27 November 2009

New event scheduler in Google Calendar

Since last week, Google Calendar previews a new interface for advanced events options, which helps users to easily find suitable times for meetings with other people. Of course, all of the guests have to use Google Calendar and share their schedules between them for this to work. TechCrunch calls the newly introduced feature “Sneak Preview”, but I see no indication that’s an actual name. Google Calendar sneak previewFor the moment, the feature is opt-in; you must explicitly enable it once you open the edit event page, but everyone should have access to it now. Google Calendar turn on the sneak preview

Google also provides some short explanations on how to use the feature once you turned it on, from the yellow strip at the top:

  1. Preview your new event on the new mini-calendar. Try the Day view to see guests' calendars side by side.
  2. Drag the translucent event preview to move it to a new time.
  3. Click the guests' names to show or hide them so you can focus on the most important ones.

Google Calendar event conflict tool-tip With the sneak preview enabled, Calendar adds a new panel underneath the usual event settings where you can preview the event you are creating and other events that may conflict with it, both from on your calendar and from your guests. You can easily hide and show calendars and guests to exclude less relevant information. Dragging the event preview over a busy time slot causes it to change to a hash pattern, subtly signaling the conflict. You also get a tool-tip-like message if you hover the marching-ants that mark the event preview. The overall experience is largely similar to a desktop calendar application, like Outlook or Lotus Notes. Google Calendar new event scheduler

The other sections of the edit event interface have also changed to accommodate this feature. The left sidebar with the mini calendar is now hidden and that saves a lot of screen space. The privacy and free/busy controls were replaced with drop-down lists and the “repeat…” options now open up in a new window, a change I don’t particularly like. Fortunately, reverting to the old version is as simple as clicking a link, at least for now.

Although it will certainly prove useful to people and organizations who schedule meetings regularly through Google Calendar, I’m anything but excited about this release. I use Calendar primarily to set up reminders and to have a record of events in the cloud, but I don’t think I ever scheduled a meeting through it. For other users like me, this will bring no extra value and will only slow access to advanced controls, e.g. to make the event recurring. I hope the Google Calendar team will keep this updated interface as an option or at least allow the user to hide the calendar preview at the bottom when it’s not necessary.

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