The start of a new year is a plenty good excuse to talk about calendars – or event listings.
Ordinarily, I would be inclined to bore you to death by discussing Internet standards, syndication, multiple-data entry problems, connections to authoritative sources, the myriad ways I am smarter than our pet cat, and how all this should cause us to grumble and make very serious faces as we lament the future of journalism.
But I figure I have a whole year to do that.
For now, I’d like you to consider this: The Chronicle’s calendar listings currently include 4,217 events.
That’s because we’ve embraced an approach to event listings based on the idea that: (1) event hosts are in command of the most accurate information about their events; and (2) event hosts should be able to just maintain their own calendars, and expect their event information to show up all over the Internet, without doing one bit of extra data entry for any publication.
Those 4,217 events come from 256 different online calendars – which event hosts are maintaining for themselves, not especially just for us. Our event listings pull events from those calendars automatically, updating to reflect any added or altered events in the host’s calendar. The whole thing is made possible by Jon Udell’s elmcity project, which aims in part to demonstrate the power of Microsoft’s Windows Azure computing cloud.
If you’re a host of regular events in the Ann Arbor area, chances are good that The Chronicle is already displaying your events – because you’re using a friendly piece of software – like Hotmail Calendar, or Google Calendar, or because you’re using Facebook, Eventful, Meetup, or Eventbrite to publicize your events.
For example, our event listings know when Sava’s $5 cheeseburgers are on sale, when the open mic takes place at Oz Music, when the deadline is for winter city taxes, and when Dr. Snowflake is giving his workshop (please bring scissors for cutting your own paper).
Want to check if yours is one of the 256 calendars we’re already displaying? Review the calendar list. If you don’t see your calendar on the list, and you think it ought to be there, get in touch [firstname.lastname@example.org] and I’ll talk you through some of the basics.
We’ve been working to assemble this version of the event listings for a few months now. But it’s still a rough draft in several ways.
One way it’s rough is that I’ve only made a first pass at categorizing feeds – and the categories need refinement. For example, there’s a category for “exhibits” and one for “exhibitions.” Those need to be coalesced into a single category.
Ideally we’d like the categorization of events to work off the consensus preference of different event hosts. For example, I’ve assigned the category “famfun” to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum events and to Leslie Science and Nature Center events. Leaders of those organizations are in a better position to gauge whether that’s an apt label, and if it actually applies to all of their events or only some.
Work on the taxonomy of the categories is one of the projects that we’re hoping a student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information might be willing to tackle in the context of the school’s practical engagement program.
Another way the event listings are a rough draft is the page design. It currently reflects a fairly large gob of text that’s a challenge to parse visually. So we’ve tasked Ross Johnson of 3.7 Designs in Ann Arbor to style up the listings, giving them more of a Chronicle look and feel.
But here’s the thing about the work that Ross does. Like the freelance writers and artists, accountants, lawyers, server technicians, and the rest of the folks who perform mission critical tasks for The Chronicle, professional web designers have to be compensated in actual cash money.
And that’s where voluntary subscribers come in. To those of you who contributed last year, I’d like to say thank you. I hope that The Chronicle earns your support again this year. To those of you who’ve had intentions of providing voluntary financial support – but have been waiting for the right moment – I hope 2013 is a good year to start.
Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.