If you've conversed with a preschooler anytime in the past 10 years, you're familiar with Thomas the Tank Engine, a cartoon character that appears in Shining Time Station, a PBS program that mixes lessons in civility with arcane British train lore. In the world of Thomas, there is no higher compliment than to be called "a really useful engine." The winners in our Killer Applications category of the 2002 Inc Web Awards are that and more.
Engines, by definition, drive action, and the services described here are no exception. These Web-based functions have helped companies boost sales, eliminate downtime, manufacture custom products, streamline operations, and better serve their customers. Their technological bulk is all muscle, comprising robust databases, tracking systems, configuration tools, and proprietary algorithms.
Capability matters. Technology matters. But audience matters, too. The companies that built these applications are intimately familiar with their customers' needs and habits, and their sites reflect that understanding. When you come right down to it, that's what it means to be really useful.