Scheduling becomes easier when treated as a search problem.
In an effort to resolve the scheduling conflicts that inevitably arise when busy people try to get together, Google on Thursday plans to introduce a new Google Calendar Labs experiment called Smart Rescheduler that treats scheduling as search problem.
When presented with a Google Calendar event, Smart Rescheduler will scour the schedules of participants who have made their availability public for conflicts and will weigh other factors like meeting room availability to generate a list of the best possible meeting times.
"By investigating everyone's calendars, Google Calendar can make some educated guesses about how easy it might be to reschedule a conflicting meeting and even find you a replacement conference room nearby," explains Google engineer David Marmaros in a blog post. "You can refine the results by marking people as optional, changing the meeting duration, ignoring certain conflicts, or specifying the earliest and latest times you'll accept. The results will immediately update to reflect your new requirements."
Meeting organizers may want to be discreet in marking people as optional, a designation that can be hard on the ego.
"We wanted to solve one of the biggest pain points out there which is scheduling meetings with a lot of very busy people," said Google product manager Cyrus Mistry in a phone interview.
Scheduling, explains Mistry, is a ranking problem that's similar to search. "We know how to solve difficult ranking problems," he said.
Mistry describes the difficulty of arranging a meeting with 20 executives, all directors, five of whom are in Zurich, Switzerland, and five of whom are in Hyperbad, India. With Smart Rescheduler, you can click on a link and generate a list of the best possible times, he says.
The scheduling algorithm goes beyond checking for open rooms and does things like optimize for times when participants are awake. That's not always easy across multiple time zones. It also tries to discern whether calendar entries really represent conflicts or not -- some people use calendar entries to block time off without intending to meet with anyone.
Smart Rescheduler is available with the click of a radio button located in the Labs tab under the Settings menu in Google Calendar.
Mistry observes that this instant availability, without any software to install, is one of the benefits of cloud computing.
"In a sense what we've done is given everyone a personal assistant," he said.