The challenge of calendaring

Company

We often focus on email functionality as it is the main focus of our product. However, FastMail has two other components - calendaring and contacts.

In this post we’re focusing on our calendar.

While calendaring has become an integral part of our flagship service, our calendar feature was only introduced in 2014, making it still relatively young in the history of FastMail. Remember we’ve been around since 1999, which might equate to around 100 in modern tech years…

Just like with email, providing a calendar function presents its own challenges. In short, doing calendaring well is, well, hard. One of the main reasons is that standards related to calendaring are still over the place. We’re working hard on making these standards more consistent so that we can improve online calendaring for everyone.

One of our core values is a commitment to open standards. We’re not looking to create a walled garden by developing proprietary technology where your data is locked down to one source or provider.

With FastMail continuing to use CalDAV and iCalendar it helps to drive open standards in online calendaring and helps us to help you to use your information as you choose, syncing between different service providers and devices (as with email).

The data in your FastMail calendars are stored in open formats and can be downloaded or backed up using any number of standard tools that speak standard protocols.

Community-minded calendaring

We are responsible members of many open source communities. We use, create, sponsor and contribute back to a number of projects, including the Cyrus email server.

A significant part of FastMail’s infrastructure runs on Cyrus, the open source email communication technology that was initially developed at CMU.

Right now one of our biggest projects is implementing JMAP as a new standard, which will help to extend the functionality of calendaring and replace CalDAV.

In order for us to live our values we also invest in our people. And when it comes to calendaring we’ve got a great team that helps us to improve and advance calendaring for all of our users, and hopefully the internet in general.

Ken Murchsion, one of our calendar experts, was crucial to getting calendaring off the ground. Without Ken, calendaring and Cyrus may have never happened.

When Cyrus lacked any calendaring functionality it was Ken, then a CMU employee, who took up a casual challenge as a pet project and managed to build a calendaring function with very basic features.

Ken is quick to point out part of Cyrus’ calendaring ongoing development was made possible by attending CalConnect and meeting and speaking to other developers.

photo
of Ken presenting at CalConnect

Ken met Bron around the 2.5 release of Cyrus, and this fortuitous meeting has laid the foundation for several improvements to the calendar and ongoing CalConnect attendances (and of course, Ken becoming a permanent member of the FastMail team).

For the last few years FastMail has been a member of CalConnect and attending this conference really is important to our ongoing development. Robert, another important part of our calendar team, recently wrote about the importance of CalConnect to FastMail.

Looking ahead

We’re hoping to see JMAP recognized as a new standard during 2018 and once this is fully implemented it will help to see many more improvements across email, calendars and contacts.

At a top level this will help to continually improve backend, performance, scheduling and subscriptions.

At a feature level we’re already testing out some exciting new technology. One of these being ‘consensus scheduling’ – recently discussed at CalConnect - which takes the original scheduling functionality and enables a client to send multiple time options for a meeting or appointment to a group of people. So instead of going back and forth to confirm a meeting time it can all be done within the calendar.

Another feature we’ve started to explore is a polling function that could eventually be applied to things such as meeting confirmations for service providers, further reducing the reliance on telephone-based appointment making. Currently, a formal RFC is underway to help implement a standard.

We’re looking forward to introducing ongoing calendar improvements and features into FastMail and we’ll formally announce these as they enter our production environment.

A special event on the calendar

Earlier this year Ken was the ninth recipient of the CalConnect Distingushed Service Award.

Photo
of the service award trophy

This award is a testament to Ken’s dedication to improving calendaring specification and standards. He is also the author of several RFCs and specifications, which have helped to define calendaring for users the world over.

Reflecting on his achievement, Ken remains as modest as ever, “it’s this interaction with other developers (in attending CalConnect) that is so important, testing and banging out code together.”

Ken’s achievements in the calendaring space are immense and he continues to help improve calendaring for all of us.

As our CEO Bron noted, “CyrusIMAP now has best-in-the-world implementation of calendars and contacts due to Ken’s involvement in CalConnect.”

Well done Ken!