Creating Email Messages with Clickable Links that Add Events to Your Calendar

This was an effort to find the best ways to create email messages that contain event information, so that the user can easily create a calendar item.

The stock advice is to use .ics files, yet I don’t see many event publishers using .ics files. Instead, I saw people using well-formatted text, which gets automatically linked by email clients. I’ll look at both methods.

ICS

I didn’t even know the nice WordPress plugin, All-In-One Calendar, which is centered around ICS, helps you produce ICS files. It’s a feature, but one that I think most people don’t leverage. The ICS files I use will be produced by AIC Calendar.

The input to AIO Calendar is made in Google Calendars. I publish to Google Calendar, and the calendar’s ics file is imported into AIO. This way, you publish the event once, and it’s in two places.

An annoyance is that Google Calendar doesn’t publish ICS files for single events. Instead of ICS files, it creates an embeddable button that will put the event into the user’s Google Calendar… which is great only if you use their calendar.

AIC Calendar publishes individal ICS files.

My first test was to send links and an attached ICS file to different email clients. Results:

MS Outlook

ICS files can be double clicked, and an event is created… but a whole new calendar is also created for each event. (Each event! One calendar per ics file.)
Links to ICS files do the same thing.
That said, I think this article contradicts my findings. I’ll have to look into the specifics of the ics file being produced.

Yahoo Mail (2013)

Recognizes an attached ICS file as an event, and presents a UI to add the event to your Yahoo calendar.
Links to ICS files open as regular ICS files.

Gmail

Recognizes an attached ICS file as an event, and presents a UI to add the event to your Google calendar.
Links to ICS files open as regular ICS files.

Thunderbird

Doesn’t do anything special with ICS attachments – but it displays them in text emails, which is confusing and ugly.
Links to ICS files open in a browser.

If you have Lightning, the calendar system installed, it’ll present a bar with a button to add the event to your calendar. You can click on it a second time to see the details of the event.

iPhone Mail

Reads the ICS attachment, and will add it to your calendar.
The ICS attachment from AIO Calendar is a little on the ugly side, though – HTML visible.
ICS links open in the browser, then can be added to the calendar.

Android Email

Reports that the ICS attachment is corrupted.
The ICS link opens in a browser. If it’s downloaded, Android reports that it’s corrupted. One browser, MetroPCS, just showed the text file.

Conclusion

No wonder ICS is not that popular. Support in the mobile clients sucks. Outlook support is not perfect. Looking at the files produced by Outlook and by AIO Calendar, they differ a bit. So it’s a “standard” but messy enough that the big clients are going to define the really acceptable ICS format.

So the results may change depending on the workflow you use. If you start in Outlook, maybe the results will be different.

Carefully formatted text

Unfortunately, detecting formatted text in email is partially patented by Apple, but the feature is showing up. Gmail


Related stories:

Sharing Calendar Events via Email

Formatting Email So It Looks the Same on All the Clients and Browsers

Formatting Mobile HTML Email

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