Educator's Review: WebEvent Publish Enterprise Calendar

By Nick McCammon, Indiana University

Today's higher education institutions are saturated with events, all of which are very important to university life. The problem is finding the event information you need in one location. You may be able to search but searching d'esn't allow you to browse or promote the events. There is also the issue of reduced higher education funding (which we all know too well) that requires departments to do more with less.

WebEvent Publish from WebEvent Inc. gives a university the ability to manage the software and hardware needed to create an online calendar and community, while allowing department-level publishers to publish their event without knowing technical markup language or requiring special training.

System-Wide Calendar
It is easy to build a case for system-wide calendars. The combined number of hours required to maintain hundreds of individual event calendars at large institutions is massive, and duplicating services are always counterproductive. For those that choose to create their own online event calendars, hundreds or thousands of hours are spent writing markup language and updating and programming the pages. The cost of hiring two developers for six months to create comparable software from scratch makes little sense. You still have software where future development can stagnate or be further complicated by any turnover in IT support. Compared to that, WebEvent Publish carries a generous price point, saving universities many man-hours of development.

Publishers using WebEvent Publish require minimal training; I can walk anyone with questions through the screen on the phone. Creating an account for each department or organization that requests it puts the responsibility of posting an event on the department or school, and not on a central office or administrator. The publisher at the departmental level knows more about the event, and the audience has a greater chance of learning about event changes or cancellations. The department or school also benefits from promoting the event. Event postings can drive traffic to departmental Web sites, raise awareness, and increase student applications.

A central calendar system addresses support issues, such as system maintenance, hardware and software updates, and security, taking this burden off the shoulders of the department. A "homegrown" calendar may never require an upgrade, but it will never be better than it is today. WebEvent Publish offers basic features expected with all calendars, such as search, calendar navigation, help, and different calendar views. In addition, it has several advanced features, such as default hot e-mail links and hot URL links, custom fields, built-in repeating options, and event reminders to author and groups by e-mail. A user can subscribe to calendars, export single events to their Palm, Outlook, or other desktop personal calendar. They also can download calendars between dates. Publish also provides access for code customization, which is an added bonus.

Room for Improvement
Though WebEvent Publish is one of the better software solutions for online event calendars currently on the market, there are some areas for improvement. The out-of-the-box navigation features were not efficient enough to handle Indiana University's current 100-plus calendars, so customization was necessary. WebEvent allows extensive customization of the product, so we were able to address my usability issues. While this may not be a problem for smaller installations, the way the product allows a guest viewer of an event calendar to submit events is not a favorable feature for me. But once again, customization can help with this issue. It would be better if the product offered a choice during calendar configuration.

I have worked with WebEvent for the last few years and have seen it improve its customer service to better focus on users like me who are managing a large calendar implementation. There is positive ongoing communication between me, the administrator and the company's developers.

Advantages for Higher Ed
A system-wide campus calendar can be a marketing tool for your university. The decisions made about the calendar should be made by the communications and marketing department, as all members of the higher education community, local media, and visitors will view it. When measuring excellence in higher education the same key words continue to pop up: diversity, faculty, and student offerings. An events calendar can help promote your institution and help retain students.

Each year hundreds to thousands of new students, new faculty, and new employees converge on institutions of higher education. Using a system-wide campus calendar to find and attend events of interest encourages the mingling of people with common interests. Such a system can be a catalyst for creating friendships and truly enrich the higher education experience.

But calendars are only as good as the information they contain. As long as you have the information people want, they will come back. It is also crucial that ease of publishing be top priority. It is the key to your calendar success.

Soon, I believe every institution will provide a calendar system such as WebEvent Publish to its community. But I feel this is one of the better choices on the current market.

Nick McCammon is the administrator of Indiana University's System-Wide Events Calendar (http://events.iu.edu).

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