We set out to create a meaningful hack that we would actually find useful, and we decided to design a simple way for event organizers to easily create itineraries for their events, and to effortlessly make them available to large volumes of attendees. Our primary objective was ease of use, so our system is specifically designed for itinerary distribution, and no account is necessary to use it.
This hack was partly inspired by the popular mailinator.com, which provides quick and dirty access to email accounts in situations where privacy is not a concern, thus removing the need for the hassle of creating a username and password. It is also inspired by join.me, which provides slide sharing features in a similarly easy way to users, who only have to enter a join code to begin to receive the presentation.
Presently, event itineraries are distributed in a number of ways:
- A shared online calendar service
- A website (as is the case with Hack the North)
- Printed copies
There are a number of issues with all of these methods. Shared calendar services are time-consuming to create, and use a framework that is simply not designed for itineraries. Shared calendars have more relevance in corporate environments, where employees use full desktop computers equipped with sophisticated synchronization services to share meeting availability and invitations, often repeating in nature.
Itineraries contain mostly unique entries and typically only span a few days. Because they go into far more detail than a typical calendar, it is unnatural for users to import shared calendar itineraries into their own personal calendar applications, as it creates an anomalous spot of high density in their calendar. It makes far more sense for users to mark off entire spans of time in their calendars when they are attending an event such as a conference or hackathon, and then to use a different system while there to micromanage their activities, as calendars are extremely poor at micromanagement.
Posting an itinerary on a website is also a popular method, whether as a downloadable document or actual content on a webpage. For large events with management teams and the resources to maintain their own website, this can seem like a feasible solution. The issue with this is that this static web content is usually hosted on a complex website designed for an organization, not for specifically distributing this key information. While Hack the North's website is certainly well-optimized for mobile devices, many others are not and regardless of this fact users must navigate repeatedly through the web interface to find the itinerary each time they wish to see what is next.
The even bigger issue with a web solution is that it creates additional work for the organizer in order to format and integrate the itinerary online. While the stylistic choices of different organizations will certainty vary, they all do redundant work in formatting itineraries, work that could otherwise be automated.
The issue with paper itineraries is self-evident: in an event with thousands of attendees, they create huge volumes of paper waste and do not fit in well with the technology that is prevalent today.
Furthermore, in all three of these scenarios, it is nearly impossible for organizers to publish changes or errata to their itineraries and ensure that all their attendees have received this news. Changes to shared calendars and web content are silent in nature, and even if some individuals rechecked the posted information after a revision is made, they may very well fail to notice a difference if the change is subtle. There simply must be a better way for modern technology to accommodate such a simple idea.
Thus, we present ScheduShare, a web and SMS-based platform that not only simplifies the entire process of itinerary creation and distribution, but also gives users the ability to receive updates from the host through text messages, which are available to virtually all attendees, even those without a smartphone.
Using ScheduShare can be simply described as so:
- Event organizer navigates to ScheduShare website and can immediately begin creating an itinerary without having to register for any sort of account.
- Event organizer creates their itinerary through a simple and flexible web application.
- ScheduShare generates a code that is uniquely tied to that conference, which the host can then share with their attendees.
- Attendees can either enter the code on the ScheduShare website to view the itinerary, or text the code to the ScheduShare phone number in order to receive the itinerary by SMS.
- Hosts can use the interface on the ScheduShare web app to send mass SMS updates to all phone numbers that have texted that event's join code to ScheduShare.
Our hack fully implements all these features listed above, but understandably lacks the polish of a full service. It is intended that ScheduShare itineraries expire after a set amount of time (determined from the duration of the conference, and limited to a week). After expiry, the join codes can be reused for other itineraries (although it is statistically unlikely for the same code to be used twice).
We are also able to easily upgrade our service to include SMS event reminders, pushed to all phone numbers that have registered their join code with ScheduShare prior to expiry. Users would be given the choice of opting out of ScheduShare notifications by texting a sequence such as "STOP" to ScheduShare.
As two first year engineering students, one of which with very little programming experience, we are extremely proud of the process that we have gone through to create this service. We have learned a lot from building ScheduShare, and are very pleased with the result of our work.