The new email system is all-around ok, but it’s by no means been a seamless transition for my department. My new mantra (and I swear I’m going to stick a little card on my computer monitor that says this) is:
Even this is worth it if the whole campus is on one system.
For one thing, it’s thrown a little monkey wrench into my department’s system of publishing our availability to our students. Last year we came up with a pretty slick plan of using Google Calendar, sharing our calendars with each other (to facilitate making meetings), and publishing separate “Available Time” calendars for everyone else to see (example). It worked very nicely.
Well now we’ve got our Zimbra calendars, which are really only useful if everyone uses them. These are very much like Outlook calendars, or Groupwise calendars. You know the drill: email and calendar all in one place, people can see when you’re busy when they schedule meetings… the whole nine yards. Except that in our case, we’re only up to about 4 yards because of two significant kinks.
First, even if we use Google Calendars to subscribe to our Zimbra calendar’s iCal feed, we cannot make Google Calendar understand that this is ok to publish this on our HTML web pages. We’re now in the process of searching for another 3rd party program that we could use to mimic this functionality, but currently we’re stuck updating two calendars. Why? Because even though students could propose a meeting time and see if we’re free, we don’t know how many students will be using the calendar function this first year, and we do know that sometimes it’s much easier just to glance at a calendar a week at a time to get a feel for free time. With all the appointments we do, we need an easy way for students to see when they can come see us that doesn’t require any training. So that knocks about two and a half yards off the “whole” right there.
Second, not everyone is going to use this new calendaring system. I know of one whole department in the library that’s said it’s going to stick with a Google Calendar system that’s working well. And I know full well that many professors and students won’t bother. This means that even within the library we won’t be able to use the new system to it’s full potential, let alone with the wider campus. So that knocks at least another yard off, if not two, and my optimistic nature has to work even harder to sprinkle it’s habitual pixie dust over the situation and keep me mellow in the belief that this will be wonderful.
A third kink doesn’t come nearly to the level of the first two, which is why I didn’t include it above. But for now it’s a pain. For now, we can’t sync with our palm pilots, so that means maintaining yet a third calendar for all those times when you’re in meetings trying to schedule new meetings and really need a portable calendar. (And no, we don’t have cool data-enabled phones, more’s the pity.) But hopefully this kink will disappear very soon, which is why I choose not to be annoyed by it for now.
Still, my optimistic self keeps thinking that there is still value in having a campus-wide system, and that there’s enough value that even this is worth it.