Shared, Public and Private

imageContinuing with the theme of “what may seem like an oversight might actually be a good thing,” our project brought us to the finer nuances of the SharePoint calendar this week. As I mentioned last week, we discovered that a calendar was a good way to represent the access paths to the content we are storing. This is because much of the content is associated with an event. Using the calendar not only lets us tag content with the event it belongs to, but also lets us answer questions like “what did we prepare for these guys last year?” The calendar works, but as is often the case with SharePoint, some people want more than they should have. In our case, the primary users were requesting a level of calendar integration with Exchange that we either couldn’t or didn’t want to provide. Note: I added the two options because it seems that if you need to do something that SharePoint doesn’t support out-of-the-box, there’s always a way to get it done. That’s usually a good thing, but not this time.

Calendars were perhaps the first collaboration communication mechanism. I’m not just talking about SharePoint; we have had public, community, team, company and project calendars since farmers first began planting crops based on the appearance of the night sky. While you might think that with today’s modern capabilities, we could all just have one calendar; that would be a disaster. In fact, it’s not even clear when we want to switch between the three types of calendars implied by the title.

Shared Calendars – These are a great boon to collaboration. People on teams can easily tell when they can and can’t schedule meetings, and they can build around other information. For example, we have an employee who normally telecommutes from Chicago. Seeing that he is in CT for a meeting helps me to schedule things that would benefit from an in-person meeting. I don’t think SharePoint is a good place for shared calendars. Although I’m sure there are ways to make the sharing work well, calendar sharing is a transactional process and it works better in Outlook.

Public Calendars – This is what we are building into our latest SharePoint solution, and it’s a perfect use of SharePoint. Public calendars tell the world when things are going to occur, and lots more. Ours is also letting people know who from our company is going to be attending, who is sponsoring the event, and it will have links to all the content related to the event. In the past, we have used them to store agendas and provide links to the supporting material for each topic. The site we are working on is a collection of document libraries, and the calendar is like the calendar on the bulletin board of your public library. It makes it easy for people to see what is going on in this area, without having to check multiple shared calendars.

Private Calendars – These calendars, as well as the private events people put on shared calendars should be, as the name suggests, private. I don’t need to know when someone’s colonoscopy is scheduled, the fact that they’re out of the office is good enough for me. I had my Outlook calendar published into my MySite under SharePoint 2007, but that connection lasted about a week. Outlook is much easier to connect to than SharePoint, and I can see my Outlook calendar anytime, anyplace and from any device that I can see SharePoint from. I don’t know a technical way to prevent it, but there should be a penalty for putting personal items in a SharePoint public calendar.

Those may all seem like obvious conclusions, but we have had requests to accommodate as well as attempts and successful violations of all the above. People, it seems, need to be made aware of the purpose of each calendar that they encounter. Here’s my standing guideline for SharePoint calendars.

Every item on this calendar relates to the content stored on this site!

Once again, as Steve Weissman loves to say: “it’s not technology, it’s psychology