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Hypergene MediaBlog » iCal has news delivery implications

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Monday, 14 Oct 2002

iCal has news delivery implications

We’ve always been a big fan of the events calendar on SciFi.com. Not because we are Stargate: SG-1 junkies, but because we thought it was a good example of building community as well as editorial content getting better through user participation. Craig E. Engler, a general manager at SciFi.com, told us that one-quarter of all events on the calendar are submitted by their fans. “They usually send us things that we might otherwise miss on our own, so it balances our work nicely,” Engler wrote in an email.

Calendar sharing and collaboration is not a new concept to the Internet. There several tools out there that do it well, such as Groove, Yahoo! and MeetingMaker. However, we just want one app, such as Apple’s iCal, that allows us to publish and subscribe to various calendars for business, home and other uses.

As we were testing Apple’s iCal for the first time this weekend, we were reminded of the potential of delivering news and information via a calendar. After installing iCal, we subscribed to a bunch of calendars on Apple’s site and on the iCalShare blog. That was simple, straightforward. Within a matter of minutes, we had several sports team calendars, as well as new Movie and DVD release calendars imported into iCal.

Unfortunately, these calendars are not information rich. The DVD feed, for example, had no description of the film in the event “notes” field. The “notes” field is an ideal container for news and information. For films or DVDs, the notes field could contain a capsule review, cast info, showtimes, tickets info, rental availability and purchase information.

On a sports calendar, such as a the Detroit Red Wings, you could have iCal refresh the content daily, updating old events with the game results, as well as adding story links, box scores and non-game Red Wings events (see client and web example). The calendar we downloaded was adequate — in two seconds we imported the 82-game schedule. But it’s a one-time subscription of commodity data. Calendars are an excellent opportunity for media organizations (and businesses) to provide news and get closer to their customers.

Our advice to news media:

  • News you can use: It puts news into an critical desktop application that’s part of a consumer’s everyday use.
  • Mobile lifestyle: iCal will supports syncing to iPods and Palm PDAs. This allows the calendar data (containing your news) to stay close to the consumer at all times. On cell phones, or other net-connected portable devices, we can see something like this be used as a “just-in-time” information service.
  • Adopt standards: What’s nice about iCal is that the published calendars are written in iCalendar (spec) — a proposed Internet standard for exchanging calendar data. Calendar applications such as Ximian’s Evolution for Linux, and the current release of Mozilla Calendar. Microsoft Outlook doesn’t seem to support subscribing to remote calendars (yes), but Outlook can import these calendars locally.
  • Database it: This type of publishing is only available to those who have database publishing tools. There are many calendars produced by media organizations that exist online only as static HTML. That will have to change if you want to easily produce calendars of this variety.
  • Prepare for collaboration: What’s noticeably from missing from the iCal experience is that the calendar-sharing follows a broadcast model. One person can publish, many can subscribe. But we can envision Apple offering a collaborative calendaring component in the next rev, where multiple users can contribute and subscribe to the same calendar. News media should prepare for their audience’s desire to participate. There are always going to be events that your audience knows about that you do not. Develop a mechanism for them to participate. Engler told us that SciFi.com has a calendar editor, so this person fact checks and edits user submissions, then posts them to the web.
  • Add value: Movies releases, sports team schedules, etc. are information commodities. If the New York Times is going to offer a movie calendar, it’s needs to have a unique value prop to the consumer — either reviews, local showtimes, or supreme accuracy. Whatever it may be, be sure that you’ve added value.
  • Where to start: Almost every local newspaper produces several calendars — weekend guides, business events, sports on TV — you name it. Many of these papers even offer email newsletters containing similar data. Pick one of these calendars and begin offering an iCal subscription, such as a top — 10 weekend events calendar. If your calendar information is databased, this should be relatively easy to export. Go get yourself an advertiser to sponsor it and see what happens.

Related : There is a nice PHP iCal project going at SourceForge.

Posted on Oct 14, 2002 | 7:05 pm EST
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