Holiday Helpers: Free Web 2.0 Apps

CIO.com – Keeping up with holiday errands, parties and travel plans doesn't need to be as difficult as it used to be, thanks to some handy free Web 2.0 apps that you can access from your browser on the family computer or your mobile phone.

[ More on CIO.com How To Get the Best Internet Connectivity While You Travel; A Techie Holiday Wish List; Nine Web 2.0 Startups Beating The Odds in a Down Economy ]

For these holiday-helper Web 2.0 tools, we had a few pieces of sensible criteria in mind. We wanted simple, if not elegant interfaces that make it easy enough even for the non-techie in the house to log into and use. Good mobile access was not a requirement, but certainly a bonus.

Try out these tools to manage your holidays, and you might use them for the rest of year to keep track of your events and plans.

Ta-da List 

What it does: Ta-da List, made by the folks at 37 Signals who build Web-based collaboration software such as Campfire and Basecamp, make this simple free to-do list. After signing up for an account at Tadalist.com, a process that takes less than a minute (they say 10 seconds), you'll be brought to a very simple page.

How to use it: Click on "add item." Add an item.

Merry Web 2.0: The ability to send the list to your e-mail can be especially helpful when you're out of pocket (say, at the store). It has RSS, letting you know if there was an update to the list (maybe the Mrs. added "carrots" while you were on your way to the grocery store). You can share it with people by emailing them a link to the list. Think something should move higher up the list in terms of priorities? Click on the "reorder" link.

Wish list for next year: Like other things from 37 Signals, Ta-da List is sometimes too simple for its own good, to the point it becomes annoying for people who don't hack HTML. Making subheads under list requires some basic HTML like < br > for a break or < b > for bolding text. Not hard for many of us, but it doesn't pass the low-barriers to entry test entirely as a result. Browser-based access was decent but we had some problems on the BlackBerry. We recommend e-mailing yourself the list before you leave for the store.

TripIt 

What it does: TripIt creates an online itinerary for you. It tracks and organizes all the things you'd expect, including flights, car rentals and hotel reservations.

How to use it: This part is the coolest: start by grabbing that flight reservation e-mail that your airline sent you or your hotel reservation. Forward it to plans@tripit.com. Wait a few minutes and click on the link TripIt sends you. You'll quickly set up an account and be brought to your itinerary.

Merry Web 2.0: The easy-to-use design scores big. When you're taken to your itinerary, you'll see an easy menu on the right side to "edit your trip details" and "add plans" as they come in. You can get an app download to sync with desktop-based calendars as well as mobile calendars for your BlackBerry or iPhone. Mobile access for iPhone and Blackberries is decent. As we noted in our review of LinkedIn's free apps, you can embed your TripIt information as a widget on your LinkedIn profile.

On our wish list: LinkedIn integration is nice; but some of us are Facebook people too.

MyPunchbowl 

What it does: Helps you plan parties, organize what people bring, and send vital information to guests (directions, invitations and save the dates). It's like evite, but better, and more elegantly designed.

How to use it: Go to MyPunchbowl.com and click on the "create a free account button." After registering, party planning is a step-by-step process that anyone can follow. You'll be taken to a simple landing page that allows you to enter the name of your event and you can get started.

Merry Web 2.0: We loved the user interface for its simple tabular environment (that tabs include a "dashboard" and an "address book," which is helpful for guest management). The light blue and white is colors were easy on the eyes, and avoided the pitfalls of other loudly designed party planning sites. The "poll for a date" function is pretty helpful tool for those of you who agonize over the best time that will guarantee your favorite guests to be in attendance. The ability to release a pot luck list is great for both you and guests; they can say what they're bringing, you can keep it in an organized area without having to deal with a bunch of reply "I'll bring this" e-mails like you normally would.

On our wish list: MyPunchbowl works great on Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer, but there have been some "layout issues" with Safari for all you Apple lovers out there. In its FAQ section, however, MyPunchbowl says they're addressing the problem and they expect the kinks to be worked out of the next major Safari release. Also, you'll find pretty limited mobile access on your browser, but there is MyPunchbowl Buzz, an RSS tool, that the company says works on mobile phones. It updates a user of changes (say, someone added a potluck dish).

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