Thursday, June 12, 2008

Remember The Milk worth all the cookies

I live and die by my To Do list. I'm a multitasker by nature, so I always have too many things going on at the same time, and a To Do list is the only way I can keep from diluting my focus too much.

I used to use the Yahoo Task list that's integrated with their Calendar, but I wanted to move to Google's Calendar so I looked for an online replacement.

That search led me to Remember the Milk, what I call the best Web 2.0 application out there, as least for usability. Here is why I love Remember the Milk (or RTM). I was going to rank these, but that was too hard.

* keyboard shortcuts: Like GMail, RTM uses single stroke keyboard shortcuts. If I want to start a new task, I hit "t" on the keyboard and then start typing the task name. After hitting return, I hit "d" and put in the due date, then tab through the list until I get to tags, enter then, hit return. Then I hit a number key to prioritize the task, then "n" to select none and move on to the next task. That may sound like a lot, but I can do it very fast and not touch a mouse. If I'm looking at the lists of tasks, I can move my cursor up and down the list by using the "j" and "k" keys, hit return when I'm on the one I want, hit "c" to complete it or "p" to postpone it. It's a very keyboard-centric app and I avoid using the mouse whenever I can. It's very fast.

* Selecting Overdue and Postpone: This, unfortunately, is used every day. Each morning, I check my tasks, click the "Select Overdue" link and then hit "p" to postpone everything that was last yesterday to due today. Almost too easy. Sigh.

* Time/dated notes: You can add notes to tasks about partial completions, or add other information as needed. Since the notes are timed and dated automagically, you can use the notes as a log of your work on a particular task.

* Integration with Jott: Jott is a voice-recognition site that I can call and dictate a task to be added to my list. (Also works with Google Calendar, I Want Sandy and others.) The downside is it adds the task to my "Inbox" which I rarely use, so I sometimes miss them. Feature request: Be able to add the voice task to a specific task list.

* Repeating tasks: Some tasks I have to do weekly. Setting as a repeating task will put it at the top of my list on the day I have to do it, then I can complete the task and it will creep up the list again until the day it is due.

* The tag cloud: This may not be a big deal to everyone, but I really like the tagging of task. There is a tag cloud that gives me an idea of the complexity of my current list and what subjects in that list will denominate my time. Clicking on the tag gives you a quick list of all the items in that list.

* The mobile platform: Remember the Milk won best IPhone Web Application at the most recent WWDC, and I do subscribe to the Pro RTM so I can use the iPhone version, and it is really cool and pretty, and, and, and ... and I still use the regular mobile phone version. Sorry guys, the iPhone version is really pretty, but the regular version is easier to use and faster. Maybe once I get the G3 iPhone, I'll change to the "i" version.

* Integration with Google Calendar: This was a huge deal for me when I was looking for a replacement for Yahoo, but I find now I don't use my task list that way anymore. I keep at Firefox tab open to RTM all the time, along with another for Calendar, so I don't really need them together anymore. But I still think it's cool that they integrate.

* So I've gone on and on, but there is tons more to RTM that I haven't used: Sync, Groups, Locations (Google Maps), Offline (Google Gears) and more.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Most phones age badly. The iPhone got better.

A year ago this month, Apple introduced the iPhone, and on Monday, odds are they will announce the next generation. Rumors abound on what is to come. GPS, G3 support, more memory, etc.

But I want to wax poetic on the first version. I waited a whole two weeks before buying my iPhone, and I paid the whole $599 and I got 'burned' buy the price drop some weeks later. I considered it the cost of early adoption.

But here's what's cool: I like my iPhone better today than the month I bought it. Not only do I like it better, it IS better. Apple upgraded the software so we could edit our home pages. They made maps and directions better by adding GPS-lite triangulation. They opened up the handset for development by others, and we'll soon reap the benefit of that, but even before that, iPhones have been the greatest catalyst to mobile-specific websites based on the iPhone-size screen.

Tell me, before the iPhone, did you ever have a phone that you didn't hate after a year? You were begging for that two-year contract to end so you could replace your dying battery, scratched screen, sticky number pads.

The iPhone was the 8th most popular browser on our news website, behind two versions of IE, Firefox, three versions of Safari 3.x, and Gecko.

So, yes, I want to upgrade my phone, but only because iPhone 2.0 comes out on Monday. I wouldn't trade my current phone for anything else.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Groupware: Google vs Yahoo

I'm a Google guy. I started out a Yahoo! guy, but it seemed that each time my paper signed a new deal with Yahoo, I discovered how much better a Google web application was over it's Yahoo! counterpart, and I moved over, bit by bit. I felt like a betrayer, but Google is just soooooo much better.

Usually.

This week I've been trying to figure out the best way for our new soccer team to stay in touch. Mainly we just need an email list and a calendar, but since not every member of the team might be web savvy, it needs to be simple and integrated. I was surprised when I couldn't match a Google Calendar with a Google Group in an elegant way.

I so much prefer Google Calendar over Yahoo!'s Calendar ... it was the first service I moved. I like having separate calendars for different aspects of my life that I can turn on and off. I think it is super cool that you can embed those calendars on other web pages for those who may not have a Google account. The iPhone interface is usable, though not knock-your-socks-off.

Yahoo! just falls a little short. Too much visual noise, not enough feature.

I like the Google Groups email list and archive better than Yahoo!, too. It's not a clear frontrunner like with Calendar, but Google is clean and elegant and I like the threading. But here is the kicker: there is no way to gracefully connect a Google calendar to a group. In Yahoo, it's just built in. You can create pages within Google Groups, so I figured I would just embed the calendar into a page, but it won't take it. I can "edit html" and put in the code and preview, but once I save it says it doesn't support javascript.

Of course, Yahoo! has its flaws, too. Oh, they both do.

Some of my groupware wishes:

* Yahoo! Groups has a photo gallery, but why isn't it the far-superior flickr?
* I like the task and event combination in Yahoo, and wish that Google had an integrated task list. That said, Remember the Milk is the best, most useful web application in the 2.0 space. I could (and will) devote a post or even two to RTM. I use it all day, every day, for my task list. It's the only way I stay sane. RTM does have integration with Google calendar, but I found it much more functional used separately.
* There are other features available with Yahoo Groups: databases, photos, polls, files, etc. Google has fewer of those features, but to be honest they concentrate on the things that matter and do them very well: member management and email list/message archiving. Pages and files are useful (with the exception of that embed problem.)

But why, oh why, can't Google just bring their Groups together with the Calendar.

I thought about starting a whole Google Apps site, but we don't really need all that. (I once experimented with moving all my cmcdonald.com email accounts over to Google Apps and while I liked the family calendars and such, I couldn't port over my existing Blogger and Picasa accounts, so it just wasn't workable.)

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