I personally define an event to be a connection between people in a particular place and time. It could be for a small group of close friends or 40,000 music lovers. I am seriously dependent on my calendar to manage my commitments. Most people live and flourish by their calendar.
As we coordinate our events using calendars, they can get more complicated and specialized. In the world of software, the word “enterprise” is often tossed about when referring to the size, robustness and complexity of a tool. If you are looking to scale or customize an online events calendar / event management toolset, there are a subset of common challenges we routinely run across.
Lots of Events
With two little kids, I have a heck of a time just getting out of the house. Thankfully, the world didn’t stop turning because I am grounded. There are some groups with very active social calendars. We have seen a handful of calendars with hundreds of thousands of events. When you scale to that many events, a number of things change. Sure, your servers, caching and queries need to be configured to handle the additional load. Beyond that though, the user experience also needs to evolve. Filters, accurate search and personalized data sets become extremely important. Views which handle a lot of events gracefully is key.
Town square runs over 300 hundred radio stations across the United States. They had just brokered a deal with Eventful and needed the right events to get into the most appropriate calendars and to allow users to navigate to the events they truly were interested in. The importer allowed a radio station to set criteria from geographical radius (within 20m of the station) to topical relevance (concerts: hip hop), cost and quite a few more. The importer runs on a set schedule, pulls new events, ignores ones that have already been added or rejected. Events could be auto-added or put into a moderation queue. Voila, a brimming calendar of relevant events.
For the user, a set of ajax powered filters (which eventually evolved into our filterbar plugin) gave instant results letting a visitor see all free events on a weekend open to the under 21 crowd. The placement of the bar was flexible, allowing each site manager to position it in a way that fit their radio station design. In addition, a permalink could be created so that a specific filtered view could be shared.
Sometimes, events need to be vetted and approved. Out of the box, many solutions allow a ubiquitous editor / administrator to review a queue of events in moderation or draft mode and then approve or decline. When it comes to more a nuanced workflow though, customization often becomes necessary. Approval could require a particular chain of command, or different people in different cases. Submission could require multiple stages.
Stanford Law Schools runs over 2,500 events per year, from student workshops to a lecture from the president. Events are submitted to the global calendar by an organizer and then funneled into an approval process. Student affairs reviews and signs off on all student related events and facilities review and signs off on any event which requests rooms on campus. Along each step of the path, for each possible outcome (and there were many), emails are sent to the appropriate parties. In addition to the approval workflow, we added management for material requests (tables, projectors…).
RSVP & Tickets
While I’m not one to rain on someone’s “me party”, a party of one doesn’t make for much of an event. Tracking who is coming, and collecting some well deserved ducats, sits right at the heart of the industry. There are a grip of solid ticketing solution in the industry, and most of them scale just fine. Sometimes though, you need something specific. To sign up for a triathlon, you have to check the box accepting the risk you might run out of breath, trip on your shoe laces and die of embarrassment. Tickets need to be checked at the door and this is much nicer with a phone scanning app. Serving food and need to know how many meat eaters are left in San Francisco (I think there might be 12 of us)?
Etix manages ticketing for some of the largest venues in the US and across the world, from the Roxy & National Theater to many State Fairs. Their team needed to integrate their workflow into a good venue calendar management framework and be able to customize each element of the user’s journey. The heart of their effort was focused on conversion and over time they showed a noticeable increase in ticket purchases uses optimizely and thoughtful A/B tests.
In the modern era, a lot of my data lives in different places, and I often find myself wishing it would be smart enough to keep synced without me playing the role of a glorified mule. Thankfully in the era of the API, this is no longer the pickle it once represented. Need to integrate your facilities management with your calendar venues? Done. Looking to auto-add events to staff calendars using LDAP / Active Directory? Totally manageable. Wish you could just make an eventbrite ticket when adding an event to your site without having to open three browsers? Check. Auto-sync to Facebook events? That is cool too.
Harvard Law School manages its events in EMS, but wanted a more flexible and beautiful user facing calendar. Through a JSON API, events are pulled, allowing them to maintain an existing workflow, and benefit from an improved user experience and the ability to customize in the future.
A calendar is the basis of many event management workflows. From there, particular use cases change the game. Community hubs which collect user submitted events need a curation workflow and many want to charge for submissions. Conferences run multi-track, even multi-venue, schedules. Vacation rentals need to manage availability to bookings.
We are currently working with Maker Faire to support over 200 global fairs. The schedule is faceted and aligns far better with the patters of a trade show than your typical conference. They certainly have headliners and formal speaking stages. But that is just one slice of a huge experience. Exhibits, performances, workshops and competitions all work into the schedule in their own ways. Helping anywhere between 250 to 60,000 people find the right experience on the day of the event requires a customized workflow. Add in robust maker profiles, rich media experiences, complex sponsor relationships and advertising. We are looking to take the lifecycle of the event experience and create different pre, during and post views for the event itself as well as relevant pages. After all, the archival needs for an event page are extremely different than the pre-sales experience.
Tribe Knows Events
We know a thing or two about events. Our free WordPress events calendar is active on over 300,000 sites, is rapidly approaching 3 million downloads, and just broke 1,000 reviews on WordPress.org. Building atop this foundation is a profitable commercial plugin business offering advanced event management and ticketing. We power brand from non-profits such as the Special Olympics, United Way, Habitat for Humanity & IEEE to higher education including Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Texas A&M, Florida State, UCLA, UC Berkeley, to companies such as Microsoft, Steelcase & TownSquare.
Modern Tribe thrives as a digital agency and we often help enterprise users scale the calendar to tackle unique and new challenges.