No server, no satisfaction

There's just no satisfaction for the casual home user who wants to collaborate with friends. Even when dealing with a problem that has been solved many times over, it is really difficult without a server of your own and a fair amount of programming. The problem I'm talking about is planning events on a group calendar.

There is a group of somewhat over 25 people near where I live that frequently gets together to play outdoor roller hockey. We play in a parking lot in one of the area parks or offices. We have a mailing list on Yahoo, but most people are just copied on a repeatedly used e-mail thread. On that thread, the subject line is typically changed to match the proposed day and time. Every week, we all bombard each other with e-mails to make sure that enough of us are coming out to play. This has actually worked fairly well, but there have been some significant exceptions.

Sometimes we don't meet our threshold of 6 players and additional e-mails go out to entice people to sign-up to play. Calls are made. Threats are discussed. People who previously agreed to go attend might decline since they don't want to risk trying to play hockey with only 3 people. Chaos ensues.

One of they guys who used to come out regularly created a really simple sign-up page on a website. The site accepted a name, e-mail address, and phone number to sign-up for a given game. The name is listed beside the entry for that game. The e-mail was used to send out the "game-on" or "need-more-players" notification a few hours before the prospective game. Phone numbers were included to speed up the communication.

The application worked quite well and was simple-minded. Entering the same sign-up information twice would result in being removed from the list. The phone number and e-mail information had to match, providing a tiny amount of security from folks simply removing everyone from the list. No verification of the entry was done, but you can imagine a simple verification code being provided via SMS to the mobile phone number if we ever started to have problems with that. Life was good.

He stopped playing and his site stopped working. We were back to using e-mail. A few folks reminisced about the good 'ol days when we had our own web server. I own the domain name, so I decided to bring back the sign-up sheet. Where should I host it?

I don't really like the idea of pointing people to my home computer, so that's not my first choice. I don't really like the idea of paying for a full-featured (LAMP and/or Ruby enabled, ie. scripting and a database) hosting service just for this hobby. This is just calendar data! Why should I need a web server to do something that Yahoo and Google provide for free?

Our mailing list is on Yahoo, so I looked first at their group calendar. It was a disastrously complex to use and didn't provide any of the custom features we had with the much simpler web app. Similar problems were had with Google's calendar and Evite. The most fundamental issue with all of these calendaring solutions: they required account creation and login to utilize.

I tried to see if I could do something with static hosting, but it seems even Amazon's simple queuing service doesn't seem to work without having a dynamic host. At this point I gave up, but I'll get back to this application yet.

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