Jimmy Guterman's blog

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Remember the Milk fails to serve its Outlook users — or does it understand its audience perfectly?

with 10 comments

Remember the Milk logoLike everyone else with something resembling a life, the amount of things I have to do beats the crap out of the amount of time I have to do them. So I’ve used a variety of methodologies, software programs, wireless devices, and enthusiast websites (1, 2) to keep everything organized and moving forward.

Nirvana for personal overclockers, at least on the digital side of personal optimization, is complete synchronization across computers, networks, and devices. Yet the most basic of synchronizations — notes and lists of tasks that work together on a computer and a handheld device, something I took for granted when the original PalmPilot came out in 1995 — is unavailable on the iPhone. The failure is Apple’s, of course. But there is one vendor that could solve the problem and make some money from it, but has decided not to. At first I thought this decision was a big, fat fail, but now I wonder.

Remember the Milk is a sturdy web-based task management service. It’s reliable and flexible, and it comes in a very handy iPhone-optimized version. It doesn’t, however, work with Microsoft Outlook, the “productivity” suite millions of people are forced to work with. A service that could connect Outlook tasks to the iPhone via a premium web-based service would seem a smart business. And because it already has an excellent web-based service that works well on the iPhone, you’d think Remember the Milk would be uniquely positioned to own that niche.

So do hundreds (at least) of Remember the Milk (RTM) users, both those using the free and “pro” ($25 per year) versions. An active, energetic thread in RTM’s forums (disclosure: I’ve contributed) is full of requests, demands, and begs that the small company develop an Outlook-synching tool, as it has for some other platforms. The folks who write and manage RTM weighed in early in the discussion but have been noticeable by their absence for more than 18 months.

I thought this was nuts. I wanted to grab the RTM team by their lapels and shout, “People, your customers, many of whom don’t give you a dime, are offering to sign up for your paid service if you just do this. Why don’t you?”

I don’t know anyone at RTM and I haven’t heard from any of them about this. (I weighed in a few times in the discussion forum and sent an email, but I never heard back.) These people have developed a good service. Shouldn’t I at least acknowledge that they might know their customers better than I do? They’re certainly talented at getting the service to work in plenty of places: web, iPhone, BlackBerry, plenty of Google services, Twitter, Windows Mobile devices, even when not connected to the Net. If they wanted to provide Outlook synchronization, they could. They’ve chosen not to. There is an API for RTM, so I suppose I could do this myself if I (a) had the inclination and (b) did not stink as a programmer.

There are plenty of good reasons for RTM to punt on Outlook. Maybe the RTM userbase is far more Mac-centric than you’d think. Maybe either Microsoft or Apple are working on this and RTM knows this. Maybe some people at the Googleplex are working on Google Tasks in their 20% time and RTM knows this. Maybe someone outside RTM who (a) has the inclination and (b) does not stink as a programmer is working on this. Maybe no one at RTM has the energy for yet another port.

The problem is: I don’t know. I’m willing to assume that RTM has good reason not to provide Outlook synchronization. But as a paying customer and a fan, I’d rather know for sure.

Written by guterman

August 21, 2008 at 8:06 am

Posted in devices, web 2.0, worklife

10 Responses

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  1. So here’s where Twitter comes in: you should Twitter a link to this post, with the title in it, and see if the RTM people are ego-searching Twitter for complaints/compliments. Then see if they respond!

    andreakremer

    August 25, 2008 at 10:36 pm

  2. Jimmy, I completely agree with your point that the good people at Remember The Milk should be more communicative. (As if that position is a surprise given my professional bent.) Giving you that, I want to address something else in your post: Outlook.

    Just like you, I’m a survivor of just about every email system foisted onto the needy public. (I have seen the dot commands and the damage done.) And I’m a sucker for any sort of tool that is shiny and new and promises to do all my work for me. In my current gig, I have to use Outlook. And to make Outlook work for me, I have to configure it with the following add-ins:
    – Agendus (to make the user interface bearable)

    – Cleat Context (because I want to quickly and easily change an email into a task or a date and have my email prioritized)

    – Plaxo (because I believe that somewhere up in the cloud all my contacts need to live and because Plaxo has become less obnoxious and actually useful social networking-wise)

    – Xobni (because its the flavor of the month and I like the connection to LinkedIn and because it really does make it easier to find stuff buried in Outlook)

    – Anagram (because no one has successfully implemented vCards and I want to easily turn an email address signature into an contact)

    – gCal Sync (because somewhere I need one calendar with everything on it)

    As you can imagine with this load of add-ins, Outlook doesn’t run, it crawls. On a good day, I’m crashing only once or twice.

