Before my podcast went AWOL I had been meaning to interview Toby Considine about his efforts to mesh schedules for things with schedules for people, and to define Internet calendaring extensions for that purpose. So when Phil Windley wrote to ask me how I thought calendaring might relate to the personal event networks he wants to bootstrap, I suggested that we ask Toby on an episode of Phil’s Technometria podcast.
Phil, I suspect, is actually one of five identical quintuplets. One teaches at BYU. Another runs a startup called Kynetx. A couple of others take care of family, church, and political matters. Finally there’s the one who does a podcast and also serves as executive producer of ITConversations. I don’t think I could handle being a quintuplet but it’s lucky for all of us that Phil can!
It was a real pleasure to meet Toby and learn about his comprehensive vision for a world in which our buildings, our cars, and our energy grid work with us, appearing as the intelligent agents that science fiction always encouraged us to imagine. One of his favorite examples involves a meeting room that’s scheduled for a 9AM meeting. A really intelligent system wouldn’t start heating or cooling the room at 9AM, it would start sooner. How much sooner? That would depend on the number of people attending.
Orchestrating that kind of dance requires the sort of loosely-coupled event-driven programming at the heart of the Kynetx technology that Phil is creating. Toby is layering that orchestration on top of existing Internet standards: iCalendar (for events), vCard (for resources), LDAP (for directory services). I love that approach for two reasons. First, I’m forever being reminded that we have barely scratched the surface of what might be accomplished with these existing standards if we really put them to use. Second, I violently agree with Toby that automated systems need to build on the standards that people actually use.
Toby chairs the OASIS Web Services Calendar Technical Committee and is an editor of the WS-Calendar specification. If standards whose names begin with WS- give you the heebie-jeebies, take a deep breath. I guess at some point there will be a SOAP profile for WS-Calendar but for now it’s a straightforward set of iCalendar extensions that define intervals, sequences, and relationships.
The web succeeds, in part, because its atomic particle — the hyperlink — can be manipulated both by automated systems and by people. When systems use hyperlinks it’s called RESTful web services. When people do it’s called emailing links. We tend to forget how profoundly the dual nature of the hyperlink binds the web together.
The hyperlink is atomic with respect to location. It says where. The fundamental particle of calendaring — iCalendar’s VEVENT — is atomic with respect to time. It says when. To me it makes perfect sense that smart buildings and energy microgrids will schedule their interactions with us in the same way that we schedule dentist appointments and soccer games.