30 Boxes and Web Calendars

Blogger guru Om says 30 Boxes "will be to calendars what GMail was to Email." While it is undoubtedly a very cool app, it still has a long way to go. Aside from all the Web 2.0 goodies, 30 Boxes absolute best feature is the One Box. Instead of filling out a bunch of different form values, I just write, 'drinks with the gang, friday, 1700-1900' and the parser figures out the rest. But to truly succeed, the online app needs to conquer the Achilles heal of calendaring: interoperability. For me, calendaring is the main area of personal productivity that computers, software, and the Internet have been absolutely terrible at coming up with easy-to-use, open, flexible, and interoperable tools. I mean, why do so many of us still resort to paper agendas or keeping dates in your head, when almost everything else in our lives has become completely digitized? The answer is probably open standards. There actually have been several open standards for calendaring, and I've been following them for the better part of a decade. While calendaring is a tricky beast to create standards for, the main problem has not been with the standards themselves, but for the support for them. The support for standards like xCal and iCalendar has been poor among leading PIM software, but particularly flaky in the one calendar program every Windows user has: Outlook. Just getting one's own different calendars (laptop, phone, PDA) to sync with each other is hard enough, never mind the holy grail of greif-free syncing among co-workers.

I think the first breakthough in the new calendaring movement came with the release of Apple's iCal. Unlike Microsoft, Apple actually does standards right most of the time (instead of believing it can create its own de facto standards through market dominance). The Web has also grown up in the last five years and new dynamic tools (the AJAX world of Web 2.0) have led to a mini-explosion in online calendar apps.

The most promising (and most 'buzzed') of these seems to be 30 Boxes, which launched in Beta yesterday. I won't give a full review, except to say it is both promising and crippled by the same interoperability problem that has dogged calendar apps since the dawn of time. While it is full of Web 2.0 goodness (AJAX, tags, RSS, social relationships, etc), it cannot fully sync with other calendar apps. While I can subscribe to my online calendar from my desktop calendar app (Mozilla Calendar), I can't sync back the other way. (30 Boxes also makes the Mac-centric mistake of believing that iCal is an Apple-only standard, even though it is based afaik on the IETF iCalendar standard. Works fine with Mozilla Calendar nonetheless).

So for now, I'm playing with both 30 Boxes and Mozilla Calendar, and despite all the merits and promise, if I can't get them to talk to each other then I'm not going to abandon my daytimer anytime soon. Here's a 'badge' of my public calendar, just for kicks:

div#thirtyBoxes { width:150px; margin:0; padding:8px; font-size: 12px; font-family:"Lucida Grande", Verdana,sans-serif; background-color:#F7F7F7; border-right:1px solid #ADAABD;border-bottom:1px solid #ADAABD; }

div#thirtyBoxes .eventItem {margin-left:10px; text-indent:-10px;} div#thirtyBoxes .eventDate {font-size:10px; } div#thirtyBoxes .eventSummary {color:#666; font-size:10px; } div#thirtyBoxes .header {font-weight: bold; margin-bottom: 6px; } div#thirtyBoxes .footer {margin-top: 6px; background-color: #eee; font-weight: bold; font-size: 10px; }

Posted on February 6, 2006 and filed under Organization, Software.