Technology

I Canceled My Basecamp Account Today

BasecampIn the past, I’ve been a fan of 37 Signals. I believe that they were ahead of their day in user interface design and simplicity. Their book, Getting Real, still has an impact in how I develop, design, and build product requirements. I’ve utilizing a Basecamp account and tracked several of my projects and clients in there since last summer.

While reading the 37 Signals blog over the last year, I’ve noticed that the tone of the blog has changed dramatically, becoming more judgmental and finite rather than inquisitive and exploratory. Case in point, this post. 37 Signals totally dismisses online/offline applications on the premise that connectivity is something we will all have, everywhere. Here’s my comment that I wrote on the blog:

The perspective you’re looking at this is so narrow that I?m genuinely shocked as a fan of 37 signals. You are mixing online and offline functionality with Internet Connectivity.

This is not a question of being connected, it’s a question of resource management. If I can have an application that utilizes the resources of a laptop as effectively as that of a server, as well as balancing the use of bandwidth between the two, it can create a fantastic user experience for all involved.

I also added a note that the use of the f-bomb was absolutely unnecessary. In a poll I did on my blog, about 40% of the response stated that they didn’t like the use of cussing on the web. In many posts, I’ve seen it used in a humorous fashion… but in the 37 signals blog it was confrontational… to me, the reader that might disagree with them. It was disrespectful. Don’t get me wrong, I cuss (too much). But I don’t do it on my blog where I try to connect with my readers rather than alienate them.

Swearing is not the reason I canceled my Basecamp Account today, though. Out of the 12 users I had, I was the only one that actually used Basecamp. I think one other friend of mine added a single To-do item, other than that I was the only user for the last year (and I paid for the account). IMHO, the real test of an application’s usability is whether or not people actually use it. My clients and co-workers didn’t. In fact, I think they avoided using it because it was not that user-friendly.

That’s also not the reason I canceled, though. A couple days ago, their blog introduced another chunk of ignorance: People don’t scroll…emails. Perhaps they should have spoken to the 6,000 clients that we serve that get incredible conversion and click-through rates on well designed emails that require scrolling. ‘Above the fold’ theory still stands – the information that readers see when first opening an email is what engages them. That does NOT mean that they don’t scroll, though! So – without any data to support their ridiculous statement, readers of the Signals vs. Noise blog will now believe them and write emails that are not informative, useful, well-designed, etc… all because some blog told them that this was the definitive answer.

The reason why I canceled my Basecamp account is that I’ve lost faith in 37 Signals. I’m not sure if it’s arrogance from the growth and success of their company, but their glow has fizzled. I’m still a fan of some of the simple functionality of their applications… but the applications as a whole don’t seem to be changing the landscape as they had done in the past. See ya later, 37! It was fun while it lasted.

Ironically, I switched to iGTD, a desktop app.

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88 Comments

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    I agree with it not being necessary to swear in blogs, if you can not get your point across without swearing, then its not that strong a point.

    It does seem to be put there to get a reaction, as i noticed that there was nearly 200 comments in the 37 signals blog.

    • 3

      Stephen – agreed. With regard to swearing, it’s the respect part that I don’t understand. With a little bit of talent, you can still shock someone, be honest and transparent, but still remain respectful. I don’t understand how swearing can ever actually benefit a company blog.

  3. 4

    I used to regularly read the 37Signals blog, but got too frustrated with it and the people behind it. Smart folks, and I’ve appreciated their focus on simplicity and focusing on the user. But — similar to what you noted — the emphasis on the blog became more of exclusivity and absolutism (“we’re right, everyone else is just stupid”), and I found it condescending and annoying.

    IMHO, the folks behind 37Signals succumbed to something that’s seemingly all-too-common today… the assumption that, well, because OUR company succeeded, then our way of doing things is the right way AND everyone can replicate our success by learning our methods.

    Hogwash. There are shockingly many outstandingly brilliant people and wondrous companies that flamed out due to bad luck or bad timing as well as stunningly moronic people and disgusting companies that succeeded due to sheer luck and good timing. Just too many folks overall assuming correlations and causations where none logically exist.

