Syracuse University’s unified calendar

Syracuse University needed an integrated calendar. My team built an accessible, SEO-friendly event marketing platform to serve as a one-stop shop for the campus community to discover and promote events.

One calendar, many systems

The University’s existing events site, based on VTCalendar, was limited in scope. Some academic and administrative units had their own events marketing sites or internal calendaring systems, while many more relied on the use of blogs to create and promote events. To provide a unified campus calendar the Online Platforms team defined a platform architecture that would enable aggregation of existing event data sources and provide native content management, and content approval capabilities.

Example event with data field labels and source system support.
The Syracuse Events Schema outlines a core set of fields that our calendar API needed to support. The purpose of this diagram is to illustrate variable support for the schema amongst data sources feeding the API. The example is a film screening of “Spirited Away.”

A single aggregation and creation platform

As the IA on that team, I worked on platform architecture, vendor evaluation, the navigation system, and technical SEO. Our evaluation criteria included accessibility, SEO features, a rich API, customization, data portability, and costs in money and time. While several third-party products showed promise, they came at the cost of front-end and API flexibility.

Diagramming data flows from external sources to back end, front end, and search engines.
This data architecture allowed the unified community calendar to publish its own events and import them from external systems.

Our system needed to:

  1. Import events from external sources,
  2. Allow imported events to be edited, augmented, and featured,
  3. Provide direct (native) creation capabilities for new events, and
  4. Organize the presentation of all events to users and search engines, while
  5. Driving traffic back to the source system where appropriate (e.g. event registration).

Tailoring event creation to our organization

Within six months the team had researched, designed, and delivered a customized WordPress-based solution using a third-party plugin called The Events Calendar. The plugin provided the core events, data aggregation, and API functionality we needed while allowing for significant customization to account for our organizational structure. One example of this was group and organizer hierarchy.

Comparing Organizer and Group/Organizer event creation flows with examples for each.
Many systems use “organizer” to define event ownership, but in a large data set this can be too granular. Adding “Groups” allows events to have multiple organizers while keeping them grouped within broader organizational units.

To categorize content more effectively, and reduce duplication, we added a broad grouping mechanism for ownership that contains events within larger units familiar to most users (e.g. all events at the Maxwell School). Events can still have organizers, and can even be from a different group (e.g. a school’s institutes or departments, or a student organization). The calendar API can be queried either way, allowing campus partners to develop the data views that best suit their needs.

The value of a single destination

Day view page showing “Events for May 12, 2019” including Commencement.
The Syracuse University Calendar unifies a complex set of event data, revealing a broader set of results, and thereby helping organizers to increase attendance.

The Syracuse Calendar, launched in the spring of 2019, adopted user interface patterns from the project (e.g. navigation, search, layouts) while adding its own unique features such as month views, embedded maps, central authentication, an event submission form, and a key-based API. The product provided members of the campus community with their first global view of events and the ability to create and promote their own events to a large audience. It quickly became one of the University’s most visited websites.

Visit the Syracuse Calendar →