Desert Island Application: Web 2.0

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When you are next shipwrecked on a desert island, and find a laptop among the flotsam, you’ll be glad to know that you’ll be able to open all your own documents - of any type - with just one application, which you can download free. (Make sure that you are marooned on an island that has Internet access).

Recent developments in web programming techniques have enabled the ‘humble’ web browser to perform all the functions normally associated with word processors, calendars, email clients, organisers, photo albums and even spreadsheets.

The documents you produce using these services are stored on a central server, available from any computer that you happen to be using. I frequently use one of two computers at home, one of many at work or at the division, and sometimes need to use other peoples’ computers. Using these online services, it doesn’t matter what applications are installed on these computers, or even whether they use MacOS, Windows or Linux - all my documents can be accessed at any time I have Internet access. The software that is used is always the latest version and the documents are automatically backed up.

Apart from this ‘access anywhere’ capability, the great advantage of online services is that they facilitate sharing and collaboration - you can allow selected people to access your documents for viewing or editing, from wherever they may be. Changes made by anyone are logged, and you can compare one version of a document with a previous version. Shared photos and bookmarks add to a sense of community.

These services are sometimes known as Web 2.0, and much of the momentum is being generated by our friends at Google. A showdown is developing with Microsoft, who currently dominates the application market with its Office suite. New tools either developed (or purchased) by Google Labs can replace Word, Excel and Outlook - and are available free. Many of these services are still in beta (testing) mode, and require an invitation to use them.

Firefox

Internet Explorer is still used by 70% of web users, and can be used to access these new services. However, I recommend you download ‘Firefox’, the latest incarnation of the open source Mozilla / Netscape browser, which has a number of attractive features and is highly customisable. A handy new feature (from Google!) allows your bookmarks, history and passwords to be synchronised between all the computers on which you use Firefox.

Word Processing

Writely.com, one of Google’s many aquisitions, provides a Word-compatible word processor. It has all the features that you would normally use in Word, including spell checking, toolbars and a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) display. Your document is automatically saved every 30 seconds as you type. You can invite others to collaborate on your document, and you can ‘roll back’ to any previously saved versions you choose. You decide who (if anyone) has access to view or edit your work. Documents can be exported as Word or web ready HTML files, or be made ‘public’ as they are. In fact, I’m writing this article using Writely!

The full text of this article is available at: http://www.writely.com/View.aspx?docid=bcjm23vpqpv2t

Mail

Google Mail is a web based email service, like Hotmail. Web 2.0 technology allows for more sophisticated functionality, and Google provides a whopping 2 Gigabytes of storage space. Your messages can be searched using the efficient Google search engine we are accustomed to, or you can download your messages to an offline client (eg. Eudora or Outlook) if you prefer.

Calendar

Google Calendar allows you to organise your schedule and share events with friends and colleagues. Google calendar can integrate with Outlook and iCal, and has the advantage of being accessible online at any time. So make an entry at work, and your home diary will automatically be up to date.

The basic format of Google Calendar will be familiar to those who use Outlook or iCal. You can create as many different ‘Calendars’ as you wish - say Work, Home, Sport - and elect to keep them private, share with particular friends, or make them available for the whole world. So you can now search from within Google for the Lismore Rugby Club Under 12’s draw. As Google Calendar adheres to open standards, many shared calendars are already available, including School Holidays.

For a web based application, Google Calendar is surprisingly easy to use - View by Day, Week, Month, or show your coming Agenda. Add an event just by clicking on the appropriate time slot, or use the ‘Quick Add’ feature to schedule an event with an instruction like ‘Lunch with Mum on Sunday at 2.00pm’. You can be notified of upcoming events by email or even by SMS (US only, currently).

You can send invitations to an event, and invitees can RSVP through the calendar. If you have a special event planned, you can create a Button to add to your web site that will automatically add the event to visitor’s calendars.

We are using Google Calendar at work to provide access to our on-call roster and reminder about particular meetings. We are also using it at the division so that members can integrate our CPD calendar into their own schedule.

Photos

Flickr is an online photograph management and sharing site. You can upload your photos, arrange them into albums, and allow other people to view them (if you wish). You can establish a ‘group’ album, to which others can also add photos - say, a place for all the guests at a wedding to upload their favourite snaps. Tools for Windows and Mac allow you to add a whole bunch of photos at once, and you can even email them directly from your camera phone to your Flickr account. Clearly a number of excellent photographers use Flickr to display their skills, as many excellent shots can be viewed in the public gallery.

Project Management

37signals.com has a number of products that facilitate project communication and collaboration. ‘Basecamp’ is their top of the range model. It allows you to assign to-dos and tasks, post messages and gather feedback, schedule, share files and track time. ‘Campfire’ provides a simple chat for your organisation. ‘Backpack’ includes a free lite version that handles the notes and list sharing functions of Basecamp, while Ta-Da list is a very simple (free) to-do list application.

Bookmarks

del.icio.us is an unusual concept, but addictive after you get used to it. Basically, del.icio.us allows an easy method to bookmark sites you are visiting, storing them on a central database. You can access your own bookmarks from any computer, and ‘tag’ them in a certain category. This is useful in itself, but the power of the site comes from the aggregation of the thousands of sites that are bookmarked each hour by the hundreds of thousands of users. The most popular site this hour - ‘You Look Like I Need a Drink - T-Shirts you didn’t know you needed’.

Next?

Alstonville has not yet made it to Google Maps - so I suspect that you’ll still need a chart to find your way off that desert island. Web services haven’t yet replaced local desktop applications in functionality - but their convenience, accessibilty and capacity for collaboration have me convinced. I’ll back Google and Web 2.0

Posted in Australian eHealth

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