Your calendar meets my website

RSS is by far the best known means of taking information out of the browser, and onto the desktop… and even then, admittedly, it isn’t that well-known yet. Of course, with IE7 about to drop, it’s going to be a big few days for RSS consumption – suddenly, without realising it, a whole lot of people will have some pretty sophisticated RSS reader software on their PCs. But there’s a lot more to this than just RSS.

As part of the big UK government content management project I’m currently working on, I’m pushing an idea to deliver a feed of new – and perhaps more importantly, future – website content via the iCal calendar format.

We reckon our website will add maybe half a dozen new items on a typical day. A lot of these will be news items or new publications. As they go into the system, they will all (inevitably) have a date attached. So we’re going to offer a ‘calendar view’ showing all the major additions to the website for each day of the week. We’re shamelessly basing the presentation on Outlook’s seven-day view: so at a glance, you’ll see all the items posted on Monday, on Tuesday, etc through to Sunday. Note, we’re not just talking about ‘dates for your diary’ – more like a rolling ‘what’s new’ listing.

You’ll be able to go back to previous weeks, perhaps to catch up on new items posted while you were on holiday. But you’ll also be able to go forwards, to see details of anything that has been pre-announced. For example, the publication dates for government statistics are often set months in advance. So in our calendar view, you’ll be able to click on ‘next week’ to see anything which is planned to happen, assuming of course that it has been publicly declared. (And there are plenty of reasons why that might not be the case, not least security.)

And if it can be done as a calendar, we want to put it into your calendar. iCal, as a feed format, is built into Apple’s iCal software, Firefox’s calendar cousins Sunbird and Lightning, and online services like 30boxes or Google Calendar. But Microsoft’s new versions of Windows and Office will (finally) bring proper iCal integration to the masses. Just as you do with RSS feeds, you’ll be able to pick up the URL of a feed, and subscribe to it in your calendar application (say, Outlook). Then, as if by magic, our dates will be shown alongside your dates.

There are plenty of examples out there in terms of calendar sharing; there’s a whole website dedicated to sharing calendars in iCal format. This one, for example, lists all Arsenal’s forthcoming games – and the guy even updates it after each game with details of the scorers, etc. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen iCal used as a ‘content feed’ like I’m planning.

It probably isn’t all that revolutionary. I’m not sure how many people will ever use it… but it won’t put any additional demands on authors’ time. The whole beauty of content management is to allow re-use of your web content in other forms and formats… so why not? 🙂