Celebrating iCalendar’s 10th anniversary: The best is yet to come

Next month marks the tenth anniversary of RFC 2445 (iCalendar), the specification that describes how Internet applications represent and exchange calendar information. The authors of RFC 2445 were Frank Dawson (now with Nokia) and Derik Stenerson (now with Microsoft). I asked both to join me to reflect on the past, present, and future of this key standard. Only Derik was available, and he’s my guest for this week’s ITConversations show.

If you’ve followed my blog you’ll know that I’ve come to regard the ICS files that iCalendar-aware apps create and consume as feeds that could and should form a syndication ecosystem analogous to the RSS ecosystem. So in addition to filling us in on how iCalendar came to be, Derik considers whether the analogy holds water, and concludes that it probably does.

Although iCalendar has been around for a decade, I argue that the confluence of syndication and personal publishing, in the calendar domain, requires three enablers.

First, you need a workable syndication format, and we have that: RSS for blogs, ICS for calendars.

Second, you need what we used to call one-button personal publishing. Bloggers have had that capability for a long time. Calendar users have it too, but it’s emerged relatively recently, and many aren’t aware of it.

Third, you need feed aggregators. These proliferate in blogspace but, I argue, are conspicously absent from calendar space. Services like Eventful and Upcoming produce calendar feeds. But because they do not consume them, they don’t encourage individuals and groups to publish feeds, and to think and act in a syndication-oriented way. I’ve prototyped a calendar aggregator at http://elmcity.info/events/, but the category isn’t yet well-established.

If my analysis is correct, one or more well-known services that both consume and produce calendar feeds would unlock the latent potential of iCalendar and help us jumpstart a calendar syndication ecosystem.

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13 thoughts on “Celebrating iCalendar’s 10th anniversary: The best is yet to come

  1. I hope I have the right Jon this time, not the sports guy!

    I have been playing with the scheduling/calendar app Remind lately, which I really like. My issue with it is that its not in the cloud. I really think email, calendar, and to-do lists work better in the cloud, at least for me.

    I like Remind because it can let me do things on my machine (Ubuntu), and its smarter about setting events. I could give up on the capability to do things on my machine, I can always just use Remind for that, but I really don’t want to give up having my calendar/to-do list in the cloud and they really aren’t the same thing.

    I think my ideal calendar app in the cloud would be Python based, where each event is stored in a Python dictionary, or a function that returns a dictionary when passed a date. Simple events can be entered with the GUI, like existing calendars, but it would be nice to be able to write a function to allow complex entries.

    So for now, I’m stuck using GCal.

  2. You may laready know this, but as far as number 3 goes, this is a specific concern of a Technical Commitee within CalConnect that Eventful is leading. See:

    http://www.calconnect.org/tc-eventpub.shtml for more info.

    Chuck may be able to give you more info. He is at least a good person to talk to about this area.

  3. Thanks for the heads-up, I wasn’t aware and would like to speak w/Chuck.


    > The iCalendar specification grew out of a
    > need for interdepartmental and
    > inter-company scheduling, and does not
    > have adequate support for events
    > intended for a public audience.

    This reminds me eerily of the RSS wars that produced so much heat and so little light. Yes, RSS was “underspecified”. And yes, Atom now is (justifiably) ascendant. But no perceived or actual limitations of RSS prevented it from spreading the meme of personal-publishing-plus-syndication. Nor do any such limitations account for the failure of that meme to fully propagate.

    To me, in these respects, iCalendar is very analogous to RSS. Committee work can and should be done, but iCalendar’s perceived or actual limitations are not the critical bottleneck for public calendaring We need to propagate the personal-publishing-plus-syndication meme in the calendar domain. Most of the necessary ingredients are in place, and the key missing one — aggregation services — can be layered onto the existing deployed standard.

  4. > I really think email, calendar, and to-do
    > lists work better in the cloud, at least
    > for me.

    Absolutely. Almost every app benefits from both cloud storage, and cloud-based deployment.

    What’s hard to convey to people, whether or not the interactive piece of the calendar app is cloud- or client-based, is that the data has to be cloud-based so that syndicated network effects can occur.

  5. One thing that would help would be a plug-in that worked like this:

    1. I select one or more calendar items in my calendar program of choice (Say, Outlook)

    2. I choose “publish as .ics to Web” and it creates an .ics file for each event, one for all the selected events, and either an XHTML page, “pure” XML page, or a feed which references them. During the publication process a stylesheet can be chosen or created.

    If it’s _easy_ to publish calendar events to a web page or blog, without having to understand the underlying standard for the data, then more people will do it. I believe vCard (with the same basic origins as iCalendar) has overcome this hurdle, so iCalendar should be able to do it.

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