June 17, 2005
Online Calendars Make a Comeback
SEATTLE -- After becoming popular during the Internet's heyday in the late nineties, the online calendars that people used to track appointments and events got dated.
Many people decided it was easier to keep track of things on desktop computer programs, or by just marking the old calendar on the wall.
But now, with more people connecting to the Web via high-speed broadband, wireless technology and mobile phones, online calendars are getting an update.
"While it has a certain '1999 feel', the market itself has changed and users have changed in that time period," said Michael Gartenberg, analyst at Jupitermedia.
The Internet could well be the perfect platform for turning calendars into virtual "life organizers." But compared to the big leaps seen in search services and music on the Web, online calendars have, for the most part, been plodding along as an add-on to Web-based email services.
Now, though, online calendars could be set to start making the same kind of leap that the other applications made, and consumers could benefit from a growing array of new offerings.
Among those coming out with new services, Trumba Corp., a Seattle-based start-up, is betting that users will be willing to pay for enhanced online calendar services that offer rich features allowing users to create, share and publish their online schedules.
"There is a huge market out there," said Jeremy Jaech, chief executive of Trumba, who founded the company with Ted Johnson. Both Jaech and Johnson were founders of Visio, the flowchart and business diagram software company that was acquired by Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. in 2000 for $1.5 billion.
"Almost everybody uses a calendar of some sort," said Jaech. When consumers use enhanced calendar applications on the Web they will find that "the experience is so much better" than what they already use, they'll start using it. "We think online calendaring is compelling enough to cause a similar shift to the web."
Trumba isn't the only company eyeing online calendars as a potentially important market. Industry observers say it is only a matter of time until Web search leader Google Inc. of Mountain View, California adds online calendar services to its online search, e-mail, calendar, blogging and shopping services.
The other two big players in online calendar services, Microsoft's MSN and Yahoo Inc. of Sunnyvale, California, have also continued to offer Web-based scheduling as an integrated part of their online e-mail services.
Trumba, which this month began offering subscriptions for its OneCalendar service for $40 per year, created an online calendar that makes it easier for users to add outside appointments and share them widely.
Parents of schoolchildren, for example, can import key school events into their own calendars and send automated e-mail notices to a selected group of people.
Such group-related capabilities were mainly limited to businesses, which were willing to invest in software to give their employees sophisticated scheduling tools, but Trumba's Jaech said that such technologies should also be available to consumers.
Microsoft's Outlook e-mail, scheduling and contacts program, offers many advanced features when used in conjunction with its Exchange server, which stores and manages key data online. Recently, Microsoft said it would offer new software for Exchange that will push e-mail, appointments and any changes to contacts info to cell phones.
Yahoo said it is focusing on making its Yahoo Calendar service work seamlessly for people connecting via mobile phones and also with better integration with its Yahoo Messenger online text message-swapping service.
"We're constantly looking at ways to improve the service," said Yahoo spokeswoman Karen Mahon, adding that Yahoo Calendar is also a key part of its Yahoo Groups service, which allows users to share information as groups.
Jupitermedia's Gartenberg noted that online calendars could potentially become lucrative market, especially if small businesses decided to adopt services such as Trumba to manage their schedules.
"The question is whether it can resonate with enough users," Gartenberg said.