Tracking tasks with Remember The Milk: Dairy delight or lactose intolerance?

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(Aaron and I prepared this review together. He's responsible for the first half or so, plus the roundup; I'm mainly to blame for the milk-related puns. –Rob)

October saw the Social Signal team hunting for some new task management software. We'd been using (or not using, as the case may be) Basecamp for quite a while, but it made task management an almost unmanageable task. For instance, we like to work together on specific tasks, so Basecamp's inability to assign tasks to multiple people was a real problem. That, plus the somewhat buggy interface and the lack of RSS feeds made us decide that it was time for something new and better.

Enter Remember the Milk, a free web-based to-do list service. Aside from having a catchy name (which is almost a Web 2.0 prerequisite these days), RTM is an incredibly slick task management application that comes jam-packed with great features.

Adding lists and tasks is a snap, you can sort tasks by tag, share lists and tasks with other RTM users & groups, and you can upload task lists by email. As if that wasn't enough, there's Atom, RSS and iCal feeds, integrated geo-location, and email/IM/SMS reminders.

All this killer functionality is wrapped in a clean and pleasant interface and supported by a dynamite help section. All well and good.

But there are places where the milk curdles - especially for a team. The interface sometimes feels counterintuitive, with crucial feedback messages and dialog boxes appearing unobtrusively when they should be working harder to grab your eyeballs. Sharing and assigning tasks relies on a pull-down menu and, while we were testing it, had more than one glitch show up.

Notes are a crucial way to share information, but they're tucked away and not readily apparent. I badly need an at-a-glance view of all the tasks on my shared lists; RTM doesn't have it.

The thing I miss the most from Basecamp is the way its architecture constantly reminds me that I'm part of a team. (A team hobbled by Basecamp's task management interface, maybe, but still a team.) With RTM, the team is pretty much invisible; it feels very much like a service designed for individuals, with collaboration as kind of an afterthought. The collaboration tools themselves can be powerful, but their workflow and interface need a lot more attention before they'll become second nature.

Still, for all of those shortcomings, "RTM" has become a verb around here. (Someone comes up with an idea for a blog post, a feature for a project, or a prospect we should contact, and one of us will say to whoever's taking notes, "I can do it. RTM that for me.") It's no "I'll Google it" yet, but for now, RTM is our task management tool of choice.

At a glance:

  • Great things about RTM: Tagging, Atom and RSS feeds, iCal integration, nice interface, GREAT help section, bookmarklet, smart lists, notes, geo-location, email, IM and SMS reminders, list sharing, email upload, keyboard shortcuts
  • Bummers: task assignment/sharing is weird, categorization is tricky to manage, notes are tricky, no 'overall' view of all the tasks on all my shared lists, feels 'isolated' -- no 'team' feeling, à la Basecamp

What do you think? Is Remember the Milk the cream of the crop, or do you know a task manager that provides an even better toolset, an even smarter interface, and a name even more ripe for puns and metaphors?


Google profiles Social Signal's project management says

December 10, 2009 - 3:10pm

[...] the perfect solution to our project management needs. We've tried web apps like Basecamp and Remember the Milk, desktop apps like Daylite... but nothing has met all of our [...]

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