Basecamp Update and Evaluation

July 17, 2005

I promised an update on Basecamp and how it's working for me. I've used it now for two clients for about a month and a half. At first I was very enthusiastic about it. I really liked the idea of keeping all communications in one place, and I particularly liked the to-do lists. I set up two for each project--a designer's to-do and a client's list--so it was clear what each of us still needed to do.

However, my clients aren't using it. They still prefer to call or email me, rather than use the Basecamp messaging system, and they aren't checking the to-do lists. I had carefully (and diplomatically) explained why Basecamp would help us keep the project organized, and while my clients agreed and also thought it was a nice idea, after a few initial posts they went back to emailing me. My clients are busy people, and they found it easier to just reach for the tool they were most familiar with (phone or email), rather than stop to pull up Basecamp on their browser. The upshot is that, to keep the project updated in Basecamp, I would have had to spend time transferring email messages and transcribing phone calls.

I also had some trouble getting Basecamp to work with my Mozilla Calendar. This isn't the fault of Basecamp--it did what it was supposed to. But Calendar doesn't give me any options about importing to-do lists, so I had an enormously long Calendar Task list with all the Basecamp to-dos in there from all projects and all parties (designer and client), in no particular order and with no way to categorize them. Yikes. It was daunting to open my Calendar and see that tremendous, wildly disorganized Task list over there in the corner.

So, after evaluating Basecamp, I've decided not to use it for similar projects. My projects so far have been somewhat small, uncomplicated and short in duration (around 50 pages with only a few scripts, taking about 9 weeks on average). More importantly, I've only had to work with one other person, my client contact. Finally, I'm already an annoyingly organized person and have little trouble keeping track of things on a project. Given these parameters, Basecamp just wasn't much of a help.

Still, I think Basecamp could come in handy for me in the future. For larger or more complicated projects, or for projects involving subcontractors or more than one client contact, I will probably insist on using Basecamp. In those cases I think Basecamp would be an enormous help. And I'll be glad I tried Basecamp out already and will be able to get up to speed quickly with it.

My recommendation is to give Basecamp a try and see how it works for you. It's an excellent system; very well-designed and easy to use. Maybe your clients will be more willing to use the system. Or maybe you aren't naturally very organized and will find Basecamp to be a revelation. It certainly won't hurt to try it out with a client or two.

I'm going to keep one free account open, ready for the day when I get that Big project...or that client who's even more obsessive about organization than me.