    I prefer the more humble approach: Here’s what we did, here’s what our company did… take from it what you will. Perhaps it’d work great for you, perhaps it’s a horrible option for your firm… you know best.

    • 5

      Great points, Adam.

      I guess one of the lessons of this is that a blog can be both a blessing or a curse to your company. If you’re a jerk… then your blog will probably reveal that. People don’t like working with jerks. The tone of their blog has really turned me off to their entire company.

      What’s interesting is reading the last month of entries and compare them to the book, Getting Real. The tone is so different in their humble beginnings.

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    @Adam:

    It’s like you read my mind, then wrote it down in a far more concise manner than I could have.

    I too, un-subscribed from 37s a few months ago due to their ‘we’re right, everyone else is wrong – look at us, aren’t we fantastic’ attitude. Sad, really. They’re undoubtedly talented people.

  6. 8

    Also note that they’ve cited Mark Hurst/Good Experience in the past, and I believe have spoken at his Gel Conference. The Good Experience newsletter is one of the longest emails I receive…and I typically scroll through every word of it.

  7. 9

    Some points: I totally agree with the change of tone, and have become upset with it as well. I certainly don’t read SvN every day with the enthusiasm I used to. However, I’d like to offer some counter-points:

    1. You don’t sound like the target Basecamp customer, especially if you can replace its functionality with a stand-alone desktop app. And if your customers don’t log in, they’re probably getting their PM needs filled elsewhere.

    2. Re: swearing, it’s their blog. As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather have straightforward honest content than the whitewashed crap you read everywhere.

    3. Thought they weren’t clear, I think they are specifically referring to registration/introduction emails, not email marketing in general. Remember one of their goals is to be as profitable as possible and reduce user frustration by eliminating support needs wherever necessary. If they’re posting this, they’ve probably seen a lot of support requests from people who didn’t full read the emails sent to them. I’m not sure what incentive they have to lie here. And your response strikes me as *slightly* defensive and from the POV of an email marketeer (correct me if I’m wrong).

    – SirZ

    • 10

      Hi SirZ! All good points, let me respond:

      1. Perhaps. I only went to a desktop app until I can find another shared project management/product management tool. I do believe there must be a great app out there to share with clients – I’m just confident that Basecamp isn’t it judging on the response of my clients. Email was still the primary means of communicating to-do’s, project goals, docs, etc.

      2. I’m all for transparency, but you can get your point across without swearing. My point on this is that it’s unnecessary and will alienate some people who may love your products and your company. It’s simply a courtesy out of respect.

      3. You’re absolutely correct, my response is defensive as an email marketer. The IT world tends to divide email communications into two groups: operational and marketing. If their point is that Operational Emails shouldn’t be scrolled, then they should provide some basis for that opinion. Simply stating it does not make it true.

      Based on our clients, the reality appears much different. I don’t have solid data to support my opposition, but my personal experience is quite the opposite. An operational email on how to register is a perfect place to utilize long copy HTML with screenshots, descriptions, and other great design practices. I might argue that an operational email is a much better place for scrolling than a marketing email since the subscriber actually expects to get the communication!

      It’s also the perfect opportunity for upsell and cross-sell opportunities. You’ve got an engaged customer who might appreciate additional product or service offerings based on the content of the email you’re sending.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • 11

        A great online solution that you can host yourself (or use their hosted service) is Copper Project. It has three flavors that get incrementally more expensive depending on your needs. I find that in 90% of my cases the Standard version works great.

        I did the Basecamp trial and quite frankly it didn’t live up to the promise that all of the hype led me to believe it would. I’m still having trouble getting them to stop billing my credit card too and they are not terribly helpful from their end.

        Customer service is not part of 37Signals lexicon which I find kind of sad because they were riding such a large wave of great PR and general goodwill. In reading this blog and others it seems they have started to erode their perception in the marketplace. just sad.

        • 12

          Just an update. David Heinemeier Hansson did very graciously refund the two months of credit card charges that I was disputing. I just think the process was far more difficult than it needed to be.

