43actions.com – an online GTD system reviewed

After my previous post, about my top 13 iPhone applications, one comment draw my attention to a specific web application designed for the iPhone. I haven’t been a fan for web applications, especially for the iPhone, mainly because my web access when I’m on the go it’s a little bit erratic, but, nevertheless, I felt like I should give it a try. The application is located at 43actions.com (access it via your Mobile Safari in your iPhone), and it seemed an interesting GTD implementation to study. So, after several days of usage, here I am, trying to outline a few conclusions about 43actions.com.

For the folks out there a little bit off the track, a short explanation about the difference between an online application, and a native application for the iPhone. When accessing an online application via iPhone, you are actually using Mobile Safari and surfing like you would normally do on your laptop and desktop, via the http protocol. Hence, you NEED an internet connection. When using a native application, you are not tied to an internet connection, and your data storage is made locally. An ideal case would be a native iPhone application with some syncing and online backup capabilities. But we are going a little too fast here, let’s get back to our application for today.

When accessing 43actions.com for the first time you’re prompted with a login / register screen. One thing that I particularly liked from the first seconds was the OpenId integration. I have more than 50 online applications that I use, each with its own login / password credentials. Whenever I use an application that allows me to use the credentials stored at my OpenId account, I’m happy. Registration via OpenId took only a few seconds and then I’ve been taken to the home page.

As you can see, the first link is to your “Next Actions”, (which can be individually checked as “Next Action” or “regular” when you add them), and there you have a link for your “Inbox”, your default context, a link to the “Agenda”, (an interesting approach, which we’ll talk about it a little later), then a link for the “Organize” section, where you’ll assign contexts and projects to your actions, and then your Contexts and Projects links. There is another link “Settings” which didn’t made it to the first screen, but we’ll talk about it later. The first impression about the home screen is good. Neat layout and clever organization.

This screen shot above is made after I inserted several actions. Which you can do in several ways. You can add an action after accessing your Inbox, after adding a context or a project, or from the top right button with the “+action” caption. Here’s how you can actually add an action:

So, adding an action is a matter of typing the name, checking if it’s a “Next Action” or just a regular one, and click “Create”. Simply enough. As you can see, the “Inbox” is already holding two other actions, the one with a star is a “Next Action”, and the other one is a regular action. The starred action doesn’t have a due date, but the regular action has one. These are just examples to see that the application, as simple as it is, has enough flexibility to play nice if you want…

But what if you want another context than “Inbox”? And, if you are a true GTD person, you’d want that really bad :-). You can manage the contexts and projects, via the “Settings” page. You can start like in the picture below:

Here’s my context listing before adding the new context:

Adding a context is also a simple task of adding the context’s name and a short description (the first words of the description will be shown in smaller fonts on the context listing page):

The new context just have been added and you can already add a new action to it:

And again the context listing with the new context, plus the new action, added:

Easy, isn’t it? And the same goes for projects, of course. Here we add a new project, starting from the same “Setting” link:

After the new project has been added, you can of course, just to remain in the flow, to add a new action to it immediately:

And the final result, your project’s list:

As you can see, working with contexts and projects is pretty straightforward and doesn’t need any special training for it.

Let’s see now what we have if we try to look at our “Next Actions” list, meaning those actions which we need to do to “unblock” our flow or to kickstart the projects we already defined earlier:

And now let’s work each action:

You can “check” the action, meaning you’ve done it, or somehow managed to get over it. Once checked, the action is also deleted, but there is an option in the “Settings” area where you can chose to archive deleted actions.

You can also mail the action to yourself (more precisely at the email address chosen during registration), but I’ve never used that. And you can also toggle the “Next Action” status of it.

If you want to change the context of the action you must first edit it:

Noticed the red “Delete” button on top right? Yeap, it’s for deleting an action, and I think it’s good to have this functionality a little deeper than usual – not at the listing level, I mean – in order to avoid some accidents, always possible with the iPhone touch screen interface and a pair of untrained fingers. Oh, and here we are changing the context of our action:

So this is what you actually can do with it. A little, but solid GTD online application. There are few words left, and the most important will be related to the “Agenda” feature. This “Agenda” page have links for the future days, like tomorrow, this week, this month and this year, and you can see all the actions that have due dates grouped this way. Which I found interesting and useful.

There are also some goodies not covered yet here, like twitter integration, or home layout change, but I leave those for the curious that will play with 43actions.com too. As I said, being an online application, it’s practically usable everywhere.

Now, let’s jump to some conclusions. For the good points:

– great GTD implementation, with contexts, projects and next actions
– simple and flexible, nice interface

For the bad points:

– being online it forces you to be online ALL THE TIME, which for me it’s pretty difficult
– I noticed some downtime on the server, not too much but enough to make me wonder if they would like to switch for a better hosting solution. Or maybe I just caught them in the middle of some upgrades 🙂

I left for the end something that seems to be a good news: they are planning a SDK-based version of 43actions.com.

The monetizing model for the whole 43actions.com is donationware, so the application doesn’t cost you nothing upfront. The only revenue is made through donations. But with this news, I guess they will need some more support, more man power, and so on…

All in all, a pleasant experience. I recommend it.

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