We're sharing Taylor's story as an example of how Google Apps speeds innovation and makes it easy for good ideas to turn into real businesses, quickly, reliably, and without the need for investment in IT infrastructure.
I'm a rabid music fan, and friends often ask me for recommendations when it comes to festivals, bands, and other music-related events. SCHED* was born out of a desire to keep track of my favorite events.
SCHED* is a simple, social scheduling app that Chirag Mehta and I launched as an unofficial SXSW 2008 Schedule and which spread like wildfire among attendees. There were more than 4,000 bands, panels, films and parties going on during that week and I was obsessed with not missing a thing. I had grown weary of manually building a schedule of recommendations for friends and wanted to build an easy way that anybody could create and publicize a schedule themselves.
We soon expanded to support all kinds of events and new clients including music festivals like Lollapalooza, tech conferences like The Next Web, and political conventions like the UK Labour Conference. We've now handled 80+ new events.
We ran the original version of SCHED* at SXSW 2008 as a makeshift solution using an exported Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file. Once we began working with clients, we began looking for a more streamlined solution – ideally, an online spreadsheet that they could update on-the-go and didn't require programming knowledge. Google Apps Premier Edition provided the answer.
Google Docs spreadsheets, included in Google Apps, was the clear front runner because a majority of conference organizers already had Google accounts and were familiar with the interface. Additionally, the API made it easy for organizers to retrieve data from their spreadsheets. Here's what it looks like when it's up and running:
The idea of driving our entire admin interface from within a Google spreadsheet was exciting. Little to no learning curve, no server overhead, and Google's redundancy made this decision a big payoff. After setting up a simple data template, we used the Google Docs API to give the organizers a way to update the live site. In a single day it was integrated so that a simple click of a button would trigger an XML export of the Google Docs spreadsheet to our servers, instantly updating both our database and the live schedule that users would see.
The benefits of creatively using a Google Docs spreadsheet as a database entry point also gave us additional features we didn't have to build.
Document sharing was an easy way to provide access to all those involved as well as troubleshoot any difficulties live with the built in chat room. If a client needed help with formatting or suggestions for their event types we could give them live suggestions within the spreadsheet. Revision history gave us instant rollback in case there were any accidental overwrites, which are bound to happen.
Having these support features and safety nets built in to Google Docs spreadsheets let us spend more time improving the product itself (like an iPhone compatible version!) instead of reinventing the wheel.