Scheduling happens!

Welcome 2009, and welcome to Phase 1 of J2v2!

I'm so very pleased to announce a new appointment-making system up here at J2 HQ. As ofthis Tuesday,Lynn Gosnell has assumed the post of scheduling coordinator. It's pretty cool that, with some of the amazing web services that have come out in the last couple of years, Lynn — a die-hard Mac fan, as well as writer and editor — can do this from pretty much anywhere — or at least from any internet connection.

Lynn has already made it possible to respond to client inquiries much more quickly than I could by myself. And I have enjoyed putting the mechanisms together to make a complete system. They run something like this:

First of all, GrandCentral (note: see Update below) gives us a permanent phone number (210.787.2709 for your scheduling pleasure). When Lynn wants to take point, she just signs into GrandCentral and points the service at her phone number, and then all calls will go to her. You can even point it at multiple phones, and it will ring in both places simultaneously. We can do custom greetings, custom ringing, spam archiving and blocking... the features are phenomenal.

And guess what? GrandCentral is free! They started out a couple of years ago, got some good press from people like David Pogue, and then the dream of every modern web startup came true: Google bought 'em.

Yet, while phone is a crucial piece of this puzzle, I think we would all agree that voice calls can take time — valuable time — to accomplish decisions that can be made much more efficiently. To that end, email has become the de facto preference for many of us, and text messaging (SMS) works well for others.

What if we could combine email, a collaborative calendar, and shared documents? Enter Google Apps. With 7+ GB storage per user, built-in IMAP support (a requisite for email on the iPhone), and super-easy asset sharing within one's domain (e.g. — and, yes, it's free — Google has built a digital oasis where once was a desert. I have been floored with how well Google Apps has integrated into my business and into the organizations of our many clients who now benefit from this service.

In Google Calendar, the three of us can add to our respective calendars with ease. Lynn can manage mine and Erick's calendars. We can each keep personal calendars whose event details are hidden from the others, though the "free/busy" information is available. And I can embed our layered calendars onto this siteso clients can see our upcoming availability. I like that someone can send us an appointment request such as "Ted Stevens, retrieve deleted emails, Thursday, 1pm-4pm" and we can copy and paste that into Google Calendar's Quick Add field. How sweet it is!

We're starting to use Google Docs to keep a history of our work for each client. We can see these docs on our iPhones, and anyone is welcome to ask us for a link to their J2 document.

Finally, a more new-fangled service called Yammer has enabled the three of us to message the others in a running narrative. Yammer is based on the idea of Twitter; both are geared toward short messages, and rely heavily on text messaging for posting and receiving updates. This is, for me, an important substitute for email, which is too cumbersome for quick updates while on the go. Yammer's cost? You know it: $0.

Again, this whole on-the-go, location-agnostic way of working was not possible two or three years ago, certainly not with the minimal effort and expenditure we have spent this last week.

Phase 2 is a new look, comin' your way shortly.

Update: Lynn Gosnell has decided to pursue other projects, so we will have a new scheduling coordinator soon. Also, GrandCentral is no longer subscribing new members.