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Workshop: Teamup Calendar - Critique

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Last time I did a critique, I suggested that Google Calendar was by far one of the last standing dedicated calendar web apps out there. This time around we look at a probable competitor: Teamup Calendar. Like Google's offering, Teamup Calendar aims for the calendar-based scheduling app domain. Let's see how this web based calendar app stacks up and whether it stands on its own as a viable alternative.

Getting In

Once I set out to give the app a try, the first hurdle I had to cross was figuring out how to get in. Unlike the standard "Sign Up" or "Register" links, the home page starts with three main "call to action" buttons: "Login with Facebook" (which I usually breeze past for a whole bucketful of reasons), "Live Demo" and "Create Calendar". Now the Live Demo is pretty clearly going to be a dummy setup, and I don't know if the app will let me create my own Calendar without first logging in - which is a well understood norm in web apps.

Assuming you brave it and hit the "Create Calendar" button, the next page asks you to name your calendar and provide your e-mail ID. I assumed - again based on my experience with web apps in general - that I was going to be sent a password in mail which I could use to log into my new calendar. Turns out, all you get are a couple of links and a warning not to lose them. The links are to an administrator version and a user version of the calendar. What's the difference, you ask? None explained at this point. Looks like I'm going to have to dig deeper.

Familiarities Galore

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: if you have used Google Calendar before, you are going to feel right at home with the Teamup Calendar interface. The same mini month calendar on the left, list of calendars below it, views at the top-right and the actual calendar in the rest of the space. If anything, the Teamup version seems more optimized because it utilizes the space Google wastes in its monstrous header. Also, I found the overall color scheme and visual hierarchy much clearer than Google Calendar.

One thing I did find very weird is that the calendar name I entered when creating the calendar appears at the top, while the actual calendar name defaults to "Calendar 1". Sure, I can edit the name and add more calendars, but since I got here through a "Create Calendar" workflow, I expected the same of my calendar to be that. The way it works right now, I should have been asked to "Create a Context" for my calendars - like my company's name, personal space, etc. - a superset that contain multiple calendars.

What I sorely missed right away was a way to quickly add events to the calendar using a text field and natural language parsing. The only way to add an event is to click the right location on the calendar and add the necessary details in the box. To its credit, Teamup makes the event entry box much clearer than Google's version. Inside is the same old "what, when, who, where" routine. There is a "More..." in this box that I expected would give finer control over the event details; instead it just opens up a text area to add notes for your event. So basically the "More..." button opens up a "Notes" section.

A Simplistic Approach to Collaboration

Teamup takes a very different approach to most other collaboration apps out there. There is no registration involved, so pretty much anyone can join in almost seamlessly. Remember how I mentioned about the two links you get when you create a calendar? Turns out, everyone with access to those links can collaborate on a calendar either as an administrator or a regular user. Admins have the ability to add or remove calendars, change display settings and create or edit user groups with specific access restrictions. Users, on the other hand, can only view events, or add/edit them based on what privileges have been assigned to the URL they have.

I like this approach because it completely gets rid of the registration process for each individual user making it dead simple to add new team members to a calendar. For a small team like mine, this makes perfect sense. On the downside, you don't get the usual perks associated with the system knowing each individual user. For example, there is no way to tell which team member added a certain task, and there is nothing preventing a miscreant on the team from messing around with the schedule of the rest of the team for whatever reason.

Missing Touches

Despite how optimized the interface is, the app itself does not feel as snappy as it should. Adding and editing calendars, for example, takes up an entire page, forcing a page refresh every time I want to do either. Ideally, it should be something one can do within the context right there on my calendar view. The app also lacks a number of subtle interface touches that could make the experience so much more seamless. Here are a few things I was surprised to see in an app in this day and age of dynamic, snappy user experiences:

  • When editing the time for an event, the dropdown always starts from the first hour of the day instead of the currently selected time slot.
  • There is no indication of the current time on the Week & Day calendar views. Just a small red line to state what the current time of day is can make a huge difference in a user's ability to quickly glance through their events for the day.
  • In the Event Details box, hitting Enter after typing something does nothing. I found myself doing this often by practice.

When working with others on the same calendar, updates made by one user do not reflect for others till one manually refreshes the page. This means multiple team members could end up editing an event with only the last one to change having it their way. This could be a trivial issue for some teams, but a deal breaker for others, depending on their particular use cases.

Wrapping Up

Teamup Calendar brings a very interesting frictionless approach to collaboration on calendars, along with a minimalistic feature set that might be just enough for small teams looking for a quick way to manage meetings and schedules. Although it has its downsides in terms of the overall user experience, nothing stands out as a show stopper unless you need ironclad control for mission critical situations. Also, in this era where smart phones are becoming an integral part of people's information management routines, the use cases for a web-only app are pretty limited.

I am myself going to give the app a fair try with my team at work. It seems to have just what we need and nothing more. How well it works for us and whether we are able to look through its limitations as a team, only time will tell.

Addendum: Teamup Adds Their Thoughts

The developers of Teamup sent us a response to this critique, letting us know their views:

The article starts with comparing Teamup Calendar to Google Calendar. We don’t position Teamup Calendar as a direct competitor of Google Calendar and we don't recommend Teamup Calendar as a personal calendaring tool. Instead, we position it as a group calendaring tool with a focus on sharing and collaboration. We aim particularly at small teams and loosely collaborating groups that don’t have a common IT infrastructure. Some of the application scenarios for which our users use Teamup Calendar include:

  • Reservation tool for meetings rooms and equipment
  • Event calendars
  • Absence and holiday calendar
  • Ad-hoc planning tool for projects and events
  • Scheduler for courses, work shifts, training sessions

The article points out several ways to improve the usability of the application. That is very useful feedback for us and we will carefully consider how these can be addressed. Thanks for the review.

Thanks, guys! - Editor

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