard. It reaches out into lots of different communities: the Java community, the .NET community. Those kinds of things are going to be built every day.

Gardner:
So to look at the current landscape a little, we’ve got IBM and Apple in the CalDAV camp; we’ve got Google apparently assessing this, and we have Microsoft as recalcitrant in terms of adoption on a leading-edge basis. It seems, though, that Google is the important player. Is that how you view it?

Mace: That’s how I view it. But Google still has a lot of other things on its plate. Again, I talked to Carl Sjogreen at Google, and one of the things that they are most focused on is creating a great user experience for groups of people trying to arrange get-togethers. And so, this might mean -- I am guessing -- maybe half a dozen or a dozen people trying to coordinate a calendar, which is one particular kind of calendar interoperability problem.

I think, knowing what I know about Google and the whole social dynamic that it’s been responsible for, I can see very well that they might be focused on that. My particular focus tends to be on two people -- or bilateral kinds of calendar communication -- where you might really just want to have everything very closely in synchronization. The problem of getting a dozen people in the same place at the same time -- it’s a different problem. So, because Google is trying to solve the problems that they see their users having, they may not get around to solving these other problems until later. It’s just a prioritization issue, and even at Google they have to prioritize.

Gardner: When we last spoke, Scott -- probably three or four months ago, when we did a podcast on some of these issues -- we were both intrigued by the prospect of Google becoming a focal point for calendar interoperability. They might be able to draw inferences from what people do with their calendars in order to augment their existing business model around contextual advertisements. Do you still think that they are heading in that direction, and wouldn’t their being somewhat neutral vis-à-vis the standards help them toward that goal?

Mace:
Well, I think they are heading in that direction. Whether they are making the kind of progress that people expected to make by now is an open question. There’s certainly lot of developer interest around this. Every day I see something interesting. There has been a recent thread about implementing the Google Calendar API on pocket PCs, which really gets my interest, but this isn’t quite a panacea because what they are really trying to do is just properly display Google Calendar on their device.

Once you have got something like that, then people start trying to make it sync with what’s already on the device. So, there is lots of developer interest and more so, with the Google community than Yahoo! or any of the other online calendars. I have gotten some flak for not talking about other online calendars, but they are all good. It's really just a question of who’s got the momentum in terms of the developer interest -- how many developers are poking around with any particular calendar.

Gardner:
It seems to me there might be some parallel here between what went on in the instant messaging space, where we had a lot of different companies with unique instant messaging clients, and perhaps their own service. But it wasn't until Jabber came along, and people had to eventually go in with that [as an interoperability standard]. Do you see a similar path or progression with calendar interoperability?

Mace: I don’t know. I think there are different characteristics. For example, the way Apple has come out with such a wonderfully elegant solution early on. In a way, I think they outdid what AIM [AOL Instant Messenger] was able to do.

I mean, iCalendar on the Mac is just a truly wonderful solution. The problem is, it hasn’t been openly adopted. I think that we also don’t have the kind of phenomenon in calendaring that we did with Jabber. A lot of people are wondering just how long it really is going to take, because it's already been several years. I’m still waiting for something to come out that’s as viral as Jabber and that just completely starts to spread. You can find Jabber on all sorts of devices.

That’s still not the case with any open source or open standards type of calendar. I also would like to throw a rock back at the mobile phone people, who really have been behind the curve here. If you manage to get any data out of your mobile phone calendar, it's probably going to be in vCal, which is essentially an extinct format at this point. You may be able to pull it into something else but it’s really the lowest common possible denominator of calendar interoperability.

Gardner: I've solved that problem. I stopped using the calendar and address book in my mobile phone altogether, and I usually take my iPod with me wherever I go. So, I have my iPod in one pocket and my cell phone in the other. And whenever I want to look for my calendar or my addresses or phone numbers, I use my iPod, which of course, syncs back to iCal and the address book on OS X. Then I simply punch in the number on the cell phone. Now, I'm using wet-ware -- or sneaker-ware or thumb-ware, whatever you want to call it -- to go from my iPod to my cell phone, but it’s the best solution.

Mace:
Yeah, I think that is a great solution for a lot of people. Also there are just people who are going to use a browser. For them, any browser-based online calendar will do. They often don’t care that when they are away from the Internet, their calendar is something they have to print out or remember -- whatever. There are still a lot of people in the final analysis who will want it in the palm of their hand, even in an offline mode. I’m just going to continue to probe and press the industry for solutions that can work in every possible situation. So, really I deal with that as a no-compromise solution.

Gardner:
Speaking of mobile, what about what Dave Winer has done with his Web content readability benefit on mobile devices? Does that have any impact on someone who has got a Web-based calendar? Would they be able to use his approach to reading that on a mobile device?

Mace:
You know, I don’t think so. I haven’t read anything about what he is doing that has any impact on calendaring. It sounds like great technology, though.

Gardner:
It might be an interesting thing to look into. Going back to Google, I recently began receiving emails from people using Google Calendar, and the email consists of nothing but an attachment or two that look like little hash boxes but that end up automatically populating my OS X calendar with events that were taken out of a Google Calendar. Is it because of iCal? What is allowing this to happen, and what is going on here?

