Monday, January 19, 2015

A Primer For The Town Calendar

This was going to be about the agenda for tomorrow's Council Meeting, but it's not posted yet, and since today is a Municipal holiday, I don't really expect to see it soon. I'll check tomorrow. But looking at the Town Calendar again this morning reminded me what an embarrassment it is to our community, so I decided to try to help the Powers That Be fix the problem.

This is meant mainly for the people who post items to the calendar and for whomever is overseeing the process (though I have to wonder if anyone is, now that the new app is more automated). It can also apply to those posting events to the OIC/TNP calendar or sending events to me for my Friday post, though Shae Ashe and I seem to have less trouble receiving more complete information.

Experienced writers will tell you that there are 6 things you need to tell a reader in every story or article: when, where, what, who, why, and how. The same goes for an event listing.

When:  Day AND time.
Where:  Physical location.
What:  What the event is.
Who:  Who is sponsoring or hosting or involved. Is there contact info?
Why:  Why is the event happening? Is it a fundraiser? A weekly/monthly/annual meeting?
How:  What does the reader need to do or bring? Is there an admission fee? Should they come early? Where can they park?

When I do event listings each Friday, I try to give as much of this information as possible, but at the very least, I'll give the first 4 bits of information. Frankly, if I can't find out when, where or what, I won't list the event at all. It's no good to anyone and just clutters the list.

On the new calendar, it seems easier for community members to submit their own events, but without the above info, submissions can be useless. But that's not the biggest problem.

 On the old town calendar, you could just click on a day and all the events would be listed. You can sort of do that on the new calendar, except not all the days can be clicked on, just the highlighted ones. The default is for the Council meeting days, which have the least number of highlighted days a month. If you click on "Town Events & Festivals" different days (and more) are highlighted. Ditto if you click on "Local Clubs & Organizations" or "Board Hearings."

Furthermore, the events blocked out under each section give no clue if there is more than one event the same day. For instance, under "Town Events" for January 24th, the item says "Little Learners"--an event at the zoo. If you hover over it, a scroll bar appears, but there's no direction to tell users to do that. Unless you click on the day, it's easy to miss the 2 other events scheduled that day. I missed a bunch of events last week because of these hidden ones. I entered an event for the Norristown Business Association 2 weeks ago and finally found it this morning (Don't believe me? See how fast you can find it).

As it is, no one is going to have the patience to figure out this system, let alone actually use it.

If that weren't enough, some entries are missing vital information, like times.  Under "Board Hearings" on January 26, it merely says "Shade Tree." If you click on it, you get the location--Municipal Hall. No time. No what, who, why or how. Under January 28, the HARB Hearing is listed. Location and contact, but again, no time or anything else. A lot of people have no clue what HARB is. A one liner description would help.

So here's my suggestion for what could fix this calendar, assuming it's possible to get the programmer to do so (I hope we haven't paid that invoice yet). Put the calendar month graphic right at the top and let it be the same on every page, with the ability to click on every day of the month. Let the default be for today's date, with a list of events for the day right over or under the calendar, so people can tell at a glance what's going on in town within the next 24 hours. The boxes at the bottom, in my opinion, aren't useful and contribute to the confusion, but if we have to have them, make it so they show more than one event per day in that category, and default to the "Town Events" category.

Secondly, put a word or to about how to use the calendar on the page. Tell us where things are hidden.

Third -- have a municipal worker check every entry on the calendar for needed information. They should contact the person who submitted the info if more details are needed.

The calendar is important and not only to keep our residents informed. It's part of our town's public persona. It gives a first impression. When strangers visit, they should come away saying "Wow, look how many great and interesting things are happening in Norristown!" As it is, at one glance, they'll think all we have are Council meetings. Council meetings without agendas.

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