The web is still wild

Last night, I received a panicked phone call from a client regarding their web site. The weird thing is that it wasn’t because the site went down, but rather it was because the site was doing exactly what it was supposed to be doing.

See, their web site, like so many others, has an upcoming events page with a calendar on it. And on this calendar were events. Dates, times, places. Standard stuff.

But with this particular client, I’ve begun using Google Calendar to create and maintain their schedule. Why not? It works beautifully; I can update it from anywhere, and even sync it from my own iCal using BusySync.

For the first time, their calendar is actually seamlessly integrated into their site, and into the lives of their users.

So what was the problem? Why the 10PM call into the dark?

Well, for that, we need to time travel two weeks back to the installation of the calendar, where we discover that the answer lies in just how well the Google calendar works. When you create an event, you have the option to list the location. The first few times we added events, we kept them generic: the office, or Applebee’s. People knew what we meant, so there was no reason to get more specific.

Then one particularly fastidious user clicked on the map link, and, of course, he got a page with the Google equivalent of WTF:

Nobody likes to get WTF-ed when they’re trying to find directions to Larry’s house, so he called the client, who in turn called me.

“Can’t you put real addresses into our calendar so people can find our events?”

“Sure, if you want. Keep in mind that…”

“Do it!” was the eager reply. “That way I can get the address on my iPhone while I’m out!”

And so it was done. Every new calendar event had an actual address associated with it, and the users were happy. The client was thrilled. Attendance was up, phone calls for directions were down, and life was good.

Privacy is still king.

That is, until last night. When someone showed up at the one of the owner’s homes at 9:30 insisting that they should be a part of the event that was taking place there. After all, the event was on their web site, and had a date and time, and now a map of how to get there. How could it not be an open invitation?

True, there was an event, but they weren’t invited.

And that was because nobody knew who he was, other than the “angry crasher who showed up and scared everyone.” The client was shocked: “But, how could he have found my home?”

“Because it’s on the organization’s web site. Like you asked me to do.”

Connect with me!

I spent much of my Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning removing non-company building addresses from the calendared events, past and present.

Which gave me time to think about all this information we’re so willing to put out on the web. There are still people who are out there who either don’t understand the rules of social networking, just like there are people out there who understand the rules and know how to manipulate them. How often do we post via Twitter that we’re at the coffee shop on Central, or headed to the store at X intersection?

Of course, it didn’t start with the seemingly-innocuous Twitter, where we spell out the minutiae of our lives, our goings-on, where we’re eating, or what we’re watching. It sure didn’t help. What could go wrong within 160 characters? But now, we’ve added GPS to the mix with BrightKite. But honestly, that makes me a little nervous. Not so much because someone could find me, but more that if people know where I am, they also know where I’m not. I’m sure it won’t be long before we hear about a burglary or assault where the only tool the criminal used was the web, and it didn’t involve stealing someone’s identity.

Stay safe out there.

Cheers.