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Google’s Ranking Algorithm Wants to Organize Your Calendar

The search company hopes that a new scheduling feature will appeal to business clients.
March 18, 2010

Google has launched an experimental feature for its Calendar Web application that applies the company’s considerable expertise in search to the problem of scheduling meetings. The feature, Smart Rescheduler, allows users to select a meeting that needs to be rescheduled and get suggestions about the best alternative times.

Smart Rescheduler can rank possible meeting times. Credit: Google

Product manager Ken Norton explains that in the calendar team’s surveys of executive administrative assistants, rescheduling was typically a painful, time-consuming task. Norton says that watching administrators “horse-trade” conference rooms, flip through executive calendars, and try to predict the effects of rescheduling a single meeting led the team to believe automation must be able to help somehow.

Google’s programmers decided to treat scheduling as a search problem–analogous to finding flights or shopping for products. The Smart Rescheduler takes into account factors such as time zones, available conference rooms, and people who need to attend the meeting, and provides a list of candidate times, ranked by factors such as whether a time is within working hours, whether it is accessible to all attendees, and whether it requires additional rescheduling.

If a conflicting meeting includes many of the same players as the meeting that’s being rescheduled, Smart Rescheduler may include the suggestion that the conflicting event could also be rescheduled. A user can also refine the tool by marking certain people as optional or changing the planned length of the meeting. The technology used to rank meeting times is partly borrowed from Google’s existing IP and partly built from scratch, Norton says. Smart Rescheduler only works if all participants in a meeting use Google Calendar and if they share availability information with each other. As a result, it’s intended mainly for use within a company.

Though it’s currently available only as an experimental feature in Calendar Labs, Smart Rescheduler clearly fits into Google’s plan to broaden its appeal to enterprise users. In particular, Norton boasted about how the feature demonstrates the power of cloud computing for enterprise. Norton says that the processing required for the ranking algorithms would be too slow if they had to run on a user’s local machine–and he didn’t miss the opportunity to compare the speed of searching e-mail in Gmail to the speed (or lack thereof) when performing the same search within Outlook.

He also touted Google’s ability to release a feature that business users can try just by opting in, without having to upgrade any software.