Baby steps

People say that all those new Web applications they have nowadays can make life easier and more convenient. They say that.

computer cartoon 88 (photo credit: )
computer cartoon 88
(photo credit: )
People say that all those new Web applications they have nowadays can make life easier and more convenient. They say that. And people say that information has never been more available, that you can save valuable time, money and effort using free and low-cost Internet services for work and play (, and that we're lucky to be living in a time where you can visit the ends of the earth or catch up with friends you haven't seen for years with the click of a button. People say that too. Only problem is, those people aren't you. You are not one of the people who say things like this, because you are just not "into" the innovation that is the Internet. You see your kids and their friends throwing instant messages, SMS messages and on-line videos at each other like it was the most natural thing in the world - but messaging doesn't seem to be your thing. Your kids tried to set you up with a Web cam connection so you could talk to them for free over the Internet while they're away at school, but you just couldn't get the hang of using it. They talk about their blogs, Web sites, RSS feeds, streaming music sites, collaborative on-line projects, Youtube videos - and all you can do is nod your head and smile. Something is going on out there, but you're not part of it. Which is a shame, because not only are you missing out on some useful tools, you won't be able to help guide your kids through the muck and mire of the Internet. Kids today, apparently, are born pre-programmed to have an affinity for all things tech. We parents, having grown up when the term "web" conjured up visions of spiders - the creepy-crawly kind, not the Internet information gathering kind - have a lot of catching up to do if we want to understand their world. If you've ever looked on in wonderment as you watched a 13-year-old perform all manner of Internet stunts during the time it takes you to type in the password to your e-mail, and wished you could navigate the Web just as easily, I have a suggestion for you. Obviously, you can't take it all in at once - your brain would start slewing off data to protect itself from sensory overload. As with any other education project, you've got to begin at the beginning. And if you're looking for a beginning that will help ease you into the world of Web applications without too much blood, sweat or tears - not to mention headaches - you'll want to try the 30boxes on-line calendar program ( A Web calendar is actually a good place for a Net Newbie to begin an on-line education, because a calendar is something everyone uses and can understand. In fact, you may already use a computerized calendar, such as the one included in Outlook, Lotus Notes, a Palm Pilot or the appointments function on your cellphone. And while those calendars let you input information, appointments, phone numbers and alarms, they're nothing like 30boxes. The 30boxes system is like the focal point of an on-line life, letting you input, share and spread your schedule and information to friends and colleagues. What makes 30boxes special - and different - is its ease of use. When you first sign up (the service is completely free), you are prompted to put in your first meeting or appointment. Right away, you begin your Web application education: Type in a sentence like "meeting with clients tomorrow," and the phrase "meeting with clients" will appear - in tomorrow's box. See that? It speaks plain English! Try this with "Monday, " or "next Tuesday," if today is Tuesday - you'll be amazed at what happens. While using 30boxes, you get introduced not only to modern Web app data entry, but also to other cool concepts that appear again and again in on-line applications and services. Like tagging, where you label an entry so you can search or classify it more easily, and e-mail linking, where you can automatically invite anyone else to view your event. Anyone you send an invite to will get a message from 30boxes urging them to sign up for the system too - and then you can allow them to view your calendar on the public Web space you automatically get when you sign up. See - now you even have your own Web page! Using your tags, you can allow others access only to specific information, so you control the level of privacy. You can also (of course) repeat events, send yourself updates and reminders, invite other users, etc. Once you've gone this far (and remember, all you did was add an event to your calendar), you'll want to explore some of the more advanced features - such as linking an address to an entry with a Google Map (this is called a "mashup," in Web talk), import events from Webcal/Ical calendars (, link to RSS feeds, connect to other Web services like LinkedIn (, add blogs, weather reports - in other words, 30boxes can be your jumping-off point to the wonderful world of Web apps. With 30boxes, it's like you're learning to swim - in very, very shallow water. It's just the thing to bring you up to speed on today's Internet. Who knows - you might even want to surf the Blogo-sphere after you get done with 30boxes.