A power tool for calendar curators

This installment of the elmcity+azure series shows how curators can find and publish events that are discoverable online, but not available in a structured form that can syndicate in and out of one of the elmcity hubs.


When a curator signs up for the elmcity calendar aggregator project, the first question is invariably: OK, where do I find calendars? Although the service aims to gather and republish iCalendar feeds, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem: The vast majority of calendar information on the web is implicit, not explicit. This project is all about finding a lot of that implicit data and making it explicit.

One great asset for calendar curators, as I’ve mentioned before, is FuseCal. I’m using it, for example, to turn this poorly structured page at the Keene Public Library into an iCalendar feed that can participate in the syndication network. Curators in Providence, Huntington, and elsewhere are having good success with FuseCal.

But the universe of implicit calendar information is much large than FuseCal alone can address. There is no fully automatic way to discover that implicit data and make it explicit. So I’ve cooked up a computer-assisted method that I think will be a power tool for motivated curators. It’s based on a specialized search robot that looks for phrases like this:

"every thursday" "keene nh"
"4th sunday" "keene nh"

The output from the search robot, for Keene, is here. It contains over 3000 entries like this:

22. September08newsletter.nws

Keene, NH 03431. Return Address Requested. NON PROFIT ORG. U.S. POSTAGE PAID …. Every Thursday from 5:30-9pm. For more info call Ben Grant at 603-283-6601 …
29. Women’s Learn to Play Hockey | Model Web Site

… solution for you. The program runs from November 10 th through February 23 rd, every Monday … great program. Come see us at 149 Emerald Street in sales tax free Keene, NH

Many of these pages mention implicit recurring events that a curator can make explicit, by publishing them in a special iCalendar feed. Since I’ve already shown how to publish iCalendar feeds using Outlook, Google Calendar, and Apple iCal, I’ll add a fourth example to that series and show you how to do it using Microsoft Live Calendar.

Setting up a feed of recurring events

Let’s look at search result #22, September08newsletter.nws. It turns out to be a PDF newsletter from the Keene LifeArt Community Resource Center, whose official events page is under construction.

Here’s what the newsletter looks like:

It mentions a bunch of recurring events, including:

Community Singers: Open singing group, no experience necessary, come for the joy of it. Thursdays from 10:45 to 11:45.

Cheshire County Structured Storytelling: Creating and sharing stories about heroism and humor. Thursdays from 10:45 to 11:45.

Publishing one of these into an iCalendar syndication network, using Live Calendar, is a two-part process. Part one is a once-only setup of the feed. Part two happens once per recurring event.

Setup, Step 1: Add a new calendar

Setup, Step 2: Share the calendar

Click Import into another calendar application

Setup, Step 3: Capture the URL of the iCalendar feed

In this case, the link is webcal://jonu.calendar.live.com/calendar/recurring+events1/calendar.ics.

Setup, Step 4: Bookmark the feed in your curatorial account

Change webcal: to http: and use these three tags: ics, feed, and trusted.

Adding recurring events to the feed

Now repeat these steps for each recurring event you’d like to publish:

Per-event, Step 1: What, where, when

Per-event, Step 2: Recurrence

Per-event, Step 3: Details

Use the best link you can find for the organization, group, or individual sponsoring the event. Anyone who discovers the event at the hub, or in any feed that comes from the hub, will follow that link to find out more about the sponsor and the event.


On the next aggregation cycle, the event will be captured and reflected back in various ways. Here’s the internal representation:

  <title>Community Singers</title>
  <source>recurring events: LifeArt Community Resource Center</source>

Here’s how it’ll show up in the default HTML rendering:

Thu 10:45 AM Community Singers (recurring events: LifeArt Community Resource Center)

Why recurring events?

Because there’s a high payoff. You could publish an individual event this way, but once it scrolls past the event horizon it’s gone. When you publish a recurring event, though, you’re creating a gift that will keep on giving.

Why should a curator have to do this?

You can certainly try to explain to sponsors that they can do this for themselves. But in my experience, most aren’t open to that discussion. As a curator, though, you can model the behavior you’d like them to emulate. As their events syndicate, and show up in various places, they’ll begin to notice, and will wonder why they’re not the authoritative sources for their own information. At that point, you can say: “You can be! And you should be! It’s easy! Let me show you how!”


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