Here at Lifehack, we like to review the web apps that were released over the course of the year and see how they went — which apps stood the test of time and remained popular after the hype of their launch had subsided? In this article, we’ll look at ten apps that did particularly well and provide users with a valuable services. I’ve tried to craft a rational list — I’m looking at how well the apps perform now, since we all know launches can go wrong and beta versions often lack the features to make an app worthwhile until several months down the track.
I also thought it fair that if an app was launched sometime in 2007 but didn’t become popular until 2008, it deserved a moment in the spotlight.
On the whole, I’ve found 2008 to be much a slower year for web application development than 2007 was. There were plenty of apps, but I doubt quite as many, and certainly fewer of them were garnering as much attention as in 2007 when online apps were “all the rage.” Since web apps have become a pretty regular part of online life, the frenzy has died down, and I think this is a good thing. It means the “field” — if you can call it that — is maturing and the products are becoming more stable, rather than heaping on the new features to compete.
So, come the end of 2008, which apps launched earlier in the year are still going strong and making life easier?
It only makes sense that on a site like Lifehack, the first web app we celebrate is one that has a lot to do with productivity. Heck, without lists, we’d never get anything done! Blist allows you to create lists on steroids — any list software with 16 columns must be taking drugs, since most apps I’ve used only give you one column plus a checkbox — and share them with the people who need to see them. You can also publish your blist on a website (blist is short for weblist) using a widget.
Blist also allows you to take your simple list and view it in different ways. If your list is date-sensitive, you can use a calendar view, or you can create your own filters that determine how the information is presented. If you love lists, you’ll love Blist. And if you’ve got a folder full of them I’m willing to bet you’re a GTD user too.
Get Satisfaction is an interesting website that provides a neutral, intermediate space for customers and companies to communicate. It’s a new way of doing customer service, and a cheaper one too: potentially, customers will check for previously answered questions before submitting their own and cut down on the number of duplicate questions the company spends its time on.
Get Satisfaction is a more transparent and trustworthy system than many solutions hosted by companies themselves, as it is impartial and questions and statements putting the company in a negative light can’t simply be whisked away. This is also a downside, of course, when the complaints made are unfair and could damage the company image. Nevertheless, it’s a novel idea that makes life easier for both parties and is becoming more popular by the day.
Posterous is an interesting service, providing an easy way to publish words, pictures, audio and video. It takes the simplicity of services such as Tumblr to the extreme: to establish your blog, you simply send an email with some starter content. To update your blog, you send another email. This is the ultimate no-maintenance publishing solution, but it’s probably a little simple for those wanting to create and control a more developed website.
The Internet has made remarkable strides over the last decade. It used to be a bunch of static pages of text. As the years went by, it became more integrated with our day-to-day lives. But now the real-time involvement of the Internet with the way we live our lives (as opposed to something like email where the disconnect between real life and online life still exists) is remarkable and Dopplr is an example of that.
Used to be that you would let your friends, colleagues and family know when you were travelling manually, and you’d usually discover that someone you hadn’t seen for ages was in the same place, at the same time, only after you got home. With Dopplr you fill in the details of your travel arrangements, which it then checks against the arrangements of the friends, family and colleagues you’re sharing data with, and alerts both parties if you’re going to be in a certain place at the same time in case you want to catch up.
This sort of thing used to take remarkable effort. Now, it’s just remarkably easy. Dopplr definitely deserves a spot on any top 10 web apps list if just for the concept.
When I started writing this list, I determined not to judge a web app on how well its launch went, but how good the app was by the end of the year. If my criteria had been different, MobileMe wouldn’t be here—it had one of the worst web app launches we’ve seen from a large company, perhaps one of the worst launches from Apple ever.
I’ll admit that none of those problems ever affected me—I was strangely lucky—and that might improve my bias. Nevertheless, in the months that followed, MobileMe matured into a stable product and I believe Apple did their best to compensate their users for the shaky launch. MobileMe is an excellent syncing app, keeping data between all my Macs, my iPhone and the web all up-to-date, all the time. The web-based applications themselves work well and look great, though I admit that I don’t use them very often. You couldn’t tell this app had such a shaky launch now — unless I’m still having a good streak of luck!
IntenseDebate is the commenting system that takes the discussion features from your average blogging platform and turns them into something much more powerful. It has a few competitors, and WordPress itself has just implemented one of its top features (threaded comments), but it’s still a great way to turbocharge the discussion capabilities of a website.
Other than implementing threaded comments, IntenseDebate allows users to respond to and even moderate comments via email, import or export comment databases for backup or migration, feed integration that is better than most platform’s built-ins, commenter profiles and blacklisting, and much more. Gone are the days of three text boxes and a submit button!
Hulu was one of those web apps launched in 2007, but I for one didn’t hear of it until this year, or if I did hear about it last year I sure didn’t mentally note it until this year. Maybe that’s because the laggards behind it still have restricted pretty much all the content on the site to IP addresses in the US (global economy, yeah right!), but it deserves a mention here if not for the ubiquity it gained throughout the last year. Here’s hoping that in the near future the complexities of regional licensing will be taken care of as far as online viewing goes and we can all enjoy what Hulu and other similar sites have to offer.
What’s that? I didn’t mention what Hulu does? Something to do with videos — I can’t tell you much more than that, until I can use it. ;)
You might think I’m cheating a little here. I’ve been using Last.fm since around 2006 if my memory has any accuracy at all. But this year has been a milestone year for the site in terms of its userbase and advancements and I continue to enjoy the way it is evolving. I even had a subscription for a couple of months — they’re only $3 (last time I checked).
If you like to track your music and get a good overview of the sort of music you’ve been listening to most and what sort of music you haven’t heard but might like (based on the data collected on your existing listening habits), then Last.fm is a great web app, and hopefully will continue its consistent improvement as time goes on.
It’s worth noting that with a site like Last.fm that makes recommendations based on aggregate trends in its userbase, simply becoming a more popular service can improve its quality.
Qik allows users to share mobile videos on the go. Whether it’s the baby’s first steps or an unboxing of a new geek toy, Qik is the video equivalent of a text service like Twitter. Immediate video. Cue another of my “Wow look how far the Internet has come!” moments here — a few years ago it was a pain in the backside getting a video to load in the browser, and now we can fling ’em at each other like it’s a food fight.
Mogulus is another web app that deals with web app, but it’s what WordPress is to Twitter, to extend the analogy I used with Qik. Mogulus is for creating and publishing more professional video media, allowing you to handle parts of the process that deal with product creation, such as the ability to mix multiple camera angles and clips and form a final video, to publication, allowing you to push that video to your own site and others, with viewers chatting as you go. It’s oriented towards live broadcasting online, minus the cheap webcam that came with your computer (suppose you could if you wanted, but there goes my claim to it being “more professional”).
So there are ten web apps that rocked hard in 2008. As with all lists, especially top 10s, there’s a barrage of “Where’s ___ on this list?” to come, I’m sure — and in my opinion that’s half the fun. Be sure to let us know what your picks for the year were. Here’s to web apps in 2009!
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