If we were going to give an award to the most-enduring web service ever, it’d have to go to email. Countless startups have tried to reinvent or replace it, yet none have succeeded so far. Facebook perhaps has done the most towards killing email for personal use, but now Facebook Messages has email built-in. So much for that.
In the business world, 37signals’ Basecamp is marketed as a better alternate to email for team collaboration. It’s a great tool, one we use daily here at AppStorm, but of all things, I actually manage Basecamp communications from my email account more than I do from the web app itself.
And of all things, 37signals’ latest app is an app for creating dead-simple email lists: Basecamp Breeze.
Email: The Web App Everyone Understands
99.9% of the time, the simplest way to communicate with everyone you want to is email.
It’s almost a given that if you’re using the internet, you have an email address, and likely know how to check your email. You can also likely reply to an email. Without signing up for another app and having to figure anything else out, email just works. It’s easy to get excited about collaboration apps, until you realize how hard it is to get people to actually use a new app. Email is anything but new, and no matter what you need to collaborate about, email will work.
What doesn’t work good is the way most people use email. We’ve all been part of informal email lists from time to time, where the original sender puts everyone’s email address in the To or CC box. Insanity insures. Email newsletter apps like TinyLetter make it terribly simple to send out an email to your whole group, but they don’t work very good when you want everyone to be able to reply and discuss your ideas with each other.
That’s where email discussion lists come in. A popular part of the internet culture of the ’90′s, traditional email lists (if you’ve never used one before) let anyone on the list email the list’s address, and the email they send will then be broadcast out to all of the lists’ other members. When others reply to that message, their reply is sent to the list’s address, which again sends out that email to everyone else on the list. Email discussion lists can be a great way to get groups talking online with only knowing one central email address, but they can obviously get a bit messy if they grow too large.
Now Let’s Make Email Lists Simpler
As should be expected from something as old as email lists, there’s a ton of apps that let you make email lists, either on your own server or using a hosted service. Google Groups would be the first service most would think of, but there’s quite a few more out there, and most are free. Then, now we have 37signals’s new Basecamp Breeze. It costs $10 per email list with up to 50 members, but that’s just a one time fee – you’ll only pay once, and then can use that Basecamp Breeze list for life, similar to Pinboard‘s payment scheme. It’s something that’s common on traditional apps, but rather unique for web services.
But still, is Breeze worth paying anything, even a one-time fee? The 37signal team says its benefit is that it’s far simpler than other services to setup and use, so we decided to put that to the test.
Feeling the Breeze
For most email list services, getting started is the hard part. The Basecamp team has made taking the pain out of starting an email list their main task, and Breeze indeed does do that – if your wallet is ok with losing $10. To signup, you can either sign-in with a 37signals account and skip creating an account, or just enter your name, email, and a password of your choice. On the same page, you’ll then enter a name for your list, pick an email address for your group email, and enter your payment info. That’s it. One confirm button later, and your Breeze email list is created.
The next step takes a tad bit more work: adding your list members. Your Breeze list page – which you’ll be sent to immediately after filling out the signup form – lets you enter the names and emails of your list members directly, or you can paste in a list of email addresses to import them in bulk. Oddly, you can’t import a CSV file of addresses, and if you paste in names and emails directly from a spreadsheet, Breeze will only add the email addresses. Since you can only add a max of 50 people to your email list, it’s not the worst problem ever, and the setup is likely designed to reduce complexity. Still, it’s worth noting.
Then, all there is left to do is send the invites from the bottom of the form, with a customizable message about your list. Your subscribers will then get an email that lets them know they’ve been added to your list. The email will show it came from your email address, and will include the names of others that are on the list, as well as the welcome message you wrote and some quick info about how the list works. List members won’t have to confirm that they want to be on the list; once you’ve added them, there’s literally nothing else they’ll have to do. They can just reply to that email, or send a new email to your list address, and everyone on the list will get it. Within minutes of creating the list, you can have your whole team seamlessly emailing everyone on the list without anyone on your list having to do anything extra.
Does it Work?
Basecamp Breeze works exactly like it says on the box: email for groups, without all the hassle. I tried sending formatted emails, and even included 20Mb of attachments to an email, and Basecamp Breeze sent the emails along to the whole group with no problems every time. Anything you’d expect to work with email, works here. Emails came through on all subscribers’ accounts almost as quickly as if they’d been sent directly, with the email looking exactly the way it was sent, with only a small footer at the bottom letting you know that the email was from a Breeze list, and a link to change your settings.
The one thing to keep in mind is that Basecamp Breeze is designed for small groups where you wouldn’t mind others knowing your real name and email address, because when you send out an email to the Breeze list, your name and email address will be included in the email header. Each list member can change their name and add up to 3 other email addresses to send messages to the list from their own settings page, and the list administrator can do the same for any subscribers.
Should I Use Basecamp Breeze?
If you’ve been looking for an easy way to start an email list, want a service you can depend on more than Google or Yahoo (both of whom are known to kill niche free services), then for about the price of a domain name you can make a dead-simple email list with Basecamp Breeze. It really is easy to use, far simpler than most other email list services, though you still have the complexity of group email discussions to deal with. There’s nothing else here to make email lists themselves easier, and the only innovation so far is that it’s easier to get started with Breeze than with its competitors. It’s simple enough that anyone could use it, and cheap enough that price isn’t way too much of a consideration.
What’s interesting is that it’s from the Basecamp team, and the app’s UI includes some of Basecamp’s feel. 37signals has a tradition of making tiny web apps that offer basic features from their more advanced web apps, but they’ve killed off the other two (Writeboard and Tada Lists) that they had before. This time, with Breeze being a paid service, it seems like they’re committed to keeping the service around for the long-haul. What’d be most interesting is if they end up adding a web UI to see the whole email list conversations in a Basecamp-style format. That’d make it a ton more interesting than it is right now.
For now, it’s still a great way to make an email list, and it’s got us talking about email lists again. That in itself is quite an achievement.