Friday, February 5, 2010

Scheduling meetings - Tungle & Doodle

I'm pretty bad with dates and appointments, so I rely heavily on my online Calender to keep track of my meetings.

My main calender is Google Calender (for the sms updates) synced to Outlook Calender (because we are on Exchange server) to keep track of my appointments using Google Calender Sync .

I know many librarians embed their Google Calender into webpages or even LibGuides, to show times they are not busy and available for an appointment.

The idea here is that people look at your schedule, so they can send you an email proposing a time where you are free to meet.

Basically through you still have to go through a negotiating phrase  (time not marked "busy" could still be not ideal to meet), moreover this doesn't scale when we are talking about meetings of 3 or more people. And of course, once you agreed on a date, you still have to manually mark it on your online calender.

This is where I turn to solutions like Tungle & Doodle (see others)


Tungle

Tungle, is my current favourite.It integrates well with both Outlook (via plugin) or Google Calender

There are two modes.

You can create a widget/button, place it on your website, and people who want to book an appointment with you , can click on the button, go to an online calender and they can then "paint" the time blocks they want to meet with you.




Time blocks where you are busy (drawn from either your Google Calender or Outlook calender) will automatically be disallowed.




They enter their email, some details and send the request. To prevent spamming, they will need to check their email and click on the verification link, but otherwise no registration is required. You will then confirm which if any of the time blocks chosen are acceptable, and Tungle will automatically book the appointment and send an email to both of you. The nice thing here is that if either of you are on Outlook or Calender, you can add the appointment to your online calender with one click.

While I have placed this widget on my contact page, no-one has used this to contact me. Realistically speaking, the widget has this unfriendly "Tungle me" message on the widget and as I mentioned to a Tungle  representative before nobody would ever click on that, since they had no idea what it was!

That said, you can use Tungle to schedule appointments, even with people who do not have Tungle accounts. It's quite intuitive to use you set up the meeting name, duration of meeting and other details. Enter the email addresses of people you want to meet, propose the time blocks you are free to meet (the calender also has details about your other events drawn from Outlook or Google calender, so you don't book a time you are unavailable) .



Lastly, you can either get Tungle to send the email or you can send the appointment url manually. I personally prefer to let Tungle send the email. Participants will get an email, with a url. They are told explicitly that  no registration is required (otherwise many don't bother), clicking on the link, shows them the by now familiar calender and they can pick the time blocks they are available (Tungle Users will be able to see their schedules superimposed over the proposed time/blocks).



They can even see what others have chosen (they can change their minds). Once everyone has chosen, the system can either automatically pick a time that is good for everyone, or you can manually pick a time. If no common time is available, you get a email informing you of that, and you can either pick new times, or overwrite and just pick any time you feel is best anyway and an email will be sent and as before the appointment will be automatically placed on your online calender.

This is the basic idea, the system is very sophisticated,  you can amend participants attending, change time slots, duration etc at any time (it is smart enough to prompt you whether to inform any or all participants if necessary), if you schedule multi-meetings, it notes "Tentative dates" you have blocked out for another Tungle meeting etc.  You can send reminders, emails if people aren't responding and more

There's even an Iphone app (not free)

The only thing missing I can think of is someway to indicate essentially a "maybe" option (Doodle has this)- basically saying "this time isn't ideal but I can make it, if I really have to"

I have successfully used this to schedule one on one meetings with students (they don't even bat an eye most of the time), and the occasion team meeting. TimeBridge which I have tried briefly is also very similar, with the paid version giving you the ability to text-message participants, arrange web conferences etc.

Doodle

By comparison Doodle is a much simpler system. Which doesn't mean it's bad, it's in fact very popular. This study shows it has reached over 20% use among the respondents in the Australian study. Not bad for a niche product.

It's basically an online poll, you select dates, then enter time blocks , the rest you know.

I personally find it less easy to use then Tungle because you have to manually enter times as compared to "painting" it.




One advantage Doodle has over Tungle is that one can select the "Yes-No-IfNeedbe" option, this results in participants being able to choose between "have time", "could make time if absolutely necessary" and "do not have time", rather than just a binary "yes"/"no" as in Tungle.





It supports online calenders like Outlook and Google Calender, but in a different way.



Above we can see a Doodle poll sent to a Doodle user (me) who has linked his account to his Google calender. I click on the "suggest" button and it tells me the last proposed date is not possible due to an appointment clash. Hovering over the cross or check icon, you can see your appointments for the day.

Similar to Tungle there is a Iphone app (not free), but it also has a free mobile site.


Creating rosters?  
 
One area that I'm trying to figure out is what is the best way, to handle rosters say duties at information service points. Anyone has any clever ideas on how to do this? Use shared google calenders?But what if you only want to see your duties and nobody's else? Is there any software that can set up rosters and then send appointment requests to each person?
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