          I hope they understand what they represent to us. 37Signals really became one of the poster children/companies for the web2.0 movement and it would be a shame to see that image polluted.

          Here are a few theses from the Cluetrain Manifesto that seem particularly relevant…

          18 Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.

          21 Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.

          89 We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.

          95 We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

          …and from Nordstroms…

          Make things right with customers or you’ll be left

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    I have been a big believer of 37Signals since their book and thought that their keynote speech at SXSW last year was excellent. That said, I thought that I was the only one who found Basecamp less than perfect. I still use it every day but I’m starting to dread it instead of feeling relieved that I’ve broken the shackles of my desktop apps. As far as the tone of their blog goes, I can’t really comment since I’m only a semi-regular reader, but I strongly feel that anyone who curses in a “professional” setting is trying to hard to play with the cool kids.

  9. 15

    I myself was surprised to see them use the F-bomb in their post. As you so correctly stated, it is patently unnecessary, and ultimately just juvenile. The “cool” factor of being anti-establishment started wearing thin a long time ago. In the same vain that it is their blog, as SirZ pointed out, by all means, I don’t think anyone is stating that they don’t have a right to do so, but that doesn’t make it prudent, nor do I have to accept it personally.

    Their book was a joke to me. Rhetoric from individuals that were bold for the sake of being bold. Certainly most pioneers in all industries doesn’t run with the mainstream, but the f-off attitude is ridiculous. No, being simple for the sake of being simple is NOT ALWAYS a good idea.

    I have also always been bugged by their aspirations for Rails, or lack of it for that matter. 37 Signals has stated on multiple occasions that they don’t want Rails to be mainstream or “too successful”, and the fanboys eat it up. Sure…on a principal level that might be nice…but let’s be pragmatic. One of the greatest challenges that Ruby and especially Rails developers face is the relative rarity of environments readily setup for them to utilize. Ruby just does not have the ubiquity that PHP, or even Python does. Although development might be a hobby, I do it mainly to make money. I am lucky that I get to do what I love for a living, but I still need to pay the bills and feed the kids. Asking people to put such faith, effort and resource into something, and then telling them that you don’t want it to be as successful as it could be…thus maximizing the profitability of its usage…seems like hogwash to me.

    37 Signals long ago was poisoned by hubris. I am surprised it has taken people this long to start seeing it. They exist as a marketing machine mainly for themselves.

  10. 16

    One more thing I wanted to point out SirZ. Regardless of Karr’s capacity as an email marketer, I wouldn’t discredit his opinions outright. Also recognize that that does allow him an insight and knowledge of the industry and what is effective moreso than others, including yourself, and possibly 37 Signals. Opinions alone don’t make you money, results make you money…and if Mr Karr’s methods bring results, who are you to discount them?

  11. 17

    I agree on the tone of their blog becoming too ‘know it all’ and losing that yearning to get it all right. I also felt that in the introduction of Highrise which was too hyped, and over-rated now that we have seen it. I still have my Basecamp account, but am watching carefully.

  12. 18

    One thing that really annoyed me about 37signals is their 1,000,000 Basecamp users marketing campaign. It’s just not very honest, since I’m positive a huge percentage of that isn’t active users.

    I have at least 4 different Basecamp accounts, and have only used one of them in the last few months. Like you Doug, I see that with each project there were a handful of users who had never logged in, or only logged in once or twice to check it out.

    And since there’s no live demo, I’m sure a lot of people sign up for the free account just to check out the software, and end up not using it for something real.

    • 19

      Ade,

      That’s a really interesting point, reminds me of newspaper subscriber counts ;). I’m genuinely surprised at the huge reaction to this post! Looks like quite a few people were waiting for a forum to vent their dissatisfaction.

      BTW… that one other person I spoke of was you. 😉

  13. 20

    Interesting points. Thanks for the article. Always interesting to see the alternate perspective (most things one reads about 37signals online is glowing praise).

    I eventually canceled my Basecamp account too, but more to do with the fact that the functionality just wasn’t what I needed.