Mace:
Yeah, there is some iCalendar support. It’s very encouraging to hear that people are using it. It doesn’t synchronize anything necessarily, and I wonder what happens if that same person then sends you an email or to change the time of that appointment. You might end up with two different appointments in your iCal and have to remember to delete the first one you got. But, every little bit helps.

I mean, what we are all trying to get away from is the kind of wet-ware, where you just get an email and you have to laboriously cut and paste from that email into your calendar. So, any kind of structure helps. It’s not that I begrudge the things that are low-structured. It’s just that I think we can do better. And it’s also a cultural thing when somebody gets something like that and it’s an attachment. How acclimated are people to knowing what to do with that? I think on the Mac, people are more acclimated to it. I work with a learning curve, because I am sure when people first get Outlook 12 [part of Office 2007], they don’t quite know what that is, and have to learn how to deal with it.

Gardner: Now, let's look toward the opportunity for doing commerce and new business activities through this calendar interoperability function. I am thinking about what Skype, as a division of eBay, has been doing with the equivalent of Yellow Pages and click-to-talk when it comes to ecommerce, or mobile commerce, or looking for new retail types of commerce.

It certainly seems to me that having a calendar function is an important element within this move toward automated commerce -- one that joins the element of the temporal, of the time and space, to sort of a virtual commerce activity online. And it would seem to me that people like Amazon, eBay and Yahoo!, among others, would be significantly advantaged in a progression toward this vision, if there was this level of calendar interoperability. Therefore, they should be somewhat of an impetus or force to make this happen sooner. Why is it that folks like Yahoo!, Apple, Amazon, and eBay are not moving the big players like the Googles and Microsoft on calendar interoperability?

Mace: Well, Yahoo did make a move. They bought Upcoming.org, which does provide this sort of public-facing calendar service that you are talking about. And there is a player, which has not been acquired yet, and as far as I know is not for sale. It is EVDB, which provides the Eventful service.

I had a nice chat this summer with Brian Dear, who runs that. They’ve cracked the code for TicketMaster, so all the TicketMaster events have been exposed as calendar objects within the Eventful Service. I think that’s the beginning of something that can be much, much bigger. I totally agree that some of the players involved haven’t really stepped up to the bar. I can see Amazon doing lots of interesting things with calendar information, but so far I don’t see any movement there. eBay -- I have no real idea what their consciousness level is about calendaring, but Yahoo certainly gets it. I think eventually, probably somebody is going to snap up EVDB and then that will probably represent some of the cutting-edge on this.

Gardner: The migration path for this could be on local commerce. For example, it’s nice that I can go and locate a pizza parlor in my neighborhood and I can click on a button and get into a VOIP discussion with them to order a pizza. What I’d really like to do is click on an icon that would get me into the calendar of a plumber or a landscaper, or even a doctor or a veterinarian, so that I can shop and do errands. If someone can take my dog for a haircut next Wednesday at 2 p.m., when I am available, and there are three vets in town -- the one that’s open to me on my time gets the business. I know that’s a little bit of a pie-in-the-sky idea, but the technology certainly seems capable of that. On a local level, it could it be really a much more automated way for local small businesses to generate additional sales.

Mace:
Sure, and when you think about all the junk mail you get saying, "Come to our sale for one week only," or, "This coupon expires on such and such date," that information ought to be able to be fed right into a calendar. We have to worry about calendar spam, of course, so that’s something to be thinking about. But why shouldn’t the consumer of this information, if they so desire, have all that flow right into their calendar in the appropriate way, instead of forgetting about it.

Gardner:
Not to mention the travel industry -- when it comes times to be booking things while you are on the road, another interesting aspect of time-oriented commerce.

Mace:
Yeah. Did you notice -- I think the company was called FareChaser -- and what they do is they’ll predict when the sale for particular sites can be lowest based on a bunch of information they collect. And so that would enable people not only to get the best price, but to know when to get that best price. It’s kind of fascinating.

Gardner:
I think I may have stumbled upon an interesting acronym here, Scott. When I said, "time-oriented commerce" -- well that comes out to “TOC.” So maybe we could also do “TIC,” which could be "the interoperable calendar, " which would give us TIC TOC. What do you think?

Mace:
Okay. Sure.

Gardner: Sorry. All right, Scott, I appreciate your time and your depth of knowledge and for updating us on calendar interoperability. And I certainly hope that more of the capital “I” in interoperability becomes apparent among these major players. And if not, then that some of these other smaller players that you mentioned start to increase the adoption of these standards.

Mace:
Well, tell you what. When Office 2007 ships and I install it, we’ll arrange one of our future phone calls by spinning calendar objects back and forth rather than emails.

Gardner: That will be a very nice thing. Okay, we have been talking with Scott Mace, the editor of Calendar Swamp and an expert on calendar interoperability and standards. You can find out more information on Scott and his services at www.calendarswamp.com. You have been listening to BriefingsDirect. I'm Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks so much for listening.

Listen to the podcast here.


Transcript of Dana Gardner’s BriefingsDirect podcast on calendar interoperability. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2006. All rights reserved.