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Turbo Tax Online can teach new Web concepts a business lesson

As I write this, about half of all Americans required to do so are scurrying to complete their income tax returns, according to an article I read in Sunday's Arizona Republic. For a lot of folks like me, the article was a painful reminder that tax day, while pushed back by two days this year, was indeed upon us. And we'd not yet filed. And we didn't have the forms. And a bunch of tax laws changed this year.

The realization that Tax Day was barreling down on me came at about the same moment I was unexpectedly called out of town. I had the foresight to throw a folder of tax documents in my briefcase before I ran to the airport, but in my rush neglected to collect the necessary forms. Over the next five days, that folder mocked me every time I walked past my briefcase. “Extension,” I'd mutter under my breath. But even an extension meant I'd need to figure out the approximate amount of my tax bill so that I could avoid late penalties.

With two days left until the filing deadline, I remembered TurboTax Online. I drove to the local Starbucks where I'd spent the week downing lattes as I downloaded e-mail, and got to work. Over two iced-double-tall-2-percent lattes, I walked through the step-by-step screens, completed both Federal and California state tax returns, and e-filed both.

While I will quibble with a few of the services design “flaws,” I can't complain about the ease of use and the ease of mind that this product delivers in straight-forward fashion.

TurboTax: The Anti 2.0
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By no modern definition is TurboTax Online a Web 2.0 product. In fact, some might even scoff that I'd take the time to write about an “old” product (even as it is made new again each tax year), while the likes of Twitter.com are scrapping for popular attention. But truth be told: TurboTax Online is the most useful online software I have used in the last year. It is, on the whole, well designed. It doesn't get caught up in some popular design aesthetic at expense of usability. It delivered immediate value for which I was happy to pay a very reasonable price.

Really, TurboTax Online is a role model for hot start ups looking to build real businesses by delivering strong customer value. The product teaches us that you can learn something from older established businesses and that these businesses understand how to innovate around real consumer needs. So-called Web 2.0 entrepreneurs would do well to take a moment from the frothy frenzy and study this very simply-delivered, complex consumer service.

And if you've not yet done your taxes, you (late filers) really might want to give it a try.

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Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMO Letter, and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at chris@demo.com.

Shipley has covered the personal technology business since 1984, and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. She has worked as a writer and editor for a variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine, and Working Woman.

She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, she has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the No. 1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.

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