Calendar feeds are a best practice for bookstores

Bookstores, for all the obvious reasons, are hanging on by their fingernails. What brings people into bookstores nowadays? Some of us still buy and read actual printed books. Some of us enjoy browsing the shelves and tables. Some of us value interaction with friendly and knowledgeable booksellers. And some of us like to see and hear authors when they come to speak and sign books.

There are lots of author events at bookstores. Recently LibraryThing’s Tim Spalding tweeted:

Upcoming bookish events on @LibraryThing Local now over 10,000!

It’s great that LibraryThing “helpers” (individuals, libraries, bookstores) are adding all those events to LibraryThing’s database. But I’d really like to see bookstores help themselves by publishing standard calendar feeds. That way, LibraryThing could ingest those calendars automatically, instead of relying on dedicated helpers to input events one at a time. And the feeds would be available in other contexts as well, syndicating both to our personal calendars (desktop-, phone-, and cloud-based) and to community calendars.

When I saw Tim’s tweet I took a look at how bookstore events are feeding into various elmcity hubs. Here’s a snapshot of what I found:

location store ical feed?
Bright Lights
Monadnock Region of NH Toadstool yes
Cambridge, MA Harvard Bookstore yes
Brookline MA Brookline Booksmith yes
Boston MA Trident Booksellers yes
Ann Arbor MI Crazy Wisdom yes
Portland OR Powell’s yes
Dim Lights
Berkeley East Wind Books indirect
Canada Chapters Indigo indirect
Seattle Third Place Books indirect
… and some others …
Dark Matter
Berkeley City Lights no
Various Barnes and Noble no
Seattle WA Elliot Bay no
… and many others …

There are three buckets:

Bright Lights: These are stores whose web calendars are accompanied by standard iCalendar feeds. Events from these stores appear automatically in the Monadnock, Boston, Ann Arbor, and Portland hubs. These stores’ calendars could also be ingested automatically into LibraryThing, and you could subscribe to them directly.

Dim Lights: These are stores whose web calendars are hosted on Facebook. There isn’t a standard iCalendar feed for Facebook calendars, but the elmcity service can synthesize one using the Facebook API. So I say that these stores have “indirect” iCalendar feeds.

Dark Matter: These are stores whose web calendars are available only in HTML format. Some of these calendars are handcrafted web pages, others are served up by content management systems that produce calendar widgets for display but fail to provide corresponding feeds.

There are a few Bright Lights and some Dim Lights, but most bookstore calendars, like most web calendars of all kinds, are Dark Matter. If you’re a bookstore I urge you to become a Bright Light. Making your calendar available to the web of data is as easy as using Google Calendar or Hotmail Calendar. It’s a best practice that bookstores disregard at their peril.

12 thoughts on “Calendar feeds are a best practice for bookstores

  1. How did you discover the feeds? For example, I went to and couldn’t find anything which told me there was an iCalendar feed anywhere; and clicking on individual events didn’t help.

    I think we need some sort of discovery standard, similar to what we have for RSS. I though work was one on the issue, too… I’ll have to check

    1. How did you discover the feed

      Yeah, there’s that. In this case I noticed that it’s a Drupal site, and from prior experience guessed the pattern:

      I am probably the only person on planet Earth who would have bothered :-)

      I think we need some sort of discovery standard, similar to what we have for RSS

      Agreed. This would be fine:

      It’s what Eventbrite does, although weirdly the referenced URL is always 404.

      That said, the problem of discovering feeds that exist is dwarfed — by 3 orders of magnitude I would guess — by the problem of calendars lacking feeds.

    2. Even what we have for RSS is cumbersome at best. Here on John’s blog there’s a “Subscribe – this blog” link but it results in a page that 75+% of web users wouldn’t expect. My blog, and most others, aren’t much better. I’ve sen some that present “subscribe with” buttons for Google Reader and other services, but there’s no standard emerging that I’ve seen.

      I agree that these feeds need to be easily discoverable (both rss and ical); we also need a good user interface to *use* what they find.

      1. You’re right of course. That would be good problem to have. That is, it would be good if feeds were universally available, and we could focus on refining the mechanisms of discovery and use. But feeds are almost universally unavailable.

  2. @cory: <link rel=”alternate” type=”text/calendar” title=”iCalendar” href=”” />, except it doesn’t seem to work.

    1. @jon: gotcha, I see what you mean. I bet they used to have a calendar feature and got rid of it, but forgot to move the link tag.

      For sites that have working calendar feeds, though, I am able to discover them pretty easily using a Chrome plugin:

      It’s not as one-click as I would like, but it certainly cuts down on the time required to subscribe to a feed in Google Reader.

      Finally, to your point above, feeds aren’t as unavailable as you think. It’s rare I find a blog that doesn’t have an RSS feed these days, and when that happens, I try to always reach out to the author and request that they add a feed.

      1. RSS feeds are very common, but not very useful for calendar syndication because they rarely contain structured dates/times/locations that can be reliably parsed. There’s a perfectly good Internet standard for exchanging calendars machine-to-machine: iCalendar. RSS is (not necessarily, but usually) for machine-to-human exchange. You can try scraping structured events out of RSS feeds but that’s like eating soup with a fork.

        When I ask for a calendar feed and people point me to their RSS feed instead, I say (to myself): “That’s a category error.” And I blame we techies for failing to educate people about the relevant categories and concepts.

  3. Ater I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked on
    the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comnment
    is added I get 4 emails with the exact same
    comment. Perhaps there is a means you can remove me from that service?

    Appreciate it!

Leave a Reply