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Online calendar services taking off

Sites that allow users to make appointments and set their schedules are all the rage these days, with everyone from Yahoo to start-ups joining the fray.

    If you don't know when and where you're going, a lot of sites are springing up on the Web to help you out.

    Calendar services--pages that allow users to make appointments and set their schedules--are all the rage these days, with everyone from established players such as Yahoo to start-ups joining the fray.

    Next month an Idealab-funded site, Jump.com, will launch in hopes of capturing the growing market with what executives say is the be-all of calendar sites.

    The move comes as several sites are launching or increasingly publicizing scheduling and calendar services, hoping to entice users to visit often and stay.

    These sites are the natural succession on the Web after search engines and free email, said Kevin Werback, managing editor of Release 1.0.

    "People now typically do it through static software," Werback said. "It makes much more sense to do it on the Web. What you want to have information about is live events. Plus, you want access in multiple places. It's a function that many people use in one way or other."

    And the fact that most people have a calendar of some kind--and that the Web actually can add functionality such as the ability to quickly share information or automatically schedule events--means that a lot of companies are looking at it as a potential revenue source.

    Most of the sites, such as When and WebCal, offer more than just scheduling, hoping to find a revenue model that sticks. Along with scheduling of appointments and events, users can share information with colleagues or friends. Many services, including Jump, will allow users to synchronize their calendars with their Web devices--all for free.

    The revenue will come from companies paying for the chance to get a personal place on a calendar or directly advertise to people who are looking for things to do. For instance, Jump, run by Clockwise, has partnerships with a television listing service that will allow users to automatically choose to have television shows inserted on their schedules.

    Jump also is offering synchronization with seven major organizers, including the Palm Pilot and Outlook, said Bill Trenchard, chief executive of the company.

    Trenchard is hoping that people will use the service as their starting point, in effect competing with the portal sites. Toward that end, Jump is also offering free email and e-commerce.

    Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, praised Jump.com on its design, but questioned its overall viability.

    "From the standpoint of the design, it actually is the best user interface for these types of personal information managers. In that context, it's excellent," he said. However, he added, "They're coming in at a time when there's a lot of other players doing this."

    Plus, he added, the portals that haven't already will be increasingly jumping into the game. "I think that they're identifying something that's very straightforward, which is, all of us have to operate within a calendaring structure," he said. "If you're a small business where you may want to share calendars together, the Jump site gives you more of an opportunity to do that in a very straightforward manner. They're tapping into the need for people to keep their calendars in synch with other people and the Web is ideal for that."