    You might find this article interesting:

    37Signals: Business Bloat vs. Feature Bloat

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    Canceled it too just now.

    Rarely used it, and neither did my clients (as evidenced by last login dates). Called them this morning, asking if I should keep it up. To my surprise (?) every single one of them (4) said NO!

    John.

    PS, my email to them:

    “It has nothing to do with the whole ‘f-word’ controversy,
    you can curse all you like, so do I…

    The problem is that I caught myself cursing WHILE using
    your tools and I’ve found it very difficult to get/keep
    my clients to use BackPack.

    Recently I lost a project/client mid-ways because of bad
    communication (and BackPack played a major role in this).

    An informal interview this morning revealed ALL of my other clients were cursing it too, so the decision was easy…

    FYI, some of my/their qualms:

    – Integration with email and ‘normal’ project flow is bad/
    non-existent (seems like HighRise’s cc-email may be
    somewhat of a solution)

    – Site is simply too slow

    – File-versioning is insufficient and too basic

    – Tools are not properly integrated (writeboards, 1 year later, still a friggin’ meta-refresh?, so a simple browser back button doesn’t work)

    – Writeboards, my favorite part of your site, suffers from buggy, simplistic formatting tools (one client told me she spent hours trying to get indented bulleted lists right)

    – Last but certainly not least, as I’ve just found out, data export is RIDICULOUSLY BAD. WTF cares about an XML export, but I still have to download all files separately, save the writeboards separately, etc. etc.”

    You were once ahead of the curve, but these are fast times and I think it’s time for some honest introspection.”

  17. 24

    For the record we’ve never said “we?re right, everyone else is wrong” and we don’t believe “we?re right, everyone else is wrong”

    We simply share what’s worked for us. If all of it works for you, great. If some of it works for you, great. If none of it works for you, great. Take whatever value you find and leave the rest behind.

    You may want to review this chapter from our book:
    http://gettingreal.37signals.com/ch01_Caveats_disclaimers_and_other_preemptive_strikes.php

    Specifically:

    “You take too much of a black and white view.”
    If our tone seems too know-it-allish, bear with us. We think it’s better to present ideas in bold strokes than to be wishy-washy about it. If that comes off as cocky or arrogant, so be it. We’d rather be provocative than water everything down with “it depends…” Of course there will be times when these rules need to be stretched or broken. And some of these tactics may not apply to your situation. Use your judgement and imagination.

    • 25

      Jason,

      First – thanks so much for responding. I never thought this little post would take off as it did. I do hope that you can look beyond the disclaimer you reference in your book and listen to what quite a few folks are saying in this post.

      Since you’re quoting your book, I’ll throw in a few references:

      1. It looks as though you didn’t hire the right customers.
      2. Your personality of your product may have some flaws that need looked at.
      3. Riding the Blog Wave has its ups AND downs.

      As I said in my original post – Getting Real has stood the test of time and I’m still a big fan. I would really challenge your team to review the perspective of your blog, though. It’s really harsh and I’m confident that it could be toned down to help teach others and not yell at them.

  18. 26

    For myself, I stopped being a 37S customer based on the support experience. After having trouble with setting up some Basecamp projects, I wrote in to ask why the projects were shown as owned by my clients rather than me. The response was a one-liner along the line of “Hi Todd. The project is associated with the client because that is who the project is associated with” or something fairly close to that. Circular, unhelpful, and miles away from the real need, which was to know how to change it (duh).

    A second support request got a similar treatment – a fast, to the point response that did nothing to help, along the line of “it is the way it is because that’s how it is.” A request to make a change in the software out of that support communication went unanswered.

    The take-away for me was a feeling of ‘if you have problems with our design, go elsewhere,’ or at the very least don’t write them in.

  19. 27

    Douglas, our blog has been the same since 1999. Our blog carries the same voice that we use to talk amongst ourselves. We don?t invent a tie-wearing persona for our public communications. We are who we are — both on and off stage. We don’t make excuses. We’re very proud of that. I wish more people and companies were like that.

