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Top 10 Web Apps in 2008

Top 10 Web Apps in 2008

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    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?

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    1. Blist

    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.

    2. Get Satisfaction

    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.

    3. Posterous

    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.

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    4. Dopplr

    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.

    5. MobileMe

    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!

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    6. IntenseDebate

    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!

    7. Hulu

    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. ;)

    8. Last.fm

    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).

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    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.

    9. Qik

    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.

    10. Mogulus

    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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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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