Sunday, January 28, 2007

Where Do You Store Your Online Valuables?

I'm not talking about diamonds and greenbacks and mink stoles (e-mink stoles?) or even corporately valuable documents and business silos of data and such, but about the ever burgeoning amount of web addresses, login/usernames, passwords, PINs, codes, and on and on that are necessary to support our modern online life.

I'd bargain that an increasingly annoying eater of wasted time (there should be some kind of metric for this) involves sitting in front of a typical login screen (take your pick, from online banking to shopping to social networking to blogging to gaming and back around again) while one's face becomes redder and angrier and steamier as a message is returned again and again that says something to the effect of: Sorry, your username and/or password is forgotten and/or lost to the e-winds.

One of my geekier obsessions is content and information aggregation. There should (and likely is) a great solution out there, a simple web-based interface that simply and elegantly gathers all the maelstrom of usernames, passwords, and, well… crap that's needed to get things accomplished online nowadays.

I'll walk through my own personal journey and current (so so) solution with the hope that some cutting edge folk out there know about something better. A perfect comment to this piece, therefore, would be: Haven't you been using (or some such), it saved my life back in the day (read = Christmas, 2006), n00b!

Phase One: I tried to remember stuff
This didn't work out so well, as you might imagine.

Phase Two: I tried to write stuff down
This yielded marginally better results, though I ran into the age old problem of having to remember where I wrote stuff down. Since I'm typically online in one of several locations throughout the day, the problem became having to remember where my stuff was written down at any given time.

Phase Three: I got (sort of) organized
Finding 37 Signals was a great help. I used Backpack for a spell as a way to organize lists and information. It worked fairly well, but at the time the interface was a little bit clunky and glitchy (this was back in the spring of '05, so I imagine it's much improved by now), so I abandoned it and slipped back to Phase Two befuddlement for a spell.

In early 2006, I moved onto Basecamp, another 37 Signals product. It's basically very simple project management software, in the best possible sense (anyone familiar with the term chronogram will know what I mean!). The great thing about 37 Signals is that they try to KISS (keep-it-simple-smarty).

So I now use Basecamp's writeboard feature as a general dump for all the URLs (including multiple social networking profiles, work-related login information, blogging software tools, etc.) I need in my day-to-day online experience. No matter what computer I'm in front of, I can easily login to one website (allowing me to simply remember one web address and password instead of dozens!) and gather all of the information I need at any time.

Some things that used to drive me batty are now much easier to deal with. A great example is Wine Country Gift Baskets, an absolutely stellar place to find gifts and quickly ship them to anywhere in the country. However, they force you to provide a unique customer ID of their own choosing that is an eight- or nine-digit number. Basecamp has provided me with a way to continue to utilize this service without losing the last remnants of my sanity.

However, I'm convinced that something better is out there or in the process of being developed. I'd like to be able quickly search the first few letters of "My URLs" (or whatever) to instantly bring up the web address, login information, and password that can aid me in plugging into and out of the wild array of websites and interfaces that make up a typical day online.


Marcus said...

I like what delicious did with their integration with firefox. Imagine if there could be a server to "remember" your passwords securely online. You'd just need one password to log in on any computer with firefox and an online password manager add-on.

Eric Berlin said...

Yes, that would be ideal, Marcus! As long as you could securely login and out of such a service, then you could flit between computers with ease (as I'm often forced to do) without having to physically move a logbook of usernames and passwords along with you.