One of the great things about living in a university town like Oxford or Cambridge is that interesting events and lectures are being held almost every day, and they’re usually free to attend. Most of the events that I go to, I hear about through friends or mailing lists, but of course there are many more that I miss because they’re advertised poorly; not that I blame the organisers, because I know it’s difficult, but you just can’t put up a few dozen posters or hide away your events list on a society or department website somewhere and expect the whole of Oxford to know about it.
The problem is that information about events in Oxford is totally dispersed and difficult to locate. The solution is to create a website that aggregates events and assigns them multiple categories so that users can view and subscribe to different event feeds based on their preferences. It’d also be necessary to allow users to submit information about their own events in a way that balances the workload for the website administrators but also maintains quality.
Superficially, it sounds quite easy to make this website. You could simply set up a weblog powered by Moveable Type or TypePad, create multiple editors, set up a bunch of different categories and give them their own RSS feeds. No problem. But how do you order the events? In MT, as far as I know you can only assign them a single timestamp. In this case, do you set the site up so that events are announced when they actually happen (which obviously is no good since that gives no advance warning) or a number of days in advance? How many days in advance? Should there be reminders? How do you cope with events that span several days? Already the scope of the site is exceeding what can be done with vanilla MT.
Alternatively you could use calendar software like iCal, which has the ability to share and import calendars. This would be perfect, if not for the fact that hardly anyone uses it.
An events list website is not a new idea, of course. Two already existing sites include Upcoming.org and the London Art Aggregator. Upcoming.org is not a bad effort but it’s not flexible enough and if everyone in Oxford put their events into it, you’d be overwhelmed with a huge and unsorted list. The Art Aggregator is more suitable but this time, it’s too specialised – it’s great at what it does, which is aggregate art events in London, but that’s it.
So at the moment, for anyone wishing to set up an Oxford events list website, there are two ways forward. You could take weblog software like MT and hack it into shape, resulting in (most likely) a pretty good but nonetheless imperfect website, or you could just code it all from scratch. I don’t think it would be particularly difficult to do it from scratch if you had experience in Perl/PHP and MySQL, and if I had a spare fortnight or so I imagine I could give it a pretty decent shot myself.
At first the site probably wouldn’t get much traffic and the admins and readers would simply add events that they know about and are interested in, but if it’s useful enough then it’ll attract more users. I think ultimately the site could become highly popular and extremely useful, and maybe even make money via textads. Who knows. As it is, I don’t have the time to do anything about it now but when MT 3.0 comes out I will probably see if it is more amenable to being the backend for an events list.