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30 Boxes: Calendar meets social network

30 Boxes makes a very interesting calendar that pulls in feeds from other sources, like Flickr.

I covered the 30 Boxes online calendar briefly last September (see story). But the world's changed a bit since then, and 30 Boxes has as well, so I recently took another look at this interesting (and experimental) app.

The easy part first: 30 Boxes is a nice little online calendar. It's got a special trick, in that instead of clicking on days and times to enter appointments, you can type in its single entry box something like, "Lunch, noon Friday with Frank," and it will create the appointment based on that. (Related: Stikkit.)

My 30 Boxes calendar also displays other peoples’ events, as well as my own Webware RSS feed (at right). CNET Networks

But 30 Boxes is more than an events calendar with a rudimentary understanding of scheduling grammar. It's also an aggregation service for time-based updates from your social sites and for those of your friends. For example, 30 Boxes will put your blog updates, Twitter messages, calendar items, and Flickr photos on your calendar, as well as those from your friends. Facebook integration is coming soon. 30 Boxes reminds me Jaiku (review), another personal feed aggregator, except it's oriented around the calendar scheme rather than the discussion-based scheme Jaiku is based on.

Everyone who uses 30 Boxes, and everyone who is added into a 30 Boxes stream, gets their own profile page (here's mine). All you need to know is a person's e-mail address to add them in to your calendar. The system will find their updates on Twitter and other services, and add them to your calendar. They'll also get an invitation to join 30 Boxes, of course, and if they do they can have more control over what information that's associated with their e-mail address.

A 30 Boxes personal page. CNET Networks

The service has a to-do list mini-app as well, and it has its own e-mail application, called Supermail, that you can use to send Web links. It tracks responses to your e-mails--when users open the message or click on the links you send, you're alerted in 30 Boxes. This kind of tracking can be abused, but if you want to be sure your recipient is receiving and following links you sent, Supermail will tell you.

There are some elements to the 30 Boxes user interface that are very smart. For example, it puts appointments on the calendar but other items (such as RSS feeds and Flickr updates) show up only when your mouse hovers over the dates the items are associated with. That keeps your calendar from becoming a visual assault. Other parts of 30 Boxes remind us of its experimental nature. What the system does is not well explained on the site, and the site's terminology is not clear.

As part of 30 Boxes' ongoing experiments with social timelines, the company has released two Twitter add-ons. The first is Twapper (review), a mobile site that displays not just a cellular-friendly Twitter feed but associated other data from people you're following, such as their Flickr images. The other is a browser plug-in called PowerTwitter, that enhances the standard Twitter browser page by showing on it extra items in the same way that Twapper does, as well as "unwinding" the compressed URLs that are often embedded in Twitter messages.

Supermail tells you when people open your messages and follow your links. CNET Networks

CEO Narendra Rocherolle told me he hasn't taken any outside funding for 30 Boxes (he earned a few bucks when he sold Webshots to CNET in 2004), so he can experiment with the service's functions and interface without having Mr. Moneybags looking over his shoulder. The service changes a little bit at a time, and frequently, and while I can't recommend anyone move their daily calendar on to it, it's an interesting service to keep track of the whereabouts and online activities of a small number of people you really care about.

30 Boxes is on to something. People are going to need services that aggregate personal data the same way RSS readers aggregate blogs and news stories. 30 Boxes' use of the calendar interface for doing that is appropriate and interesting, but it's not going to be the last word in this space. See also Jaiku, which I mentioned above, and the people search engines Wink and Spock (preview), which could easily move into this market. Also check out RSSCalendar.