07 March 2012
Random thoughts having spent a day with 37signals's new Basecamp Next — not so much about the product itself, but rather the context around the product.
It's an achievement. I know from experience how hard it is to ship something new. At Makalu we're working on two new products which, compared to the new Basecamp, are dead simple — yet they're taking far longer to ship than I would have imagined. What 37signals have achieved in 10 months — not only the product itself, but also all the prep work for migration, the marketing materials, etc. — represents an impressive accomplishment. I imagine there must have been some laser-like focus, on a small handful of guiding principles or ideas.
It's a little rough around some edges. Using the product, I've hit some bugs (or at least what looks like bugs), and seen UI imperfections (inconsistent margins, etc.). You get the feeling 37signals shares the Facebook philosophy, "Done is better than perfect." (And I can agree with that!)
Features or reasons? Rather than a features list, the marketing site provides a list of "great reasons" to use Basecamp, each linking to a focus page about that feature (or "reason"). It's an interesting idea, but my first impression is that the list is too much of a cognitive load. I feel overwhelmed looking at those 20-something reasons. I didn't read any, and the whole list just seems to blur together.
It was a big risk. It was a risk on many levels, but an interesting one that occurs to me is the following: The cost of migrating to a new system probably kept a lot of existing Basecamp customers from even considering alternatives. So choosing to develop a completely new product, rather than improving on the existing one, would seem to creates an opportunity for any customer feeling lock-in to reconsider their options (since either way, they are going to face some migration costs.)
It came at the right time. In Makalu, we'd recently been reflecting that although we've been with Basecamp for over six years, we actually don't use it anymore. We make heavy use of Campfire, but had gotten to the point that we were only using Basecamp for time tracking. That, I believe, is because we realized it's simply not time efficient to work heavily with Classic. It seems 37signals may have felt that way too, as the focus of Basecamp Next was speed and efficiency. Having used Next for a day, I'm optimistic that I will end up really using the product, and for that reason, it really seems to have come along at the right time.
It represents a missed opportunity for a lot of competitors. We've had several contacts from start-ups of competing products (asking us to try their product). Most have taken the approach of trying to incrementally improve on the basic model implemented in Basecamp Classic. Basecamp Next represents a complete rethink of web-based project management. It's interesting to think that any of those start-ups could have also recognized that perhaps now is the moment to rethink the whole model. But most didn't. Most just followed, and tried to copy who they perceived to be the leader. An important lesson to be learned there!