Create Your Own Intranet App

When it comes to superb web based applications, there is one company that has led the way this decade. Millions of people from all over the globe use the tools provided by the folks at 37signals. From time to time, we’ll look at different apps in the suite. Basecamp, Backpack, Campfire and Highrise — each one is a leader in its genre. But they’ve also been covered a lot and we’re not going to repeat the past with lengthy reviews of each. Rather, I’ll be sharing tips on how to use their tools better — as well as how to integrate them with other great web and desktop tools.

Today the focus will be on how to mix their tools together. There’s a good chance that a lot of you will have used at least one the tools above. But have you used more than one at a time? Have you used them in conjunction with other tools available? Whether you work on your own, run a company of a few employees, or manage a team in a large corporation, these applications can help you work smarter and communicate more effectively.

What is an Intranet?

Generally speaking, the term intranet refers to a group of Internet technologies that are used to securely share information and processes with an organization’s employees — and only its employees. What exactly does that mean? You and your employees or teammates have a job to do.

Whatever the functions of that job, there will be a few tools that can help you organize the information, communication and tasks surrounding those functions. 37signals has created their tools specifically to meet the needs of small teams — including their own.

And they’ve configured their apps so that they can be used hand in hand. Let’s look at how.


The first step is getting yourself an OpenID identifier. What is OpenID? Simply put, it’s a way to use the same secure identification (for the sake of simplicity, I’ll call it an account) across multiple sites and services. Rather than managing a list of usernames and passwords for ten different sites, it’s much easier to manage one. It’s the idea if “single sign-on”.

To get started, choose an existing OpenID provider and create an account. In fact, there’s a good chance that you already have one from a popular service like Google, Yahoo, Blogger or Flickr. Use this link to learn more and get yourself set up.

User Info

Add an OpenID in the User Info screen

The good news here is that 37signals has designed their apps to use the traditional username/password combo or a unique OpenID identifier. If you use Backpack, Basecamp or Highrise, head over to the My Info menu option. In here, you can specify your login information and choose the OpenID option.

Campfire does not yet support OpenID, but hopefully will soon.


When designing their apps for OpenID usage, 37signals added a nice touch titled the Open Bar. It essentially gives you single sign on access to all of your apps. Once you have set up the same OpenID account for more than one of their products and have logged in, you will see the a new bar across the top as seen in this screenshot.

Open Bar

The Open Bar gives full access to all apps.

The end result: turn on your computer in the morning, log in to one of your 37signals apps and you’ve got access to them all. No more logging in, no more entering passwords. You now have access to all the tools your team uses in one window. Switching between the various tools is as simple as selecting them from the Open Bar.

One Step Further

Use a SSB like Fluid to bring it all together.

Use a SSB like Fluid to bring it all together.

Want to take this to another level? There is another step you can take to make these web apps look and feel like a one large, native application on your desktop. If you’re not already using a SSB (Single Site Browser) tool, get a copy of Fluid (OS X) or Prism (Windows). Set up an instance to run one of your 37signals apps. Log in and now you’ve got access to all of your tools, in one window. And this window is all on its own, separate from your browser.

Whether you are documenting processes in Backpack, tracking conversations in Highrise or managing your projects in Basecamp, this setup will make your usage of these tools a little more efficient.

Work Faster

The web is changing the way we work, especially in regards to remote teams. With a small amount of work, you can give your team one tool and one location to get things done. Don’t let an inefficient workflow slow you down.


Add Yours
  • nice yoo!

  • Open bar looks interesting. Didn’t know that one.


  • constructive criticism, this article is lacking. I thought you were going to go into more depth about how to use the apps better. THe open id and open bar is pretty basic, you can get that from reading 37signals blog. I would have liked to see advanced techniques or something in that direction.

    • Glad to hear it. When we talk about the apps from 37signals, we will get more technical.

      But this topic is one I’ve seen too many people fail to take advantage of.

  • These are realy nice tools! I’ve been condsidering web apps to use for an intranet (in a developing country where internet access is not as reliable as a 1st world country) and I’m not sure what to use.

    I’ve used a couple of 37 Signal’s products before and the are great but I would love if there was a way to run them locally.

    • Hi Wrerm, I would prefer opensource to use in that intranet, usually I use sugarcrm community edition, a highly extensible CRM were yo can build modules that do what your client want (I’ve implemented a few in Angola).

      Depending on the requirements, there’s other apps that I use in my clients intranet, they also can be extended: Alfresco, OpenBravo, knowledgetree, etc….

      Hope it helps

  • The truth is…an intranet in it’s true sense uses the internet & internet technology but doesn’t rely soley on net access. So i would readily recommend these products as such (considering what I said in my previous post), though I know that direction technology is heading in today…

  • Or use Open Atrium based on druoal :)

  • yeah. Open Atrium is youth, but very promising

  • Would have liked more content here. I use basecamp and like the interface and it’s integrates easily into all of my jobs across all clients. Learning more of the behind-the-scenes is always nice.

  • Great article! I do have a question though. I tried getting Backpack and Highrise to work within the same fluid window with OpenID/OpenBar but it doesn’t work. Backpack opens fine but when I click on the Highrise link in the open bar area, MyOpenID throws a log in screen up. Whenever I type my password, I get redirected to a Safari page that says I followed a bad link. Highrise and MyOpenID work just fine in Safari. Has anyone else run into this?



    • Ah, great question. Most likely you need to set your Fluid preferences to allow more than one page. SSB meaning single site browser — but in this case you actually want to visit more than one site. In the Preferences, under the Advanced Tab, there is an option to “Allow browsing to any URL”.

      Select that option and give it a try.

      • Hey Chris. Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately that didn’t help. I selected “Allow browsing to any URL” and I still got the MyOpenID sign in window when I clicked “highrise” in the open bar area. I also tried setting it to “Allow” browsing to URLs matching a certain pattern. I entered my name (placed within * *) which is used for both my backpack and highrise urls. The result was the same – Backpack works great but couldn’t log in to Highrise. I even tried creating another fluid app based off my highrise url. This time, Highrise opened without asking for the MyOpenID password. Now, however, Backpack gets the MyOpenID sign in/error. It seems like the problem is somewhere between 37 Signal’s Open Bar and MyOpenID. I’d love for this to work as it’s a much more efficient workflow. Thanks again for the tip.

      • Weird. Your best bet is contacting 37signals and asking for support.

      • That’s the same conclusion I came to. :) Thanks again Chris! Hopefully I can get this working. Have a great day!