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TECH TIPS
with Scott Merrill

Learn tips and hints to use a variety of electronic and technical equipment to enhance work with volunteers.

~ September 2005 ~ Topics


The Internet as a Platform for Collaboration

Traditional desktop software usually requires that everyone involved use the same version, on the same platform, which is not always something you can control. This can make collaboration with other parties difficult, and sometimes impossible.

The internet represents a fantastic, functional lowest common denominator for all of the different computers in use at our work and home, and at our client's and vendor's locations. By using the internet and a hosted application, anyone anywhere can collaborate.

37Signals, LLC is a great example of a company using the internet as the platform for collaboration. They offer a suite of hosted solutions you can access with almost any web browser. All the data is stored on their servers, so there's nothing for you to manage, or back up. Using nothing but your web browser, you can create a simple task list or a full-blown project plan. And because it's all online, you can access your data from work, or home, a library or an internet cafe.

  • http://www.tadalist.com/
    Ta-Da List is a free online to-do list manager. You can create and manage up to ten different lists at a time.
  • http://www.backpackit.com/
    Backpack is a step up from TA-DA List, and allows you to add photos and other files to your lists. Backpack can also send email reminders, to help you stay on task. Backpack offers a limited-use version for free. This free offering provides five pages and ten reminders. For a modest monthly fee, you can use more pages and reminders.
  • http://www.basecamphq.com/
    Basecamp is the top-of-the-line project management offering from 37Signals. Basecamp allows you to create projects, in which you assign and track deadlines for activities, communicate with partners or clients, share files, and much more.

All three of the solutions above are private by default. After you establish your list, backpack, or project, you can elect to provide access on an individual basis to specific users, or you can make the whole thing completely public for the world to see.

The Basecamp Manifesto is a refreshingly sensible set of core beliefs that inspired the product. These beliefs stand in stark contrast to the restrictive licensing practices of most traditional desktop application software. Likewise, the Backpack Manifesto has a clear understanding that busy people need simple, functional tools.

If you're currently looking for a project management solution, or struggling to keep track of your schedule, give one of these tools a try. TA-DA List is free. Backpack offers a free, limited use version. And Basecamp offers a free 30 day trial.


Scott Merrill is an information technology professional with demonstrated success in a variety of diverse environments, including healthcare, for-profit, and non-profit. He has participated in large-scale deployments for national and international corporations, and has successfully managed the introduction of a complete technology solution for a mid-sized nonprofit mental health facility. Scott lives in lovely Columbus, Ohio with his wife and twin daughters. He occasionally blogs his thoughts at http://skippy.net. You may reach him by email at skippy@skippy.net.

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