Friday, November 10, 2006

Did I mention

No, I don't believe I did, but it yesterday (my birthday, for those of you who forgot), appeared on the Google Code Featured Projects blog. I created with fellow Googler and MIT alum Mike Lambert a few days after the fall semester started at MIT.

So why didn't you post about this weeks ago?, you wonder. Well, here's what happened: Mike and I were eating lunch at Google, and I was expressing my disappointment that MIT would be an unlikely candidate for Google Apps for Your Domain because it has already invested a lot in its Athena computing system, and people would freak out if they couldn't use Pine or mh or whatever junk people who don't use Gmail use. What I really wanted, of course, was for every MIT professor to enter his or her syllabus in Google Calendar, which would save students the trouble of figuring out recurrence rules and determining which MIT Tuesdays are actually Mondays.

But then Mike raised the key question: "Why don't we create all the calendars for them?" Upon hearing this, I immediately realized that this was one of those ideas that was just so stupidly obvious that we needed to drop everything and just start building it. So we did.

We decided that the interface that would be most familiar to students would be one that paralleled MIT's online course directory. We would simply copy the HTML from the directory, and in the spirit of not being evil, would provide links to make it trivial to add the course schedule to Sunbird or iCal as well as Google Calendar.

As it turned out, Mike and I were already scheduled to fly to MIT that weekend for some on-campus recruiting. In many ways, it was fitting that we didn't sleep at all on the red-eye, discussing our design, and then went straight from Logan to the MIT student center (I got the first LaVerde's breakfast sandwich of the day!), and continued hacking until we had published the site.

Of course, we couldn't contain our excitement, and showed off our work to some MIT students who were passing by. One common reaction, which both excited and disappointed me, was, "Oh man -- I wish you had that a week ago! I already uploaded all of my courses to Google Calendar!" Clearly the early bird catches the worm, and the early bird was not us.

We sent the URL around, and the site got some uptake, but it didn't generate as large a response as we had hoped. There were definitely a number of things we did wrong (I hope no one accidentally goes to class on Thanksgiving because of us, or misses their final exam, for that matter), but now we know how we can do better (and that we should act earlier) next semester. Although we'll be sure to look out for that second-system effect we learned about in 6.033, you can expect a better version of for the spring semester, so be sure to check back in February!

1 comment:

  1. [...] But wait, “What is” you wonder. I realized that I forgot to post about it before, so I should explain. Last fall, I wrote about how I created with Mike Lambert to make it easy to add MIT course schedules to Google Calendar. After getting feedback from students, we realized that there were two major issues with our site: [...]