Take Your Group to 2.0: The Do’s and Don’ts of iCal

User Groups 2.0

Virtually every user group needs to communicate a common class of information to their members and to the world: their meeting and/or event schedule. For Mac User Groups, Apple’s iCal is the obvious choice to accomplish this goal, but it must be used with care or it can actually become an obstacle to getting the info to the audience.

The benefits of iCal are obvious:

  • Management of the group’s schedule and events from a desktop application
  • Automatic publishing and updating of the group’s calendar on their web site
  • Ability of members to subscribe to the iCal version to have meetings and events automatically added to their schedule
  • Archiving of all group events in the iCal for historical and reference purposes

The problem comes when iCal is not implemented with the user in mind, contains incomplete or generic information, or is used in lieu of good meeting notifications on the group web site. With that in mind, here are the do’s and don’ts of iCal for Mac User Group web sites.

The Do’s

  • Do use iCal for all the reasons listed above.
  • Do include a subscription link to your iCal for members to receive automatic updates.
  • Do include a separate link to view your iCal on the web, so they aren’t forced to subscribe just to find out what’s going on with your group.
  • Do put a brief discussion or the title for your group’s upcoming meeting in the Event field.
  • Do put the location of your meeting or event in the Location field. A phone number wouldn’t be a bad idea for new or potential numbers.
  • Do include start and end times.
  • Do put your group’s specific meeting details in the Notes field. Include all aspects of the meeting including products or topics to be discussed, names and companies of guest speakers along with URLs if appropriate. This not only helps your members be familiar with what you’ll present but can be an added benefit to your guests if they are seeking publicity and visibility.
  • Do use a group .Mac account or a group WebDAV server account to publish your calendar so your members don’t have to continually change their subscriptions when group leadership changes.
  • Do set the preferences on your iCal to display the Month view as the default view on the web. Odds are that your group has one, two or perhaps three events per month. That means that the Day view is almost useless since visitors will have to clock on another view for all but those days. Using Month view as a default let’s your visitors zoom right in on your meeting and event dates without an extra click.
  • Do use the “Send Publish Email” option when you update your calendar if your group has an email list, especially when you first set up the iCal. It can encourage them to subscribe and receive the updates in their own iCal, and will inform those who don’t use to iCal or choose not to subscribe.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t use iCal as a crutch or a replacement for having your group’s meeting information placed prominently on your front page as recommended in the first of our User Group 2.0 columns. Having to click even once to reach your iCal is one click too many for the casual surfer.
  • Don’t use the Day or Week view for the web view of your iCal. Too often it shows up with blank screens and forces your visitors to click multiple times to find what they’re looking for.
  • Don’t require your visitors to subscribe to your iCal; post a “view on the web” link in addition to the subscription link.
  • Don’t use entries like, “Monthly meeting” in the Event field; it tells your visitors nothing useful and certainly isn’t going to compel anyone to attend.

Using iCal as part (but only part) of your group’s publicity arsenal will encourage members and would-be members to attend by providing them with complete information (past, present and future) in easily accessible, useful formats.

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