Gotta love the latest crop of Web 2.0 applications. What does that mean? Simply put, these are applications that are entirely driven in a web browser. Web-based applications have been around forever, but Web 2.0 applications are prettier, friendlier and in most cases use what’s available in modern browsers out of the box (Internet Explorer 5 need not apply). No pesky ActiveX controls or plug-ins to install. Who cares what OS you’re using as most of these applications work in Internet Explorer 6+, Firefox or Safari.
Some of the keywords to look for nowadays are XML Ajax and Ruby on Rails. You don’t have to have a clue as to what these technologies do, I certainly don’t. But what you usually get are very elegant and approachable web services. The big difference is that what you see on the screen is generated on the fly. Rather than taking in a whole bunch of ‘Input’ -> ‘Process’ -> ‘Spit out Result’ -> ‘Input’ -> ‘Process’ (repeat) a so-called Web 2.0 application takes and processes the input mostly at the same time. This creates a fluid, individual experience. [O’Reilly has a much more involved explanation](http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html). Just about anything out of [Google](http://www.google.com) these days is Web 2.0.
Besides [Gmail](http://www.gmail.com), among my favorite of these new breed of applications are [Basecamp](http://www.basecamphq.com) for project management and [Backpack](http://www.backpackit.com). Both are from [37Signals.com](http://www.37signals.com). [A Venture Forth](http://www.aventureforth.com) has [two](http://www.aventureforth.com/2005/09/06/top-10-ajax-applications/) [posts](http://www.aventureforth.com/2005/09/16/top-10-ajax-applications-part-2/) listing some of the best examples of these web-based applications (focusing on Ajax). [Here’s another list of what’s out there now](http://www.wsindex.org/Web_2_0/).
I’m now trying [Remember the Milk](http://www.rememberthemilk.com) which is a *free* to-do list manager. I still haven’t found a task manager I’m completely satisfied with. Too much of my to-do list is me in the shower asking myself, What am I supposed to do today? and hoping nothing falls through the cracks.
What I really like about RTM (as opposed to 37Signal’s Backback, TaDa Lists, Outlook or the other applications I’ve tried) is that you can email tasks to an address and they automagically appear in RTM. And you can have reminders sent to via AIM *and* email. So if you don’t have the website right in front of your face, you’re still getting done what you need. Backpack has some of this, but the to-do list in RTM allows for due date setting in real language (I can type next monday at 3 pm and it will put in the correct date & time) and repeating tasks. You can also have reminders sent to your phone via SMS. I don’t need percentage complete or grouping…just simple what’s on my plate today management.
The only thing I would prefer in these applications is the ability to store the data on a local server. These companies go out of business or have a server crash and I don’t know what I have due next week. Plus…I’m careful to only type info that I wouldn’t die if it were posted on a public bulletin board. If someone cares that I need to update a website or finish a document, so be it. These sites say that they’re secure and they protect privacy, but one can’t be too careful.