Google Calendar: Do You Trust It?

by Matthew Russell

Take a moment to go and check out Google Calendar Beta. The few screenshots I could post here just won't do it justice. Although it doesn't quite exceed my particular expectations of an ideal calendar product (yet anyway), it sure is a good start. A quick glance reveals that the interface is quite responsive and usable, you can publish and share calendars, you can import calendars from existing programs such as iCal, you can export calendar formats, and a lot more.

Really, the only missing feature I really want is to be able to automatically sync my iCal calendars on my PowerBook with Google Calendar automagically. SyncServices and the URLs that Google Calendar exposes make this doable, so I could hack something up if I really wanted (and had the time), but instead, I think I may just try ditching iCal for a while, and see how Google Calendar does as a standalone. Really, I'm seldom using my PowerBook if wireless isn't available, so this approach seems like the road of least resistance -- at least for now.

My only real hesitation to using Google Calendar as a standalone involves control. You see, I'm still getting used to the idea of my data being far off somewhere on a server that I can't put my hands on and that I have no control of whatsoever. But then again, a nightly cron job to pull down my calendar with wget and the private URL that Google Calendar exposes would eliminate some of that anxiety I suppose.

Does the idea of your calendar being far off on a server somewhere that you'll never see bother anyone else? Along similar lines, does anyone have privacy concerns -- despite Google's privacy policies, and (what I perceive to be) good reputation? Maybe these are silly questions to ask considering that most people's e-mail is probably just as sensitive as their calendar, and virtually everyone uses a mail server that they never see, let alone think about.

But at the same time, I think this issue is definitely worth periodically reviewing, and now seems like as good a time as any. Now it's e-mail, tomorrow it's calendars, next year we may all be using online versions of office involving products like Writely and NumSum, which store our documents somewhere far, far away. Seem like a slippery slope to anyone else?

17 Comments

Steve R.
2006-04-15 08:38:48
I think that privacy, while certainly a consideration, is not such a big deal in most applications. Who cares if someone else can see your calendar? Someone 'could' track you down, but there are so many other ways of doing that (call your company, call your home, spy on you) that it really isn't an issue. If you do have a super-secret meeting with the company you plan on acquiring that must remain secret, well, that's an isolated enough event that you could leave it off the calendar, or just mark the days 'unavailable - road trip X'.


Check out Basecamp by 37signals - they have thousands of users who manage projects entirely on servers not their own - they have password access control, of course, but that is hardly foolproof. Not only that, but there is actually a published API, so users can write applications to update content completely independent of the 'normal' web interface. Note - The 37signals guys are working on a calendar application, too! (Disclaimer: I do not work for them, I'm just a fan)

Trevor
2006-04-15 08:55:28
"Really, the only missing feature I really want is to be able to automatically sync my iCal calendars on my PowerBook with Google Calendar automagically."


I thought that feature was already there. Just do Calendar > Publish in iCal, then have Google Calendar subscribe to the location where you published the calendar. (However, I'm not sure what iCal would do if you were to make changes to this calendar in Google Calendar instead of iCal.)

ptwobrussell
2006-04-15 09:07:00
@Trevor: It appears that if you changed the Google Calendar that you subscribed to with iCal, that the original calendar wouldn't update. So yeah, that's what I'm referring to as my "missing feature." I'd like for these to automatically stay in sync, and as it appears now, no software exists to take care of this, although it wouldn't be very hard to hack something up.
Zac
2006-04-15 09:07:36
A few years ago I was told by some guys "in the know" that the personal computer was on the way out. All of our applications and data would move online and we would access it through small PDA-like devices. Five or six years later things have certainly taken a couple of steps in that direction, but such a world still seems a far way off.


The biggest reason I think so is just what you said. Having your calendars online doesn't quite sit right with you. It isn't really a privacy concern, but you would just prefer to have it on your own hard drive. I feel the same way. I think people have a psychological desire to have physical possession of their data. I don't have any privacy concerns with Google Calendar. I think Google is a fairly trustworthy company, and I do not consider the chances of some horrible data thief being interested in my calendars particularly great, but, I really like having them. I just do.

Magnus
2006-04-15 09:23:32
Well, I think that it's far more likely that my computers (and backups) would fail than that Google's would fail (although it could happen). Google are pretty good at doing online services. I really like Gmail, for example and as soon as they get Safari support in Calendar it'll be my new place for calendar stuff. I subscribe to .Mac too but I just have the sense that in the online arena Apple is way behind Google. Now if Apple and Google would join forces it would be pretty interesting, me thinks.
Michael Clark
2006-04-15 13:01:28
I am the webmaster for the Center for Democracy & Technology. In February we released a report about privacy protections of online information. The report is titled Digital Search & Seizure: Updating Privacy Protections to Keep Pace with Technology. It is available at http://www.cdt.org/publications/digital-search-and-seizure.pdf (PDF only, sorry). Mike
Jarod
2006-04-15 13:30:29
I wouldn't trust my info on ANY remote server unless it was my own. You never know when these companies turn around and do something stupid. If you use these things for bullshit stuff, then yeah I guess you have nothing to lose, but for important stuff...no way.
Dan
2006-04-15 16:24:35
Personally, I've been using the calendar at 30boxes.com, which is extremely similar, for about a month now. The convenience of having a calendar I can access from anywhere trumps the concerns of having my calendar data hosted elsewhere. Of course, should they lose my data, I'm screwed, I suppose, which is why I back it up at least once a week on my work comp.


