Coming Soon: Community Calendar, Replacing Public Interactive Events

Nov 11, 2015

Starting this winter, we’ll be releasing a new set of features for creating, listing, and promoting community events within Core Publisher.

Named by our station community, Community Calendar will live within Core Publisher, a move we believe is helpful since 90% of the stations using PI Events are also using Core Publisher. We know that managing events is important for many stations, and we’ve worked hard to provide an optimal set of easy-to-use features. We know some stations have requirements we may not be able to satisfy. For those stations, we’ll be recommending a third party solution — vetted by us — that can provide additional features and functionality.

People using Community Calendar will be able to find listings by date or category; members of the public will be able to submit events they’d like to promote or announce; and stations will have a variety of tools for approving, editing, and publishing content. Because we’re building it into Core Publisher, Community Calendar will integrate seamlessly with stations’ branding and navigation, and will benefit from integrated analytics as well. Equally important, it will be responsive — end users will be able to find events on their smartphones as easily as on tablets and desktop computers.

How We Decided What To Build

We prioritized features based on station feedback via tickets and conversations, user research, and analyzing data from PI Events. At the beginning the project, we interviewed staff at WYSO, Spokane Public Radio, KPLU, SDPB, and Northern Public Radio — selected because all have extensive experience using the old Events platform — about their needs and workflows. We asked others, including WWNO, NHPR, and St. Louis Public Radio, to give us feedback on initial wire frames and invited stations on social media to vote on the product’s name. Big thanks to the stations!

We also examined years of database listings for PI Events, which revealed that some features have been used relatively infrequently. For example, only about 3% of events used an icon associated with the “Our Pick” feature (don’t worry if you can’t remember what that is), so we didn’t prioritize the icon functionality for our first release.

User Testing

Finally, we ran user-tests on a prototype of the Community Calendar interface, which gave us insight into how people look for, find, and submit events. We observed 10 volunteers — all NPR listeners in the Boston area — as they carried out common tasks associated with a community calendar website. For example, we asked them to find an event they might like to attend on a coming weekend and we watched to see how they would go about it. Would they turn to a search field? A date widget? Would they simply browse? We also asked them to pretend they were responsible for promoting an event for a local organization. Could they find and use the form we’d created for submitting events?

Based on this research, we found that our approach worked well. However, we also identified some usability problems which we were able to fix before ever launching. For instance, our initial design highlighted an event’s main details by putting them in a box with an outline. Sure enough, users found the details quite easily — but several missed the additional information displayed outside of the box. We removed the outline and fixed the problem.  

We also discovered that most testers said they’d like to know if an event was free. Yet, when filling out our form to submit a free event, none indicated that it was free. When we gave them a chance to check a box saying the event was free, however, they did so intuitively. In our final design, we’ve included the checkbox so we can more accurately track free events.

What About PI Events?

Community Calendar is not replacing PI Events. Rather, it’s a new set of features that we believe adds important value to Core Publisher. That said, we plan to stop supporting PI Events in 2016. Although many stations have found it valuable, the old platform suffers from important shortcomings. For example, it isn’t responsive and doesn’t function well on mobile devices. Also, it’s a standalone application, separate from stations’ main websites, which can result in a disjointed user experience. Finally, it’s built on a legacy platform that’s more than 15 years old, and has become increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain.

Even so, more than 130 stations use the PI Events platform, so it’s critical that they can migrate data between it and Community Calendar easily and seamlessly. Our first release will enable stations to migrate current and future events into the new system.

Getting Started With Community Calendar

Our first release is scheduled for the beginning of the new year with a small group of stations, please email Jackie McBride if you are interested in being an the test group. With this small group we will learn how to provide the right documentation and resources to stations. Once the Community Calendar is available, station administrators will have an easy way to migrate data into the new system and ensure information about upcoming events isn’t lost. At that point, stations will be able to enable Community Calendar when ready!