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Basecamp – A Good Choice to Manage Projects for the Web Savvy

Basecamp is an online project collaboration system. It helps you manage projects and organize your documents in one place and share it across teams. They have three other major applications that dovetail with it: Highrise (CRM), Backpack (business organizer), and Campfire (chat).

If you haven’t heard of Basecamp, you may enjoy coming out of the cave for this review. They are one of the most dominant, prolific brands and collaboration tools in the Web-savvy world. I started this review to get in and see what was really under the hood.

Here’s a sample screenshot showing the dashboard in a typical Basecamp usage.  You can see it is oriented to tracking different projects, with milestones and calendar deadlines.

Basecamp review

Most of the people I know who use it are graphic designers or firms that have a fairly straightforward project-based work process. I had just been through a project where the video production vendor used it and it worked beautifully, but I haven’t been able to wrap my head around how it might work in my consulting work or content management or a dozen other businesses.

I listened to the persuasive video testimonials (something, by the way, which small business owners should seriously consider in their own online marketing). I read review, after glowing review. I’m now partially sold.

Warning: If you sign up for the “free” plan, then you are not eligible to later upgrade to another plan and still get a 30-day trial. The site clearly mentions this, but in this world of free trials, it doesn’t sink in. The reason this matters is that if you want a fully functioning demo and experience of Basecamp or its sister products; do not take the “free 1-project plan” option. It does not allow file sharing or managing multiple projects. Instead, take the 30-day trial for a higher-level plan and give them your credit card, and you then get a full version.

This is my free 1-project plan screenshot below. Pretty simple setup, which is a big part of what Basecamp promises, with only six tabs: Overview, messages, To-do, milestones, writeboards, and chat. Note the “Upgrade your free account to share files and manage multiple projects.” That’s the best part about Basecamp and you don’t get it if you don’t do the free trial for a higher plan.
Basecamp dashboard

What I liked

Well, I’m drawn in by the way they market themselves. They have a crisp site and part of the beauty of Basecamp is the design and keep-it-simple philosophy that they have. I like that tons of people recommend it and use it and I appreciate the tribe’s knowledge and decisions.

The dashboard overview lets me create a new message, a new task, or a new milestone in one click.  They make it easy for many people to collaborate. In my video project experience, files were shared, discussions were captured in one place, and you had a history book of your project essentially. That appeals to me.

I like that you can private label it so it looks like your workspace and not Basecamp’s. It is terrific that you can share access with people inside and outside of your company to get the project done.

What I Disliked

I struggled with some of the rules for signup obviously. I was bothered by some antiquated technology like their writeboard (whiteboard) which didn’t have a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) toolbar, but a little code sheet to the right that if I want something in bold, I have to remember to use these code marks: *bold*.

It wasn’t easy or intuitive to set up Campfire, the chat tool, but it wasn’t hard, either. It just didn’t seem built to connect to the Basecamp app. I had to jump through a few hoops. I also couldn’t see how to connect Highrise, their customer relationship tool, to my Basecamp. By then, I didn’t even try to hook into Backpack, the organizer and file sharing tool. But I could see reasons why I would want to create links or connections between the different applications. I think Basecamp does, too, but I couldn’t find evidence of it.

Does this mean you shouldn’t use it? Not at all, but there are simpler applications out there that I know are taking shots at Basecamp. Many Basecamp users don’t need the integration between applications and you may not, either.

Who is Basecamp for?

The quote off their website was too good not to use: “Our products are built for small businesses and individuals (we call this group the Fortune 5,000,000), but companies of all sizes use them every day. From 1 person to teams of 3-5 people to companies of 5000.”  I like the Fortune 5,000,000 part. Power to the small biz owner.

However, I would say it depends on the type of business.  If you are looking for an online collaboration tool but yours is the kind of small business that does not have well-defined projects, fitting your work into Basecamp may feel like forcing a square peg into a round hole. Remember, Basecamp is a “project” collaboration tool and not all businesses work by projects.

On the other hand, if your business is a Web-savvy firm that regularly works on large projects, such as a Web design business, then Basecamp is an app you’ll be comfortable with and find helpful for business.  If you need one place to keep your documents and your team, literally on the same page, and keep projects on track, then Basecamp offers a simple and elegant way to do that.

Learn more about Basecamp [1].