The world, they say, is going to be a very different place come the 21st century.
Some of cyberspace's more enlightened visionaries have been heard proclaiming the dawn of the wearable computer and the death of the venerable PC; others foresee the Internet and the television converging to create a never-before-seen entertainment medium, and still others are betting on virtual reality stealing the thunder from what they sarcastically refer to as 'meatspace' :-)
Now, we're not hardened skeptics yet [except when it comes to that ephemeral thing called love ;-) ] - but we do wonder just how many of these grandiose schemes will ever see the light of day.
If you've ever had to sit around making small talk with your date's Dad while she decides which shoes go best with which dress, you can imagine the havoc wearable computers will play with her wardrobe; and even if the new NetTV hybrid you proudly carry home is capable of two million channels in Dolby stereo, what do you do if there's nothing to watch?! And as for virtual sex, you have got to be kidding - on a 33.6 dial-up modem connection, wading through quicksand would be more fun!!
However, as the Internet slowly spreads it's tentacles across the world, there is one activity we're sure to see a lot more of - data sharing and exchange. The Web, in its aspects, will begin to resemble a gigantic Filofax, enabling road warriors to access their schedules, contact information and to-do lists easily and transparently from anywhere in the world. So it doesn't matter if you've just been mugged in a dark alley in Berlin, or your laptop runs out of juice on the flight across the Pacific - if you can get to the 'Net, you can make that meeting, do that lunch and get the wife that bottle of Obsession ;-)
So this week, we thought that we'd tell you a little bit about the information management tools available on the World Wild Web. There's no shortage of them out there - but only a couple of them are worth your time - so here goes!
First of all, what does an online information management tool do, other than tie your tongue up in knots? Well, it usually allows you to do the following:
Contact management: Names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, pager and fax numbers - every mode of communication known to mankind, and quite a few we haven't heard of ;-) A good contact management tool allows you to specify all the different ways to reach out and touch someone, and it also allows you to retrieve this information quickly and efficiently.
Schedules: So you need to be in Alaska at midnight on the 13th of April, 2006? That's where scheduling comes in - it allows you to plan your timetable on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. And it's much more than just an appointment book or calendar - intelligent scheduling applications can send you email before an important meeting, remember birthdays and holidays for you, or warn you a month before an anniversary so that you can get cracking on that surprise Caribbean vacation for you-know-who.
To-do lists: Come on - surely you don't need us to explain this?!
Synchronization: While this whole idea of grabbing your schedule off the Web is very romantic, it's not very practical [or cheap] to stay plugged in all the time. That's why synchronization is so important - it allows you to download your latest appointments off the Web onto your laptop or PDA, which you can then unplug and carry around with you. And it works the other way too - so you never have to worry about having the latest amd most up-to-date information at hand!
Information exchange: So now you've got all your information up there on the Web - what happens if you need to share it with someone else? That's where information exchange comes in - if you're planning a trip to Hawaii, and you enter it into your online calendar, the system can immediately cross-check it against a list of your known friends or business associates, and send you mail telling you which of them will be in that part of the world at the same time! And it can even schedule meetings automatically for you, if you instruct it accordingly.
It isn't just limited to birthdays and anniversaries either - you can even put up documents online, allow trusted users to edit or revise them, and have the various revisions available to you for perusal. The possibilities are endless - and the potential, tremendous!
So now you know what we expect of an online information management tool - read on to find out about the best ones around!
YAHOO! CALENDAR http://calendar.yahoo.com
What can we say - this service is simply incredible! Yahoo! Calendar provides you with a powerful set of tools to make information management simple. First of all, there's the address book, which allows you to specify contact information for all those people you love to hate ;-)
And then there's the calendar, which sports one of the most well-designed and easy-to-use interfaces we've ever had the pleasure of clicking through. It allows you to enter and edit appointments, set them to recur every year or once in a lifetime, send you reminders either via email or via the Yahoo! Messenger [an ICQ-like clone that allows you to communicate with friends in real-time] and even set up timed events. And of course, you have multiple views of information - choose from a day view, a month view or a year view, just like in a Filofax!
But that isn't all - there's also a to-do list, with the ability to set the relative importance and status of each item. And then there's TrueSync technology, which allows you to synchronize all this information with that in your PalmPilot or Microsoft Outlook information manager, or even with other Yahoo! Calendar users.
There's also the new Yahoo! Time Guide, which allows you to combine your existing calendar items with Yahoo!'s own list of events in fields as diverse as finance, sports, and national holidays, while the Yahoo! Briefcase allows users to upload and share files and documents with other Yahoo! users.
For a free service, this one takes the cake - the amount of functionality the guys at Yahoo! have managed to pack into it is truly stunning. And the one thing we like the most - you can even access it using Lynx [the UNIX text-only browser, which we like to call the Ferrari of cyberspace]!
PlanetAll offers a well-designed, dynamically-updating address book and appointment calendar for both personal and professional contacts. It's information-sharing features are simply unmatched - for example, when a friend with whom you've agreed to share information moves to a new location, your address book updates itself automatically and you also receive email notification of the change :-o
And then there are groups, one of PlanetAll's most powerful and interesting features. A group is essentially a subset of PlanetAll members belonging to a particular category or sharing a particular interest. And in case you can't find a group sharing your perversions, you can just go ahead and create your own :-)
PlanetAll's online appointment calendar allows you to record all your meetings and commitments, and sends you email before [and after?] important events.
You can also create a personal profile, and specify how much of your personal information should be available to others. And of course, you can sync the information in PlanetAll's online database with your PIM, or vice-versa - as a matter of fact, PlanetAll was one of the first few services online to offer this capability :-)
When.com is a reminder service with a difference - it allows you to keep track of appointments, birthdays, anniversaries and upcoming events from one of the largest event databases on the Web. In addition to powerful scheduling features, When.com also has an event calendar listing book releases, concert dates, television listings and chat and cultural events - once you indicate your interests to it, it keeps track of what's hot and happening in that area, and send you email whenever interesting events are due to take place.
When.com also has a group calendar, which lets you keep in touch with friends, family and business associates via a single online calendar. Each group member has the ability to add or edit appointments, which are visible to all members of the group.
While When.com lacks contact management, it's USP is it's event database, with thousands of new events added every month. Check it out, if you have the inclination...
INFOBEAT REMINDERS http://www.infobeat.com
If all you need is an email reminder a few days before an anniversary or a birthday, then look no further that Infobeat Reminders, a free service that sends you reminders via email on dates you specify. It'll even include gift suggestions, some of which are rather...eccentric - some of it's stranger birthday gift ideas have included World War II aeroplanes and fluorescent yo-yos :-)
Despite it's quirks, though, it's reliable and simple, and does it's job perfectly - and that's all we're looking for, isn't it?! And while you're at the site, check out Infobeat's other services too - some of them are very, very good!
Visto.com's been around for two years - and it's one of the bext online information managers in this round-up. Among its features: 15 MB of online space for documents and files, powerful collaboration features, email, an online address book with support for synchronization with handheld PDAs, and a calendar. Wireless access allows you to connect to the site wirelessly, and Visto can also notify you by phone, email or fax when specific events occur.
You'll find a million information management services out there, and more are springing up every day. But we think the four we've listed above have everything you need - at least until the millennium bug hits us, and sends us all scurrying for paper and pencil, our romantic notions of the paperless office all but forgotten ;-)
And on that happy(?) thought, we'd like to end this particular issue of The HITG Report. Till next time...stay healthy!This article was first published on 16 Jan 1999.