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In today’s world of home-based businesses, geographically dispersed business operations, outsourced services and worldwide marketing activities, scheduling meetings can become a bit of a nightmare. It’s also a world of many calendar programs (Outlook (s msft), MS Exchange, Google Calendar (s goog), LotusLive (Notes) (s ibm), iCal (s aapl) and Entourage) and diverse platforms (Windows, Mac, smartphones). Scheduling a meeting by email exchange can be a tedious and lengthy process at the best of times. Launching today, Tungle aims to make meeting scheduling a much simpler process for all parties.
Initially released two years ago as an Outlook plug-in, the Tungle team used the alpha and beta versions of the platform as a market research tool, as much as a test of the platform itself. Key findings included:
- it takes too many emails/phone calls to coordinate one meeting
- participants are dispersed around the globe and across different time zones
- 60% of meetings are with participants from outside the meeting coordinator’s company
- 75% of meetings are one-to-one
- 95% of meetings have four or fewer participants
At the same time they uncovered user interface issues that are addressed in this launch release:
- users want to be able to use their favorite calendar, productivity or social networking tool, not just Outlook
- invitees should not be required to register with the service in order to respond to a meeting request
- invitees require context-related help to guide them through the scheduling process
- users wanted privacy options for calendar sharing: full details, busy/away status or no sharing
No longer a plug-in, Tungle is now a hosted web service and works with all the common web browsers (including Google Chrome); no download is required. On your initial sign up you are asked to sync your calendar and contacts from whatever program you use (Tungle works with Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple iCal and Entourage for Mac) . You are also asked whether you want to share your calendar, with per-contact privacy controls.
You can then enter the Tungle interface and start the process of scheduling a meeting. Once a meeting is scheduled it is automatically entered into each participant’s calendar.
Tungle has added some features in this release to make for a better user experience, including:
- “Expert” and “Wizard” modes for meeting scheduling
- context-sensitive “bubbles” that provide additional guidance to new users responding to a meeting invitation
- time-zone adjustment for each participant’s geographical location
- use of Google Maps to find meeting locations (for example, a convenient Starbucks) from within the “Location” field
- BlackBerry (s rimm), iPhone and other smartphone compatibility
- a “Meet With Me” mode, where clicking on a button embedded in a web site or email link immediately takes the visitor into Tungle to schedule a meeting
One of the most interesting things Tungle learned through the beta testing period was that the tool actually makes meetings happen earlier, especially when three or more participants are involved. Using Tungle, the decision on a meeting time is accelerated, because a meeting that may have taken two or three days to schedule with multiple email exchanges can now be set up within a few hours.
I have used the beta version of Tungle to schedule meetings successfully several times over the past few months. Occasionally there have been user interface issues where participants did not understand how to act on the invitation email, but these concerns have all been addressed in this launch release.
Tungle is a free service with plans to offer a “premium” service later this year.
What meeting scheduling tools do you use and why?