    We share our ideas without a filter. That’s how we’ve always done things and will continue to do things. We believe it’s better to be yourself than to be someone else — no matter the circumstance. Sometimes we swear. Big deal. Sometimes you call us “ignorant.” Big deal. Both are equally offensive if you’re looking for an opportunity to be offended.

    We’ve never tried to make everyone happy. We understand some people don’t like how we talk or how we think or how we act. That’s fine. There are plenty of people who don’t like you either. That’s fine. That’s life.

    Since you have feedback for us, I have feedback for you. You said: “A couple days ago, their blog introduced another chunk of ignorance.” Regarding: http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/357-people-dont-scrollemails

    Are the people who agree with us in the comments ignorant too? Are you comfortable calling all these people ignorant as well? Is Richard Bird ignorant? Is Steven Bao ignorant? Is Ben Richardson ignorant? Is Amie Gillingham ignorant? Is Dave Rosen ignorant? Is Scott Meade from Concept Share ignorant? Is Anthony Casalena from SquareSpace ignorant too? Is Josh Williams from BlinkSale ignorant? Would you post a comment on your blog or ours saying all these folks are ignorant too? Or will you not stand behind your words? Do you mean what you say?

    Is Ryan ignorant for posting this?
    http://notrocketsurgery.com/articles/2007/04/02/the-mile-high-club-37signals-fuck-yeahs-and-productivity-stock-art

    You may want to reserve “ignorant” for comments that deserve it like racism, bigotry, xenophobia — not someone’s opinion on the length of an email.

    • 28

      Jason,

      Of course those folks aren’t ignorant. They do not have the bully pulpit that your blog has. They are simply commenting and supporting based on their personal opinion. Ryan is not ignorant, either. He’s providing his opinion as well. I respect that. And of course, for some, that perception is reality. Perhaps those folks have tested and found success with that methodology.

      Your post was not presented as opinion, it was presented as fact. I do believe that it was ignorant. Ignorant is defined as lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact. It has nothing to do with racism or bigotry, etc.

      Quite honestly, there’s really no need to respond, Jason. Judging from your response, my assertions are all true. The tone has changed. That’s simply too bad. Best of luck to you and your company.

  20. 29

    I think the swearing thing is a non-issue. In this case, it added the appropriate emphasis. We are not children. We talk like that. Or at least I do.

    But the 37 Signals blog does strike me as pretentious. Sort of this “we figured out how wrong y’all are about this stuff” vibe.

  21. 30

    Douglas, now you sound like a sore loser. Jason comes to your blog to leave his comments and now you tell him not to respond? What kind of childish behavior is that?

    You’re also reaching by suggesting that Jason’s post was stated as fact. It’s an opinion based on his experience. It’s an op/ed (opinion/editorial) piece. Scientific research is fact. I don’t think Jason would ever consider his post to be scientific, or fact, or anything other than simply his opinion based on his experience.

    And before criticizing, why don’t you kindly ask him if it’s his opinion or fact? I’m sure he’d be happy to answer you. Then you’ll be more informed about his intention. You can make assumptions or you can know the truth.

    Lastly, I don’t see how you can logically argue that one person is ignorant but other people who agree with him aren’t. It doesn’t matter who said it first or where they said it. They all agree. The commentors are supporting Jason’s position. So you either believe they are all ignorant or none of them are ignorant. You can’t cherry pick when they all agree.

    • 31

      Another Michael,

      1. Re: Sore Loser – Sore? Yes. I wrote a post to bring some concerns of mine as a prior customer and the owner of the company comes to my blog and dismisses them. He also dismisses everyone else who commented negatively. That’s unfortunate – I had hoped for more. Loser? Yes. I lost time and money investing in a tool that I can no longer use.

      2. Jason stated that this was opinion, and followed up that Chapter 1 of his book states the blog is opinion. My perception (that’s my opinion) was different and I expressed it so.

      3. Jason stated it was opinion here, I didn’t need to ask him. As well, remember my reason for leaving wasn’t simply this post – it was an evolution of tone and loss of respect for SvN as well as not using the software that lead me to leave. It wasn’t any single event, it was many.

