Backpack is an incredibly easy-to-use Web-based organizational service. This deceptively bare-bones-looking app provides straightforward functionality you can use to organize a wildly varying array of projects.
Straightforward, intuitive, and versatile. Easy to set up and use e-mail/SMS reminders. Premium members can share and download calendars online. Easy to share your page and make it public. Easy to update your page via e-mail and allow others to do the same. Writeboards provide hassle-free online collaboration on text documents.
Nonpaying members get only five pages to work with and no calendar. You can find similar organizational calendars for free from other services.
$5.00 – $14.00
Backpack is a Web-based service designed to organize every aspect of your life. The site combines the ease of use that I loved in Cozi with the versatility and sophistication most users demand from a full-fledged personal information manager (PIM). The genius of Backpack is that it’s so basic. It’s like having an online loose-leaf notebook to use as you please.
This app lets you create Web pages using the tools in order to add to-do lists that can incorporate files, images, and, if you pay for a premium membership, a calendar service. You can even set up Backpack to send text-message reminders to your cell phone, so you can stay on top of things even when you’re away from the computer.
To brainstorm my weekend, I hopped over to my Backpack page and set up notes with links to event listings and possible venues I wanted to visit, along with reminders to make reservations. Backpack provided me with an easy way to keep my plans in order, and I set it all up in a couple of minutes, editing and formatting the page as I saw fit. Backpack includes a ton of sample pages showing off the site’s capabilities on its example page. With these simple tools and a little knowledge about HTML, you can arrange for your Backpack pages to organize pretty much anything: book collections, social gatherings, medical records, travel plans, school itineraries, garage sales, craft projects, and so on.
It’s All About the Pages
Backpack’s log-in differs from the typical protocols on most sites. Instead of just picking a username and password, you also pick a unique Backpackit.com URL. You use this URL to log in to your Backpack account. You’ll probably want to bookmark this URL for easy access to your Backpack page.
You start off with a blank homepage, and you can add pages by just clicking the Make a New Page button on the right-hand side of the page. A free account gets you five pages. A Basic account for $5 a month gives you 25 pages and 500MB of data storage, a Plus account for $9 a month gives you 100 pages and 1GB of storage, and the Premium account for $14 a month gives you 1,000 pages and 3GB of storage. Only paying members can upload files or images to their pages and use Backpack’s Calendar service.
The menu at the top of the page links you to everything you need to add to the page (mostly notes and to-do lists). Just click on the element you want, then title the list, note, or image gallery and begin adding content to your page. Backpack doesn’t have formatting tools, but with a basic knowledge of HTML you can easily add links and edit fonts.
You can add as many notes and lists as you want to your page. Paying members can add images and files until they hit their storage limit. You can title the notes, lists, and image galleries you create on the page. You can also add Backpack’s “dividers,” solid lines going across the page, to further organize and section off your page. To move or edit elements of your page, hover your mouse over them; a small pop-up will appear that you can use to edit, delete, or drag and drop the elements around the page, or from one of your Backpack pages to another. Lists and galleries have links within them to add items quickly to your list or pictures to your gallery. You can use tags to categorize your pages and group them together. Since free members get only five pages, this is a feature that paying members are more likely to find useful.
Backpack makes it easy to share and collaborate with others. Clicking the Share This Page link takes you to another page where you can choose to make your Backpack page public—publishing it as a read-only Web page with its own URL that you can share with friends. If you want to collaborate with other Backpack users, you can e-mail them links that give them access to edit your pages.
You can also edit your pages and collaborate with others via e-mail. Each Backpack page has its own unique e-mail address. Send an e-mail to this address to add notes, to-do lists, files, images, or post e-mails to your page. Anyone you share the e-mail address with can also contribute, and you can edit your page on the run by e-mailing from your cell phone.
Features Beyond Pages
Backpack’s Writeboards are sharable Web-based text documents, similar to Google Docs. You can save every edit, roll back to any version, and compare changes. Others can collaborate with you on your Writeboard documents by editing and leaving comments.
Click the Writeboard link to open up a new Writeboard document and give it a title. Each Writeboard has a unique URL, so you can access your Writeboard from any computer. Invite people to collaborate with you on your Writeboard using the link at the top of the sidebar to the right. The Invite People link sends e-mails to collaborators with links and passwords that’ll let them edit your Writeboard.
Whenever you save changes to your Writeboard, a new version of that document is created in the sidebar so you can easily review and compare different versions. The dots that appear next to each version indicate the degree of changes made to the document. The bigger the change, the bigger the dot. Viewing edits in Writeboard is similar to the “Final Showing Markup” option in Microsoft Word. Text deleted from a previous version will appear struck out in light gray and added text will be highlighted in green.
Backpack features a calendar similar to Cozi’s in its ease of use. Backpack’s calendar is a premium feature available only to paying members. It has the same kind of intelligent language programming that lets you set appointments by typing the dates and times into the Add Event field. For example, to set a doctor’s appointment for November 10 at 8 p.m., simply type “Nov 10 8pm Doctor Appointment.” You can set extended events—a weeklong event for instance—but you can’t type in recurring events, as you can on Cozi. You can, however, set recurring events via a drop-down menu.
Navigate through calendar pages by clicking arrows or by typing the dates you want to jump to in the Add Event field. Annoyingly, you can view the calendar only in six-week mode. You can’t expand to multi-month view or focus down to a weekly or daily view, a feature common to most PIMs.
The Add Calendar link lets you add color-coded event themes and schedules. One cool calendar feature is the ability to add iCal calendars to your personal Backpack calendar. For instance, I can easily add the Yankees’ schedule to my Backpack calendar by copying the Yankees iCal link from Apple’s iCal library and pasting it into my Add Calendar field. You can also share your own calendars with others by clicking the Share in iCal Format link of the calendar you want to share and sharing that iCal URL.
Backpack has a messaging service that lets you schedule e-mail or SMS reminders easily. You can either set up your reminders to be sent out at a specific time or use Backpack’s preset times. So if you just have a general idea of when you want to receive a reminder and not an extract time, just pick options like Tomorrow Morning (the next day at 9 a.m.), Tomorrow Afternoon (next day at 2 p.m.), A Couple of Days (in 48 hours). You can set up reminders from your calendar by checking off the Email/SMS options to get a reminder 30 minutes before the scheduled event. Reminders will be sent to whatever e-mail and cell-phone number you provided on your settings page. Charges may apply, depending on your carrier.
Backpack is just as accessible as Cozi but has the versatility and sophistication of the more complex PIMs. This is a great organizational tool for both the tech-savvy and people who just want an organizational program that works. The only downside I see with this is that nonpaying members can’t add files or images and can’t use Backpack’s calendar service. I can understand making people pay to add images and files because of bandwidth concerns. But I’m not so sure how Backpack justifies making its calendar a premium feature when Cozi and other services provide theirs free. That said, even with the basic functionality of to-do list, notes, and reminders, free members will still find this a powerful site. With enough imagination you can use Backpack to organize pretty much anything.