    But I come not to whine, but to bury something that’s lived well beyond its expiration date.

    So, when I got my iPhone, I discovered that my employer’s IT dept is very progressive and supports IMAP and that’s the cat’s pajamas. It took me about 45 seconds to configure on my iPhone and that made me stop to think: “Dude, why are you running Outlook?” Let me manage my work much more sensibly like … gMail with the Remember the Milk plug-in that really rocks. Or maybe I’ll get all experimental and install Chandler and waste hours and hours trying to figure out if it’s the Second Coming (or the First, if you know what I mean).

    I’ve got Remember the Milk connected to Jott and my gCal and a ton of other of my instantiations because, as you noted, RTM plays well with others … except Outlook.

    I’m amazing MS is still able to keep folks on Outlook. I recently finished a gig with a Very Large Company and they were migrating from Notes to… well, that’s my point. In 2008 if you were migrating a few hundred thousand people off of Notes, for goodness sake, you’ve got to Seriously Consider a web-based anything or just chuck it all over to Google and call it a day. But instead, the Really Big Company is going to have to go to every desktop and perform the brainsurgery required to install Outlook. –Good luck.

    Yes. The good people at RTM ought to answer the phone. Indeed. And we should be getting on to our next platform already. Jimmy, when I think about the months, maybe years of my life, I’ve spent waiting for Window and Outlook to load, I want to weep. I’m making a break for it. Are you with me?

    briandavidjohnson

    August 26, 2008 at 4:54 pm

  3. Andrea and Brian: You make some smart points. Rather than address them here in the comments, I’m going to let them surface as a separate post, which I’ll have up later today.

    guterman

    August 28, 2008 at 9:33 am

  4. […] 28, 2008 Last week I wrote about Remember the Milk’s refusal or inability to synch its excellent task service wit…. I received a couple of interesting comments to the post. Rather than respond to them in the […]

  5. […] manager with better features?     Remember the Milk forums: Outlook Sync Progress? Jimmy Guterman on why RTM doesn’t add Outlook sync. Tags: branding, hypnotizing, outlook, rtm, sync, task managers, […]

  6. […] needed to draw on to get everything done. I’m having this experience right now. As I wrote in Remember the Milk fails to serve its Outlook users — or does it understand its audience perfectly? and the followup post Remember the Milk forgets me … but is it my fault?, I wrote about how hard […]

  7. I use Outlook because it syncs with my Achieve Planner. Plus Outlook 2007 has improved tasks dramatically. I actually like the color coding now. And synced with someone more powerful like Achieve Planner, and I am fine. I just wish that RTM would sync with Outlook so I could get my Achieve Planner tasks into Remember the Milk, and then via RTM onto my phone.

    WisTex

    December 22, 2009 at 8:23 am

  8. Hello,

    it seems that there is still the requirement for Remember The Milk Outlook Synchronization. I have just started to develop Outlook Synchronization with other software, but might use that to create the synchronization with Remember The Milk.

    To understand better if I should do that, I have created a form at

    http://davidpodhola.blogspot.com/2010/02/remember-milk-outlook-synchronization.html

    If you think it is worth that, please let me know by filling the form.

    Thanks,

    David

    davidpodhola

    February 14, 2010 at 11:33 am

  9. Just to update you – during past about 6 weeks I have been able to get to working beta of Outlook synchronization. If you do not mind beta software and have Outlook 2007, you may download it from http://www.sprinxcrm.com/SprinxCRM%20OutlookSync%20for%20Remember%20The%20Milk/publish.htm . I use it every day as well as the other beta users.

    I expect to have the full version in few weeks.

    davidpodhola

    April 1, 2010 at 3:41 am

  10. Thanks all for trying my Outlook synchronization add-in. Please note that it is becoming a part of larger solution SprinxCRM UniversalSync ( http://www.gassumo.com/Home/sprinxcrm-universalsync ).

    And yes, it is still free 🙂

    David Podhola

    August 3, 2010 at 9:47 am


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