The Cult Of 37 Signals: Five Reasons Why I Don’t Think Basecamp Is All That

There’s a few people that are more adamant than me about their dislike for Basecamp, but I finally decided to take a taste of the Basecamp Koolaid. It’s been a quick and dirty lifesaver, because it’s something I don’t have to maintain, and if something goes wrong, I would hope file recovery would by their responsibility.

It’s one of those tools that I wish did more, and while it’s simple, it’s too simple. By the time you figure that out, you’re kind of stuck, because migrating files is a pain in the neck.

It focuses way too much on Web 2.0

Look, you can drag and drop!

Look at the nifty hover-overs!

Look, wiki’s, but not really!

It’s cool for us web types that love that kind of stuff, but have you ever tried watching a corporate user use BaseCamp? It’s painful. They don’t get most of those little features and touches because 1) they aren’t Web 2.0 experts, and 2) the features aren’t documented in a way that any user would really know how to use them. It would be nicer if they spent some of that time on the next point…

It’s missing features — lots of features

This is a discussion that a friend of mine and I have about the product. We’re using it, and it’s a nice little file sharing tool, but there’s a lot of features we wish it had. Like…

  • True prioritization that could be editable
  • A better navigation structure
  • A more sophisticated governance structure
  • More consistent formatting tools (instead of me having to insert HTML)

…and the list goes on.

Seriously, a few of these features would be really, really easy to implement, and wouldn’t take a full feature release.

Simplicity is one thing. Limiting your feature set and telling the users it’s good for them is another.

The pricing isn’t really that competitive

I’m using Basecamp on a few projects, and am paying the $24.95 a month. That might not seem like much, but hosted, that’s roughly $300 a year. I can write that off (and I do) as part of running a business as a consultant, but still, that seems like a lot, and I’m using it on really small projects.

For example, here are some prices for SharePoint (which is the same pricing plans with more features as BaseCamp). Outside of some configuration issues, is a much superior product, and is gaining more acceptance in the corporate community. There’s some great templates to get you started, and quite frankly, I could set up a template in a week that replicates much of the functionality of BaseCamp. I’m lazy because I have more important things to do (like bill clients), and MOSS doesn’t have very good Apple support.

That said, if I were working in an environment that was mostly Microsoft, and had time to setup a SharePoint instance, I’d be all over it in a heartbeat.

They seem to be more about marketing

Sometimes marketing and a cult takes over. Good examples of this are Apple and eBay. Apple products are wonderful (I own enough of them), but they aren’t the most usable in the world. Same with eBay. eBay’s gotten much better over the years about user experience, but the reason it’s big is that they provided a marketplace, had that cult factor and marketed effectively, not because it ws the best product on the market.

The same goes here. If you tell the right people how good you are, and you have the right public relations professionals, you’ll get sales. It’s about the cult, sometimes, especially in the Web space.

They say they listen to their users, but do they?

This post is kind of old, but still, why did they publish this?

I’ve been a product manager, and laughing at your customer base was something that you did over a couple of beers with your customer service representives, not in a blog post. We all agree users in the end are stupid, but you aren’t supposed to make them feel that way.

I remember the days of the users doing something stupid, and then correcting the issue through a better feature development or more help text. This is like airing your dirty laundry, and what’s a bit more troubling about this is that it’s not like this is a free service — users are paying for this product.

They don’t hesitate to take shots at other sites — and yet seems reticient to deal with listening to their users. Let’s face it, the only person that can get away with that is Steve Jobs, and I don’t see him working anytime soon at 37signals.

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