Posted 08.20.2009

Posted 08.20.2009

Getting Social Media to Work for You (Part 4: 37 Signals’ Basecamp)

I want to continue in my 11 part series. However, I’m going to be come back to Google Reader. Today, I was introduced to and I’m interested to see if it will stick.—If anything I want to be able to make a fair comparison.

A Little Background About the Company, 37Signals

37Signals has some interesting philosophies in developing. They believe in simplicity.—Determine the core of what you want to do and do it well. And their product is better for it.

Another rule of thumb? Stop designing in Photoshop, creating endless diagrams planning, and developing using the seven cycles of (fill in the blank). Instead, use that time to simply jump in and actually build. At the end of the day, you will have a far better understanding of your product and where it’s going. It would be easier to grasp the direction and you make strides faster and longer if you “just do it.”

I’m currently working on a (personal) super secret project and have allowed their influences to direct a lot of my decisions.—I’ve found pros and cons both ways. As a visual person, it helps if I have something in front of me. I’ll sketch it out and plan it out in my head first. I’ve also found myself re-programming certain elements because I’ve changed my mind along the way on how it should look + work.—but I’m chasing a white rabbit. (Sorry!) However, if this does interest you, the company has written an entire book entitled Getting Real based on their workflow. It’s completely free online. $20 for the PDF. I forked over the money. Their blog is also a good read.

What is Basecamp?

In the simplest terms, Basecamp is an online project management service.

A more detailed answer would tell you that it allows you to organize messages, files, milestones, tasks, people, and time tracking.

The environments I’ve Used It In a.k.a. My Experience

I’ve used it at work where I’m on a team of 11 (an internal production team) and we’re serving 100 people. Each of the five departments we serve is set up like a client.

I’ve also used it to organize my freelance projects.—Giving access to clients and contractors.

Why it Works

To point back to their philosophy, it’s simple. They play to their strengths, projecting it from unnecessary bells and whistles. Yeah, there are always features that it would be nice to have (you can say that for anything), but they understand the scope of their work.

It strengths communication. At work, I’ve started projects before, gone to the “kick-off meetings”, been given art direction, exchanged Emails, and completed the visual research, only to had the project off to another designer. Since everything is in Basecamp, the handoff really does become a painless process. The other person immediately has access to all the conversations, meeting notes, and files that I’ve already compiled. Easy Peasy.

In the freelance world, clients love it because it centralizes all the content. Hundreds of emails may be exchanged over the course of a project. But, if messages are posted within Basecamp I still receive an Email, but the history is on Basecamp. I can comment on certain messages, maintaining threading. Other people within the company have access to the conversations, which can easily be referenced and linked within other messages.

In both environments, I’ll post comps on Basecamp. This allows my boss or client to provide feedback all in one place.

When I’m planning out milestones for a project, it’s easy to see how one project relates to another. For example, I may have a request for a nametag. That’s a simple request. I’d like to tell my colleague that it could be completed by the end of the week.  However, via the Dashboard, in Basecamp, I can tell I have due dates in all my other projects, the rest of the week. That nametag design, as easy as it may be, is not going to happen.

Why will I continue to use it?

The web world is at an interesting place right now. A lot of companies are trying to figure out how to monetize their services, develop business models, etc. The future of a lot of these companies are in jeopardy. A lot really great services are being shut down because they can’t make the cut. I DON’T think 37Signals is one of those companies. I believe in where they’re going. They have a strong leadership and a good sense of direction. More and more, I’m realizing that these are important factors to consider when determining your company’s workflow and direction, particularly if you’re going to be dependent on a 3rd party service.

Other Services

NOTE: I haven’t used either of the services that I’m listing here

  • Freshbooks – This is an online invoicing system that (supposedly) integrates with Basecamp. Leo Laporte mentioned on Twit the other week that his company uses this service. And if Leo uses it, it must be good. 😀
  • Outpost (an iPhone App) – my boss actually uses this app. It allows you to manage your Basecamp account on your phone. For him, this is important, since he’s managing a team. For me, though, I really only need access when I’m at work and (already) sitting in front of a computer.
  • There is actually a large list of services on Basecamp’s site of Extras + other services that integrate.

This concludes Part 4 of 3 completed parts of my 11 part series (did you follow that?) on how I use a variety of web services: