The New Basecamp Upgrade – Do We / Don’t We?

We use Basecamp, sorry Basecamp Classic, in the office for the majority of our project management needs, moreso I live within Omnifocus on the Mac and iPhone so make use of Spootnik to sync between Omnifocus and Basecamp which as I understand doesn’t currently work, so changes are a big deal, but these are bigger than most. The ‘upgrade path’ is more than that, it’s in effect testing and choosing a new product, except we don’t want a new product, if I’m evaluating a new product then I’ll probably be looking outside of Basecamp full stop.
On top of that, if we do evaluate there’s no turning back, so we have to work in parallel. I’ve not been motivated to even sign up for a free trial, complete apathy. So I googled, let the internet do my thinking for me, and found this, which pretty much sums up how risky a decision 37 signals (the makers of Basecamp) have made. Full credit’s made and follow the link to the full article, felt wrong to quote much more.

My conclusion, I’ll not even bother looking to see what New Basecamp is like, not now, not as an upgrade. I might however have a look to see if there’s a better suited product than Basecamp Classic, but it might not be from 37 Signals, or we may well stay where we are, quite happy.

The New Basecamp, New Coke, and New Decisions

There is so much to say about The New Basecamp that reviewing this release is going to take several posts. So, for starters let’s talk about the big picture decisions related to this major new release.

The Name

This week we got “The New” Basecamp and The New iPad. It seems to be an odd choice for both Basecamp and the iPad.

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In theory, this works better for hardware. The 37Signals guys were quick to point out that Honda rolls out a new Civic every year and they don’t name them the Civic HD, Civic 4S, etc. You just get a new Civic. But the car industry has the decency to put a model year on it.

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Apple’s been playing this game for a while. I own a white MacBook and 95% of the time the actual name of the model doesn’t matter. But when it does matter, I have to know that it is the 13-in Early 2009 MacBook. I suspect “the new iPad” will have the same issue. This is because this image to the left won’t help you much in 2014 when you are trying to get support and they need to know if you have an iPad 2, a 2012 iPad, or a 2013 iPad or whatever.

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But with Basecamp, the name game feels even more strange. What we once knew as Basecamp is now Basecamp Classic. And this new thing, with a completely different feature set has assumed the Basecamp name and is generally prefaced with “the new” to differentiate it.

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Why the name games? Did Ryan in The Office completely ruin the ability of software companies to name their product “two-dot-oh”?

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The most straightforward answer seems to be this:

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Unlike Fog Creek with Trello and FogBugz, 37Signals wanted to leverage the brand value of their existing product with their new, created-from-scratch product. Where Fog Creek has created a second project management tool to live along side their existing tool, 37Signals is maintaining the brand name with the new product. Think: New Coke. Oh wait, maybe that’s not the image they desired.

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However, unlike most upgrades (excluding Apple’s treatment of video editing software) this “upgrade” actually removes several previously “key” features.

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A major release like this is going to upset many users however you do it. If you position it as Basecamp 2.0 and you remove key features, well, users are going to freak out.

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So, the team at 37Signals appears to be trying to walk a fine line. The new thing is new and different, but not the same product at all. So, you get the old thing renamed and a few Jedi mind tricks later… everybody is going to be okay. In theory. But this feels like a decision they will regret if for no other reason than they are going to get tired of talking about it.

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No Auto Upgrade

Another complication is the decision to not auto-upgrade users to the new Basecamp. Instead, your current projects and accounts may continue to live on forever (or some version of forever) in Basecamp Classic. You may give the new Basecamp a whirl via a free trial and import your projects over, but you don’t have to do so.

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Why would anybody stay in the old version of a product if the new version is available for essentially the same price? (Let’s ignore the issue about no longer supporting a “free” version in the new Basecamp.)

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This isn’t a decision that was made by accident. There is a really good reason, but it’s going to frustrate a lot of folks. You see, the new Basecamp really is a brand new product. Completely new code, new features, new style, and all the things that go with a new product. Being a new product, the new Basecamp has a limited feature set.

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Yes, there are new features that Basecamp (classic) never had. But there are features that are missing. Some are quite intentional (no private messages!) and some are more complex (no time tracking!).

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Tangent: When Salesforce rolls out a new release (three times a year) you rarely lose key features. And if something is going to change, there is significant build up to the event that includes transition guides, the works. If this winter, Salesforce rolled out a release that say, removed the Opportunities object then all hell would break lose. You don’t just auto-upgrade users to a version of your application that does not include key functionality they have previously enjoyed.

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And thus, 37Signals put themselves in an awkward situation. Or, more importantly, they put their users in an awkward situation. You can keep on paying the same price for eternity for the old tool that they are not likely to enhance ever again, or you can move to the new application with a different feature set.

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Good luck on convincing your budget guy of option one and good luck of convincing your users of option two.

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continue reading via The New Basecamp, New Coke, and New Decisions « Technical Support Is At The Deli.

Andy Flisher is a Software Developer based in the North East of England specialising in cross platform development. Mobile Development experience includes Windows Phone, Android, and iPhone Apps. Desktop Software Development includes bespoke Windows, Linux, and Mac Applications. Web Development Skills include PHP, Perl, Python, ASP (Classic and .NET) – Andy Flisher on Google+