Jamie Thomson

Thoughts, about stuff

Posts Tagged ‘Elmcity

More thoughts on iCalendar – how apps may help increase adoption

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Regular readers may know that I am a passionate advocate of iCalendar which is the enabling technology for subscribable calendars on the web. Previous blog posts include:

I am a supporter of Jon Udell’s Elmcity project that is seeking to broaden the awareness of iCalendar by aggregating iCalendar data per locale. My interest in the project has led to me becoming the curator for the Sunbury-on-Thames hub on Elmcity.

I firmly believe that use of iCalendar by government authorities (especially local authorities) and other organisations coupled with increased adoption by Joe Public would be a big win for all of us; up-to-date, relevant information could be distributed to the tool that people already use to manage their lives – i.e. their calendar.

At the time of writing however this has not happened even though the iCalendar format and supporting clients have been around for years; the problem as I see it is that iCalendar is not a technology that readily transfers over to the masses. RSS feeds have had the same problem – even though no-one that knowingly uses RSS feeds can deny their value I still don’t know any of my family or real world friends (i.e. those outside the technology industry) that can even explain what they are!

There was a word in that last paragraph that I made sure to use, can you guess what it was? The word was “knowingly” and therein lies an important point. Even though they don’t know it my friends and family actually use RSS feeds day-in day-out in the form of smartphone apps that consume RSS feeds and turn them into human-friendly content (news apps are classic examples). This is true of many technologies on the web today; do acronyms like DNS, TCP/IP, HTTP, XHTML, SQL, XQuery mean anything to my mother? Of course not, but she is making use of them whenever she browses the web which she does every single day. Users are abstracted away from the underlying infrastructure to the point that they are not aware of its existence.

I believe that the same abstraction principle should be applied to iCalendar. I propose that we as iCalendar advocates should not use our time trying to put the public in the know about iCalendar, instead let’s use that time to raise the level of abstraction so that they don’t have to know. More concretely I propose that a worthwhile endeavour for an iCalendar curator would be to provide, as the technology du jour, a smartphone app for their iCalendar feed.

At the time of writing I am talking the talk rather than walking the walking because I have not provided such an app for my Sunbury-on-Thames Elmcity hub and hence providing such an app for my smartphone of choice may become my personal winter project – if there are any .Net developers out there than fancy helping me then I would be most grateful – this form of development is not my strongpoint.



Written by Jamiet

December 6, 2010 at 8:57 pm

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Windows Phone 7 needs a Location hub

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Windows Phone 7 has introduced the notion of hubs. Hubs are essentially parts of the phone OS that aggregate information pertaining to a particular “thing”; right now those six “things” are:

  • Music & Video
  • Games
  • People
  • Pictures
  • Marketplace
  • Office

I’m of the opinion that there should be a seventh hub – Location. There are many services today that provide location specific data (Foursquare & Flickr are two such examples)although I can safely predict that the number of these will grow exponentially over the coming years. On Windows Phone 7 right now there is no way to present location-centric information in a single place – hence why I believe there is a need for a Location hub.

In this (currently mythical) scenario apps would be able to publish information that is relevant to the user’s current location into this Location hub in much the same way that (e.g.) the SmugMug app currently publishes photos into the pictures hub. The Location hub would display all of that information on a map and the user could zoom in/out to see more or less information as they please. I can think of many apps, or types of apps, that could take advantage of this:

  • Foursquare could publish check-ins
  • Twitter could publish geo-tagged tweets
  • Retailers could publish special offers (“Come to our store on Oxford Street in the next 10 minutes with your Windows Phone and receive a discount”)
  • London Underground could publish an overlay of the tube network, including real-time train information
  • Event sites like Eventful, Elmcity and Upcoming could publish local events
  • OpenTable (who already have an app in the Windows Phone marketplace) could publish information about nearby restaurants
  • Weather apps could overlay current or future weather conditions
  • Transport for London could publish up-to-the-minute information about their “boris bikes” such as which stations currently have bikes available
  • Your friends could share their location which could get published into the hub (this suggestion came from Todd Mcdermid)
  • Apps that provide data about public amenities (letter boxes, public toilets, post offices etc…) could overlay that information on the Location hub

The more I consider this the more I think its a fantastic idea (well, I would, wouldn’t I) and the more I become amazed that Microsoft didn’t provide it straight off the bat. I realise there’s little chance that this little blog post will reach the powers that be and make a difference but still, I can live in hope!

Let me know that you think. What other information could end up in a Location hub?


UPDATE: Vote for this idea on the Windows Phone 7 Community Wishlist at : New
hub for “Location” data


Written by Jamiet

October 26, 2010 at 7:51 pm

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Announcing the Sunbury-on-Thames hub on Elmcity

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Ever heard of the Elmcity project? It is an effort by Jon Udell (blog | twitter) to do for calendars what Google Reader has done for blogs. Put more succinctly it is a calendar aggregator. Elmcity will search out publicly listed events for a given location and aggregate them all in a single place and (more importantly) to a single public calendar feed that anyone can subscribe to in their calendar program of choice (e.g. Hotmail Calendar, Google Calendar, Outlook, Apple iCal).

Regular readers of this blog and my more technical work-related blog will know that I have particular interest in subscribable calendars and calendar aggregation from my past blog posts:

and so was eager to get involved with Elmcity; hence I have created an Elmcity event hub for my hometown, Sunbury-on-Thames. I was impressed by the ease with which I was able to set this up (go read the Elmcity FAQ to find out how to set up an Elmcity hub for your own home town) and was pleased to see, via my hub, that indeed people do add events to Eventful & UpComing for the surrounding area. Here’s some stuff coming up in the first few weeks of November that I would never have otherwise known about:


If you want to view the hub then go to http://elmcity.cloudapp.net/services/jamiethomson/html or, if you want to make it really useful, subscribe to the calendar using this URL: http://elmcity.cloudapp.net/services/jamiethomson/ics in your calendar program of choice (Hotmail Calendar, Google Calendar etc…

Now that the hub is up and running the challenge is to make it seriously useful by getting local organisations like schools, clubs, local authority groups etc… to start publishing their calendars in a way that I can get them into the hub. That wont be easy but I shall be endeavouring to publicise the hub and this blog post is just the start of that – I hope to report some success in the coming months.

In the meantime, if you are a Sunbury-on-Thames resident and have stumbled in here I would really love to know what you think of this little experiment so please let me know what you think about the Elmcity hub and perhaps let me know about local events that I can add in. I can be reached on Twitter or via email.

Thanks for reading



Written by Jamiet

October 14, 2010 at 6:15 pm

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