Community Calendars Online
by Stephen Downes
April 13, 2000
Probably the most popular spot - aside from the Hotel - in Alberta towns and villages is the local bulletin board.
Town fairs, ball tournaments, elections and bake sales are all advertised on this convenient display.
Of course, that works well for people who are in town every few days. But what about people who live a few more miles away? And what about tourists and other visitors?
Community website managers can keep their citizens - and potential visitors - informed by installing and maintaining a calendar on the town or district website.
The process is two-fold:
- Plan and install your calendar
- Maintain your calendar
- Build Partnerships
Planning your calendar
Setting up your calendar is pretty easy but a little planning will save in the long run.
Web calendar software is widely available and quite cheap - a list is provided below - and is normally installed on your town or community web server.
So - if your town or district aready has a website, plan on using the same server to run your calendar software.
Do not purchase software until you have confirmed that it will run on your web server. Check with the service provider or individual who runs the server. This is the person who will have to install the software.
But before you commit yourself to the technology, make sure you have the human element ready:
- Who will be in charge of installing the software? (Probably your service provider)
- Who will be in charge of the calendar after it is installed? Some person in the town or district office will have to handle the 'admin' account and be responsible for editing or deleting entries from time to time.
- Who will be allowed to post items on the calendar - will you open it up to everybody? Or will entries have to be entered by municipal staff?
- Do your staff have the time to post entries to the calendar? If not, are you prepared to allow other people to post entries? Who?
The bottom line here is: before you install the calendar, have a plan in place for ensuring that it contains lots of entries. Nothing is worse than an empty calendar.
Installing Your Calendar
All calendar software is different. The trick here is to, first, buy the right software for your needs, and then second, work with your service provider or webmaster to install the software.
First, determine how much money you want to spend. You can get free calendar software or you can pay thousands of dollars. But remember - while all the software works, in the main, you get what you pay for.
Next, look at the list of calendar software packages below and pick one or two which suit your needs. Be sure to follow the links provided, as most vendors provide sample calendars on their websites.
Third, consult with your service provider or webmaster about installation (if you are the service provider or webmaster - make sure it's the right OS, follow the instructions, and remember to configure the calendar for your particular server).
Maintaining Your Calendar
A good calendar requires regular maintenance. Nothing is worse than an empty calendar. Remember, people aren't looking for what you've done in the past - a calendar requires events in the future.
Probably the best way to manage a good community calendar is to 'draft' some volunteers from various agencies around town to submit their own events. A school counsellor, church volunteer, service club representative - all these people will be more than willing to help contribute events.
The business community may also be counted on for regular contributions. Ask auction agents to submit local auctions, for example.
Community events should also be entered by municipal staff. Notices of council meetings, by-law enforcement dates, elections and more should all be added to the calendar.
If the public at large cannot contribute directly to the calendar, make sure they have some means of advertising their events. Post an email link and encourage people to submit their bake sales, social gatherings, and other events.
Most calendar software also supports hot links - this way, a person browsing a calendar can jump right to a web page describing the item or event listed. Encourage all contributors to create a web page on their own site with more details.
The calendar administrator should check the calendar regularly to moniter submissions. This is especially important if the public at large is allowed to submit their own entries - some of them might not be suitable for a general audience!
The best kind of community calendar is one which runs itself. Over time the community will be better served if the community calendar is run by a partnership of government, businesses and community groups.
Any partnership needs one or two 'champions' to stimulate the project and keep it moving. While the municipal government may begin as the lead player, other agencies - such as the community newspaper or a service club - will be willing to assume this role over time, especially if the calendar becomes a success.
Plan on this ahead of time, and be prepared to create a 'Community Calendar' society with representatives from these agencies.
Event Calendar This is a great calendar of events script that has some great functions and is highly customizable. It is free to non-profits and educational institutions. Much better than all of the table based calendars being offered, at least looks wise.
PerlCal Perl based calendar software, flexible, and free to educational institutions.
Shared Calendars Standard web calendar by Boutell. Priced in the mid-range depending on the number of users (ie., the number of people who have write access). Plain display and unfortunately slow.
Internet Calendar Applications Basic web based calendar - features multiple languages. Server license is toward the high end of the pricing scale.
NetCalendar NetCalendar is a nice basic web calendar suitable for newspaper and organizational websites. Pricing is very reasonable. Interface is fast and intuitive.
CalendarCentral The Rolls Royce of online calendar software, provides HTML or elegant Java view, easy filtering, multiple users, and so much more. The price tage will make you gasp - if you have to ask, you can't afford it.
Calendar Internet Decent calendar software including a nice search feature. Best of all, sells a server license (as opposed to user licenses, as offered by Great Hill and WebEvent) so you can have many users inputting events.
Calendars for the Web Web based calendars with remote user input by Great Hill Corporation. A bit pricey but may many calendar views - check their demo.
WebEvent Highly rated online calendar. Drawback: the cost. Still, if you want a calendar that does it all and works on almost every platform, this is the one to get.
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