I have to second the shoutout to 37signals, BTW, I rely on Backpack like it was a third arm.

Aristotle Pagaltzis
2006-04-15 19:13:42
I'm the same way, Matthew. Yeah, Google is not bad as corporations go, but corporations are corporations and indeed, Google have pulled some stunning stuff with Gmail too (if the layout's broken on that site for you, scroll far down; the article's there). I remarked about that incident back then that nothing evil was in fact going on, even so. A corporation simply is not an integral entity so the concept of trust as we grant it between individuals does not apply. You cannot "trust" a corporation.


I also wrote that Gmail is not for me because having control of my own data means I can munge, massage, mine and generally torture it in any way and shape I please, and I can make changes and tweaks to the way I work with it as I see fit. Granting someone else custody of my data means I lose all these freedoms.


I do use a webmail provider for my email, but I don't actually use webmail for my email. I just suck all my mail down using POP3 and use their SMTP server to send mail; in effect, it's just a reliable invisible mailserver management service for me. Filtering, reading, responding, filing, browsing, searching, all happens on my own system.


If I felt a need for a calendaring application, and took to Google Calendar for the purpose, my use of it would no doubt mirror my use of the webmail service I use: merely as a synch point that happens to have a user interface which may be handy on the very rare occasions that I don't have access to my own systems.


But I still eventually want to run my own mailserver and I'd probably still eventually want to publish my calendar myself.


In German law, there is a term that translates literally as "informational self-determination" and refers to the concept of having a constitutional right to be the master of one's own data, including such things as who may disclose what about you and in which context. It is something I very much cherish.

Justin Garofoli
2006-04-15 21:48:27
I'm not too concerned with the privacy, but I probably should be. I really am loving the access the calendar provides (as Steve R. points out).


Right now, my main problem with the interface is that you can't specify different alert methods (email, sms, etc.) and times (okay, for your main calendar you can change alert times, but not your other cals) for each event. You only get one way, unless I'm missing something.


Also, I would really like to see alerts for events in calendars you subscribe to (ie baseball game schedules). Copying each event to your calendar is just too cumbersome when there is going to be 120 events.


Other than that, I'm with you Matthew, ditching iCal for gCal for now.

Richard
2006-04-16 00:11:51
At our workplace we have just started using Basecamp (http://basecamphq.com/) as a means of communicating with each other. I honestly thought I would see more concerns or objections to the fact that all data is stored on someone else's server, but I've been surprised at how this doesn't seem to be a problem. I guess it's a case of if something is simple or "just works" then people seem more eager to trust it with their data. This is perhaps a naive attitude to have, but it may just come down to a case of "well, as everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I?" ... this could be the slippery slope that is being referred to!
Ross Brown
2006-04-16 00:44:03
Slippery slope, yeah. Before long we'll be putting our money in banks.
Hoby
2006-04-17 02:03:49
I think it is a slippery slope that many companies are trying to send us down. While I think there is definitely a variety of situations in which net-only documents are of more use than app/doc combinations that run and are stored only on your own hard drive.. those situations are and will likely remain a small portion of peoples' over-all computing needs.


It's important to keep this computing model from getting out of hand, because it opens the door for so much more abuse by the holders of peoples' personal documents.

FARfetched
2006-04-17 06:11:47
I'll have a look at it. Ideally, it would be great to be able to use it to sync with iCal on my laptop and (at work) desktop computers. Yahoo's calendar doesn't play with iCal at all, so I never even bothered with it.
Roshambo
2006-04-17 10:38:21
It's by all means a slippery slope, but at the same time it's pretty much inevitable. Then again, maybe open source can save the day?
red
2006-04-17 17:12:45
I'm working at a small startup and handling the workgroup calendar across both PCs and Macs and PalmPilots is a challenge at best. We've tried almost all of them(Yahoo Calendar, Rainlender, WebOffice, 30Boxes, Airset) and had problems with all of them except for Airset. Airset (www.airset.com) works really really well for a personal and small group calendar, published iCal, and synching with evilOutlook. It's a complex battlefield that google has stepped into. But there definitely is a market for the family/small office needs of handling multiple calendars and sharing events as well as marking some events private. Paying $60/month per person for a hosted Exchange Server just ain't an option when the money is tight.
Tom Hall
2006-04-18 13:44:01
THE GOOGLE CALENDAR


I've had a brief opportunity to examine Google's calendar.


Although I think it is probably a decent offering for those who are Internet-challenged, I would certainly recommend a calendar product (like vcalendar.org) or something similar that will give the user ultimate control over the application and the data.


Even though Google appears to be attempting to take over the digital world, I'm not one of those that thinks there is necessarily a conspiracy by Google. (Yet, I do think some of their policies seem to be good for Google, not the web community as a whole.)


It is very apparent that Google is trying to position themselves as a one stop shop for Internet-based applications and services. Almost any function you can do online, they want to have a hand in the pot.


GOOGLE GOING FORWARD


At this pace, I wouldn't be surprised if Google attempts to enter into online banking, and thus launch the highly controversial "GoogleBank". And if so, I wouldn't freak out over the privacy issue. But, I am cautious enough that I might consider leaving my money under the matress rather than deposit it in one of their accounts if that's any consolation.


Where will it end? Google is already breaching territory in desktop applications, web services, and interactive publishing...while all the while dominating the search industry and keep the ad industry on pins and needles. If they move into other key industries will consumers allow them to have that much control over their web experience?


I'd personally rather see a lot more equity and balance in the marketplace.