For those of you that don’t know, Basecamp is a industry-leading project management tool developed by 37signals and built on Ruby on Rails. I was pretty pleasantly surprised to be greeted by an upgrade message and quickly set out going through the change process. What I really liked is that my hand wasn’t forced – as an existing Basecamp owner I will always have access to classic and was given 90 days free to try out the new Basecamp. Something to note is that, as of launch, they are two entirely separate products. I’m guessing that will change at some point this coming year.
Here are some of the links to get you familiar with what New Basecamp is and its differences to what 37signals is calling Classic Basecamp:
- The new user interface design style is a welcome guest to the party. Classic really is beginning to look dated and so bringing things up to speed was important for them to stay competitive and keep ahead of said competition. Rule.fm definitely had a leg up on them with regards to sheer beauty in the look of their interface, this new design of Basecamp eliminates the advantage Rule had over them. Moving about the app will remind you of sifting through a stack of papers, and at least from a visual perspective its got a nice lightheartedness about it that contrasts well for this reason: Basecamp in general is easy to use, it always has been and is the solution to ACTUAL paper sifting, thus it makes for a nice design friction.
- The single page home design for projects lets you do almost everything from one place without navigating elsewhere. At its roots it is pretty well thought out and succeeds.
- I would kill to have Text Documents in Classic. Writeboards were never approachable for my customers so I dig the new approach. To give a quick rundown, Text Documents are live notes that people can collaborate on without having to upload new versions of a Word Document (which was the primary way to do so in Classic if you didn’t use Writeboards). So they’re especially good for planning out website outlines / content creation and keeping them up to date as the project progresses.
- Calendars are more overarching now and you can view a single calendar now that displays ALL your projects and you can even add events that aren’t part of a particular project – nice touch. Color coding the projects was a given and subscribing to iCal remains intact.
- Daily progress is a great way to view, via a dynamic timeline, what’s been going on since the beginning of your project. This wasn’t a must-have for me but its a nice touch that gives more visualization to information than Classic.
- Drag n’ Drop file uploads. All the cool companies are doing it and 37signals simply adapted it for Basecamp. Just drag files into the upload area and it’ll take care of the rest.
- Built in Search. Classic didn’t have this at all and while I never really needed it because I only ever manage a few projects at a time, I can see where this will be a huge boon to big companies. Its appropriately accessible from the top right at all times and has the hallmark responsiveness of 37signals.
- You have to use an up-to-date browser!!! I can report that it doesn’t work on iE8 and lower. All you’ll be greeted with is a screen that says upgrade your browser. I applaud them wholeheartedly for forcing this on people because it needs to happen – every company needs to do this. There are still people out there that are cripplingly afraid of technology who refuse to upgrade their browsers or do anything of that sort because they’re afraid they’ll mess things up. They’ve set the entire web revolution back five years or more because of it – what if we could focus on new technology rather than making things work with out of date browsers and i’m glad 37signals has taken a stand. Seriously people, upgrading browsers is free, do it.
- General navigation flow. In reality my first impression was that when I was in a given feature section (AKA To-Do’s, File, Discussions, etc.) I was on an island by myself, with no concept of where other things were. Not having some sort of static navigation similar to what Classic had is a huge oversight in my opinion. If I could slap them across the face for this I would. I find the navigation to generally be clunkier than I thought they were capable of making it, I didn’t think this sort of work flow was in their DNA at 37signals. Whereas Classic is very clear about where you are and what you can do, the navigation in New is so minimalist and the navigation points are so lightly indicated that its created a convoluted mess by comparison. For example, when I click on To-Dos there’s no way to directly jump to, say, Text Documents or Calendars when I’m inside. To do that you first have to return to the main screen by clicking the project name and then go into Text Documents. One click too many and that adds up to a ton over the course of a year of projects. Its just unnecessary and even though New may be faster under the hood, missing the basics on something as simple as navigation makes it feel slower to me.
- No personalization. I use Basecamp for a lot of customer support and having the personalisation with company logos in Basecamp Classic is important for me so I’m looking forward to them addressing that. Right now it frankly sucks, it should at least do what Classic did and it doesn’t at v1 launch.
- Time tracking. This is not a feature I personally use but from the sounds of it this is a mega-omission on their part and has already made the new version unusable for many businesses that rely on Basecamp.
- Mobile-hostile. Yes technically it’ll work on your smartphone and tablet but for me the design that I applauded above doesn’t really translate that great to a touch environment. Mainly because there’s a lot of simple text links and very few big buttons to push. You can use it on your iPad but its frighteningly close to unusable on a phone. I’m sure they’ll address this but as of launch day on New v1, its rot-gut terrible.
I have to agree with many of the posters at their Signals vs. Noise blog. If this was their first iteration of Basecamp, it wouldn’t be near the success that Classic made 37signals back in in the early 2000′s. I feel like this was just a classic case of there being so much success that they just couldn’t stand it and had to do something drastically new because they were getting bored, its a downfall of creatives and nobody, including me is immune to it – we love to create. I would have rather seen 37signals add something like Wikis to Classic, freshen up the UI, and make the mobile version more robust than jumbling up the workflow, the navigation and launching New Basecamp without all the functionality of Classic.
I’m 100% certain that over time everything will be adjusted and things will settle down but for now I’ll be sticking with Classic.