27 May 2008

Making the Moo(ve) to Remember the Milk

In the past I have heralded the advantages of using online to-do list todoist.com. I continue to use the application as a widget on my iGoogle page.

Lately, however, I have been giving Remember the Milk a chance, and have really come to appreciate how well it can work for organizing genealogy research.

Remember the Milk (also known as RTM) takes your gaggle of handwritten and jotted todo lists and moves them online, adding mobile functionality and a web 2.0 feel. It also is usable as an iGoogle widget or a Netvibes module, can integrate with Gmail, be used with your Blackberry or iPhone.... or can just be used as a simple online to-do list. I love the complexion of the site, and that it is simple enough for novice users, but can expand to the needs of power users.

Getting Started

Signing up for a Remember the Milk account is simple and requires the usual email verification. Once you login you can begin to create your to-do lists using the default lists (Personal, Work, etc.), or you can delete those defaults and create your own lists. Lists simply provide different sections under which you can categorize different tasks. I have chosen to create my lists by surname.

Here's a look at what my "Tasks" view currently looks like:

The lists appear as grey tabs across the top of the screen. Right now, we are viewing the "Byrnes" list, so the tasks associated with this list are shown beneath the tabs. Note that I was able to tag the tasks (see the words to the left of the task description, like "order" and "record"). These tags can be very helpful in organizing tasks, as I will show below. To add a task to a list, you simply click on the "Add Task" link clearly visible at the top of the to-do list.

Clicking on a task brings up a detailed view in the right-hand sidebar:

In this case, I have selected a task, and it now appears highlighted in yellow.

In the detail view you can see (and edit) things like the due date for the task, whether or not it repeats, add tags, a location for the task, associate a URL, or add notes.

I have found the tag, locations, URL and notes to be the most helpful for genealogy tasks, which tend to not be time-based (no due dates) but rather are tackled by priority and sometimes the will or whim of the researcher. Let's look at these items in-depth and see how RTM makes them valuable.


Tags, that hallmark of 2.0, are useful for RTM in that you can associate tasks in lists, but also use tags to aggregate them using other filters. For example, as I mentioned above, I created lists using surnames. I have chosen, however, to use tags which explain the nature of the task such as record (need to find a record or search an index), order (need to order something), or research (need to do some general research). Since these tags are searchable, I can locate particular tasks according to my needs. When I want to order a bunch of different records (after the payday check clears!) I can search out all tasks with the tag "order" (this is done by typing tag:order in the search field in the upper-right hand of the screen), and see a list of records I need to send off for:

The tasks come from a number of different lists, but all have the tag "order" associated with them. Again, you can search for all tasks with a particular tag by using the tag:tagname format in the search field. Substitute the tag you are searching for where it says tagname.

You can also save searches you perform, and RTM will create what it calls "Smart Lists"... lists which reflect all tasks found under your search criteria. What is great about these smart lists is that they are dynamic... items added or changed even after you saved your search will be included in the smart list!

For instance, if I want to create a smart list of all tasks involving obituaries, I can perform the search like so:

Once the search has been performed, clicking on the "Save" tab allows you to name this search and keep it as a Smart List:

We now have a smart list which I have called "Obituaries", and which will update as I add, edit, or remove tasks:

Note that all smart lists are shown with a blue tab, easy to locate and easy to use!


The locations feature is a very cool one for genealogists. I find the implentation by RTM to be a little clunky, but for the graphically inclined, it can be very helpful to associate locations with tasks and use the resulting information to plan where to apply research time. Here's a location view for my tasks as currently entered (just the United States view; the map will show the whole world if you like):

As you can see, the map shows me the number of tasks I have associated with each geographic point (in this case, cities I have entered). Looking at this map, I can see that my Charleston/Savannah area has 10 tasks associated with it, so I may want to focus my attention on those tasks in order to whittle down my list. Alternatively, those 10 tasks may show that I have been spending a great deal of time on my Charleston/Savannah families, and perhaps I want to focus on my California families for a while to get them some even time!

Clicking on the numbered balloon (which is color coded according the priorities I have assigned tasks with those locations) brings up a detailed view:

This way I can preview tasks associated with each location and then click on tasks of interest to be brought to their views within their lists. Very cool and very interesting way to visualize your research!


Another useful tool with RTM is the ability to associate a URL with a task. This can be a great way to keep together a task with the information you need to complete it, such as associating the URL for a Vital Records office along with the task of ordering a record from them. I have done just that with this task:

Now when it comes time to complete this task, I have the URL with all the information I need to order the record right there with the task listing!

Overall, RTM has some rough edges to be found (unlike with todoist, which is a bit mroe refined) but tools like the location mapping, and the generally smoother look of the site make it very enjoyable to use. Todoist, on the other hand, is able to handle much more complicated lists, with nesting and sub-lists, which RTM is not really designed to do.

1 comment:

Kathryn Doyle said...

I am so glad you are recommending "Remember the Milk" - I like it better than Todoist!