The term "webapp" will just be meaningless jargon to most people, but not for much longer.

A webapp is a piece of software that works on a remote computer; you control it via your web browser, over an internet connection.

Webapps have been around for years. Indeed, if you have a Hotmail or Yahoo Mail account, you've already been using one. You just didn't realise it.

Hotmail is an email programme that lives on a bunch of computers owned by Microsoft. You log in to it from any computer, anywhere in the world, and it looks the same and works the same. That's because the software that's doing the work is not on the computer your typing on in a cybercafe in Brisbane; it's on the other side of the world.

What's interesting is that webapps are changing, mutating, and after years of slow development, suddenly becoming the Next Big Thing.

Why? Partly because of the growth of broadband connections, which make the whole idea of webapps much more sensible. When you're issuing instructions to another computer that could be on another continent, you want things to happen quickly. Dial- up modem connections aren't good for that.

The other reason is massive interest in a series of new programming techniques that make the development of webapps that much easier.

They have silly names, like most programming techniques (Ajax, Ruby on Rails, Web 2.0) but ultimately they combine to become a toolkit that webapp designers have been swooning over.

The toolkit has become one that is fast, responsive, and easy for them to use. New webapps are simpler to start; existing ones can be updated with ease.

Consequently there's been an avalanche of webapps offering all sorts of functions, the kind of thing you used to expect from office productivity software. Writely (, for example, is an online word processor.

After signing up, you can create documents that look and behave for all the world like Word does. You can type in them to your heart's content, save them, and leave them behind. Writely stores everything for you.

All your Writely documents can be shared with other people, too.

Think of the possibilities; write your novel while at home and at work (then send a link to it to your agent or publisher --they can log in and read it online). Or create a shared todo or shopping list that the whole family can use from work, home, school or the public library.

Writely has a number of competitors. Zoho Writer ( is very similar to Writely; SynchroEdit ( allows two people to edit the same document simultaneously; Write-Board ( offers a much simpler approach but one that will appeal to more people.

The new breed of webapps goes far beyond just writing words. There are webapps for keeping lists, webapps for managing teams, webapps for mindmapping, and many more webapps for email - like Hotmail, but without so much advertising. Google's Gmail service ( is a typical example.

Flickr (, the photo-sharing service mentioned in this page in the past, is one of the leaders of the webapp pack.

Developed as a work-inprogress, Flickr makes use of the latest web technologies to change and evolve. It is well on the way to becoming an allencompassing web- based photo storage, editing and printing service.