Top Web Apps of 2008 That I Use Every Day

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2008 made one giant leap for cloud computing.  Here are my favorite website browser-based applications that I use daily:

Mint.com

I’ve been waiting years for a decent web-based money/budget management application.  I knew this would be a killer web app when someone came along to do it right, but no one seemed to be stepping up to the plate for the longest time.  I tried several other alternatives like Wesabe, but none had the detailed Quicken-like features I wanted.  Mint.com to the rescue.  I jumped on early in the beta stages, and was frustrated by the neverending bugs.  Somewhere around the end of July, Mint got all the major bugs worked out and the entire system works almost flawlessly now.

If you haven’t used Mint, it works something like this: you provide all your logins to your various financial institutions (yes it’s safe).  Every time you visit Mint, it automatically logs into all your accounts and updates everything.  From there, you can look through all your transactions, arrange them into the proper spending categories (if Mint didn’t guess right), split transactions, etc.  Once you build in your monthly budget, Mint will display your progress to date against your budget, broken down into every spending category as well as overall.  I’ve got Mint tracking my checking account, savings account, money market account, IRAs, 401k, stock trading account, and all my credit cards.  No more logging on to ten different websites to browse through transactions and try to figure out exactly how much you’re spending.  It’s all in one place with Mint.

Passpack

I’ve gone through tons of password management programs.  The biggest problem with these apps is keeping everything in sync.  For me, this involves installing an app on my main computer, one on my laptop, and one on my handheld device and managing to keep everything in sync and making sure everything is properly encrypted.

Passpack is a site that allows storing all your logon and passwords online, which means you can easily access all your hundreds of usernames and passwords from any internet-enabled computer.  Passpack does this securely by encrypting your data into packets with Javascript and then sending the encrypted packets to the Passpack server.  All of your sensitive login information is strongly encrypted and invisible to anyone, even if they managed to hack into the Passpack server.  Passpack has several layers of security to get to your stuff: you log on with a username, strong password, and finally, a decryption passphrase.  A user-customizable anti-phishing is diplayed to let you know you’re secure.  And if you’re using a shared computer that could be vulnerable to keyloggers or other viruses, you can pre-define disposable logins that can only be used once.

You can also teach Passpack how to log onto various websites, so you can do a one-click logon to any website via the Passpack interface.  You do this by going through a one-time setup for each website where you teach Passpack where the username and password boxes are, and where the submit button is.  And if you want to get to your passwords faster on a local computer, you can use the Passpack software for Google Gears or Adobe Air.

Passpack is still free, but they’ve been hinting at charging a small monthly fee for years now.  Not sure when that will happen.

Google Everything

Google made tremendous progress in 2008 with all their web apps.  Things are coming along nicely, but I still feel they could integrate everything a little better.

Gmail

Best email app around, hands down.  Google has redefined how to manage email and it works perfectly.  Using Outlook at work is painful once you’ve become accustomed to Gmail.

Google Calendar

Forget software-based calendar apps.  Manage your calendar in the cloud with Google–you can sync in, out, and every possible direction, add collaborative calendars to your own.  I sync my Outlook calendar from work to my Google calendar so it is populated with everything, in one place.  I publish my calendar publicly so others can browse through it to see when I’m free (it only shows free/busy data, not your actual entries).  This saves endless back-and-forth calls when trying to get an appointment–I just send a link to my public calendar.

Google Docs

Google Documents has really matured in 2008.  If I need to start a new spreadsheet, I go straight to Google Docs now rather than Open Office or Excel.  The spreadsheet functionality in Google Docs is just about as powerful as Excel.  And you can access them from anywhere without the hassle of syncing documents around.

Google Notebook

I use Google Notebook to jot down anything and everything, from restaurant recommendations people give me to shopping lists.  You can get to your notes easily on any mobile device.  I’ve also converted all my guitar tablature music into a Google Notebook!

Google Contacts

A perfect online little black book.  This is the one and only place I store all my contacts.  Searchable, exportable, syncable, iPhoneable.

iGoogle and Google Reader

All my hundreds of RSS feeds point straight to iGoogle or Google Reader.  I think of iGoogle as my newspapers and Google Reader as my magazines.  Forget visiting 50 websites every morning to get your news.  These elegant and productive web interfaces let you sift through tons of articles in a hurry.

Google Maps

Google Maps has all sorts of new features like street view, walking routes, public transportation, etc., etc.  And Gmail will give you a link to map or create directions whenever it sees an address in your email message.  Nice!

Yahoo Pipes

Ok this one has a certain degree of nerdliness to it, but if you want to customize the information that you’re fed, this is the way to do it.  Pipes is a graphical programming language that lets you aggregate, mashup, and tinker RSS feeds to your heart’s desire.  You can take multiple RSS feeds, filter out whatever you want, eliminate duplicate information, and twist the feed around any way you want it.  Dont’ think Britney Spears news belongs on your front news page?  Filter her out of your news–no problem.  Your pipe outputs to its own RSS feed.  I send all my Pipes feeds to iGoogle and Google Reader.