      4. Re: Ignorance: You’re supporting my argument without realizing it. If SvN puts out a blanket statement that nobody scrolls an email, now people can look at that as factual if it’s presented that way. SvN is ignorant for that presentation, the supporters are not. They may be misinformed, but they are not ignorant. It’s precisely the reason I challenged SvN’s theory – blogs need to be held to task when their ‘opinions’ are presented as fact.

      Thanks for visiting!

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    • 33

      Thanks, Lupe. While I don’t look to Wikipedia for all my answers, I do like the quote:

      Another definition states that ignorance is the choice to not act or behave in accordance with regard to certain information in order to suit ones own needs or beliefs.

      This is, in my opinion, why the Email Scrolling blog post at SvN was ignorant. They chose not to investigate or provide valid data to support their theory. And, in fact, that suits their needs since they were plugging their new email format.

  23. 34

    Hi Douglas,

    I support your point of view… and here is another tidbit from my days at American Express – to test the “users don’t scroll” theory. I had different URLs encoded in links at the top of the email and ones at the bottom, well, well, “below the fold.” And the ones at the bottom were clicked just as well as the ones at the top. It speaks to the quality and pertinence of the content. If your content is not relevant, the user knows within the first screenful and therefore abandon without ever having to read more. My emails which contained resources, tips, and how-tos for small business cardmembers, rather than flat out ads or advertorials, always saw a good amount (i.e. up to 70%) of the clicks come from links at the bottom of the email.

    I also have tried basecamp for a client project, and while we did post many documents to the library/repository, I ended up making the client change to google documents instead. thanks for your comments.

    best,
    Augustine

  24. 35

    Why call someone IGNORANT about their opinion about the length of an email? Pretty heavy words there for someone’s personal opinion. If you don’t like someone’s opinion, what value is there in writing some long post about it and drawing attention to your odd obsession with pointing out people’s ignorance? GET OVER IT already.

    You’re making a huge ordeal over one person making a point from his personal experience! Please, be the bigger person and move on.

  25. 37

    Are you people out of your minds?! I invest plenty of energy in finding ways for my staff to spend less time perusing emails, rather than more. To get to the point: Emails are presently an uncrontrollable distraction. Why, on Earth, would anyone propose that email depth is a desirable feature?

    • 38

      Richard,

      Staff spending less time in email and more time on the phone or face to face is much more productive, I agree.

      I would love to cut the volume of emails I have in half, but the length of the content in those emails is not as cut and dry. I think there are valid reasons to have long copy vs. short copy. html vs. text, etc.

      If we want to save time on reading, let’s do away with contracts and other legal mumbo jumbo. That paperwork wastes much more time and costs us a lot more per hour to pay attorneys to decipher it!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  26. 39

    Well, I tried using basecamp on one of the projects and none of my teammates bought into it. Maybe it was the corporate nature of the project, but I found that although I was willing to put the time in to understand the quirky interface, most people in my team weren’t.

    It was really difficult to change the milestones and if certain tasks depended on each other, and you missed a couple of things there was no way to re-arrange tasks etc.

    I’m glad I just used the free version of it and didn’t commit to it by purchasing a paid version. AFter a while, I was the only one using the whiteboard etc, and using certain other features of the IM system (another one of their product). Our experimentation with the basecamp as a quasi project management tool was an abject failure. The interface is kind of quirky and not very consistent (as of 8 months ago – I haven’t logged in recently I think)

    I think they are tasting too much of their own koolaid and this whole my way or the highway thing isn’t going to work out in the long term. I mean, if you profess to put your customers first, then how can you belittle them almost every turn and pontificate about everything as if you know the whole truth and everyone else is just a moron. ?

  27. 40

    The “f-bomb”? What a d**che.

    I’m sure 37signals care that some bright-eyed turd in a suit isn’t looking to lick their a***s anymore.

    Don’t worry… I’m sure you’ll find a new bandwagon to jump on now that 37signals isn’t fashionable anymore.

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