TimeBridge: Overview

I’ve known about the TimeBridge meeting scheduling service since a quiet off-the-record conversation at the Collaborative Technologies Conference in June 2005 in New York, but it’s been a while since I looked at what the company is up to. As with the other meeting scheduling services I’ve written about recently, TimeBridge is designed to help people reduce the time and pain involved in getting a meeting scheduled.

How TimeBridge Works
Without installing the software and trying it first-hand (which is the step that comes next) here’s the overview of how TimeBridge works:

  • Jim wants to schedule a meeting with Stephanie, Matthew, and Vicki. While Matthew works at the same firm as Jim, Stephanie and Vicki do not. Thus they can’t all share availability information, because they aren’t on the same system.
  • Jim creates a meeting invitation using the TimeBridge web service. He gives the meeting a name, enters a list of people to invite, and proposes up to 5 meeting times. When it’s set, Jim sends the meeting invitation.
  • When Matthew, Stephanie and Vicki receive the invitation, they are shown the times Jim proposed, and for each, are asked to say whether it’s a “Yes”, “No”, or “Best”.
  • The responses from other meeting invitees are shown to all invitees. That is, if Matthew is the first to fill out his availability response, then when Stephanie comes to fill out her response, she sees the availability of both Matthew and Jim. The sharing of availability in this way gives people more information about the consequences of their choices. If Stephanie is tempted to say “No” to the only meeting slot that both Jim and Matthew can make, then by seeing that she’ll deadlock the meeting, she may explore alternatives for re-arranging her schedule. This works on the premise that everything is negotiable, even future meeting commitments, and trades on the hope that people won’t deadlock a meeting if at all possible.
  • When everyone has filled out their availability, the TimeBridge service selects the best possible time, taking into consideration the different responses for “Yes” and “Best”. For those that are registered TimeBridge users, it auto-populates their calendar. For those that are casual users, it sends an email message with a link for getting an embeddable calendar event from TimeBridge.

Cool Features
There are a couple of neat features that TimeBridge has added to its service:

  • An integrated conference calling service (for free), and an optional web conferencing service (for about US$9 a month). In this day-and-age of limited travel budgets, it’s a smart move to make people’s meeting organization process as streamlined as possible, and for TimeBridge, it gives a pathway to earning money. That’s a good thing, on both counts. To get the free conference call, you only have to click one button.
  • The TimeBridge service tries very hard to move a novice user onto the fast track. If you merely use the Web service to schedule a meeting, it asks you after sending the meeting invitation if you’d like to ask the people you just invited to share their availability with you. If you say “yes”, and then they say “yes”, then you can see their free-busy times when you schedule future meetings. That helps you (and them) from asking for meetings at times that are already pre-booked.

There are other capabilities in TimeBridge that I haven’t explored yet–groups, the availability network, the Daily Brief, etc.–but that will come when I install the software and put it through more extensive tests.

Ideas for Improvement
As I experimented this afternoon, I had a couple of ideas for TimeBridge on how to improve their service:

  1. TimeBridge doesn’t let you schedule a meeting in the past (duh!), but I often found myself trying to do so when it was already Thursday or Friday and the week-at-a-glance calendar didn’t differentiate between past time and future time. I think that greying out past time would be a good move.
  2. The meeting event added to a calendar doesn’t populate the location with the conference call number, if the meeting organizer chose that when setting up the meeting. I think it should, otherwise when the meeting time comes, the user has to click the link in the calendar event to find it. There will be times when that’s annoying or not possible. Surely for “conference call” meetings, the concall number *is* the location.

Michael’s Next Action
So … my next action is to try TimeBridge out more fully. I have a couple of meetings awaiting set up through Tungle, and once they are confirmed, I’ll uninstall the Tungle connector for Apple iCal and install the TimeBridge one, and then try it out with various people. More to come …

Your Reaction?
Do you use TimeBridge? How do you find it?

Categories: Scenarios