Basecamp Next: The Original Project Managment Webapp, Reinvented

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll have heard of Basecamp being described as the project management app to rule them all. Built from the ground up in 2004 to help users complete projects without getting in their way, 37signals‘ Basecamp has been a runaway success. It has become the weapon of choice for software companies, universities, design agencies, freelancers and everyone in between, because it did one thing well: helping teams work together on projects. Since then it has helped manage over 8 million projects.

Having learned a few things along the way, the team behind Basecamp gave it a fresh coat of paint and a few tweaks under the hood. Naturally, as users (and ardent fans) of this wonderful app, we just had to take a closer look. I went ahead and signed up for the trial to create a new project and kick the tyres on this redesign. Hop in and let’s take a ride through some of the major updates to Basecamp.

The dashboard presents an overview of your projects

The dashboard presents an overview of your projects

Overview

Basecamp is a project management app that allows teams and clients to plan projects and communicate easily and transparently. The redesign for 2012 brings not just aesthetic updates but also plenty of changes to how the app works and handles, which have been in the works since April 2011. The idea was to go back to the basics – to simplify, speed up and become more usable for all kinds of projects.

All projects created in the previous version are now housed in what’s called Basecamp Classic (while the current version is called Basecamp) and can be migrated into the new system easily, maintaining all your content and users.

Pricing

Basecamp now has four plans to choose from, differing in the number of projects you want to oversee. These plans start at $20/month for up to 10 projects and go up to $150/month for unlimited projects. All packages include unlimited users, SSL encyption, daily data backups and file storage space. You can try a free all-access trial for 45 days, after which you’ll have to select a plan. The only unfortunate part of their new pricing is that there’s no longer a 1 project free plan.

The project management app space is crowded with plenty of strong contenders. While some cost nearly the same as Basecamp, others are out to beat it hollow when it comes to pricing. Others are priced nearly the same.While Apollo is pretty close at US$148/month for unlimited projects, a new kid on the block named Blossom.io costs just US$9/month. Project Bubble costs US$99/month for unlimited users and up to 50 projects, while Pivotal Tracker costs US$175/month for 50 collaborators on unlimited projects. And then there’s dozens of advanced to-do list style apps that have cropped up with a variety of styles and prices. It’s a confusing, crowded space where price is only one of dozens of differentiators.

The best way to decide if Basecamp is worth the money is to try it for yourself and see how much it helps you and your team through a project. The current free 45 day trial is great for that, and with unlimited users on all accounts, it really might work out better for your team than other project management apps even if price is your major concern.

The redesign

Basecamp’s previous iteration was functional but had begun to look dated. The new design is clean and brings in some of the features you love about current web apps (drag and drop, fewer clicks to enter content, fewer page reloads, etc.). Plus, it does away with some usability and navigation niggles with a fresh approach on how users would find their way around the app.

The first thing you’ll notice is how every graphic element is thoughtfully styled and perfectly detailed. 37signals has never been one to follow the herd when it comes to design and has managed to come up with something that looks novel yet familiar. Subtle textures, clean typography, soft shadows and lots of Ajax magic come together in a tasteful new interface that’s a delight to use. With so many other apps looking suspiciously similar to Basecamp Classic, though, we have to wonder how long it will take before other apps start ripping off Basecamp Next’s fresh new design.

Catch up on what's been going on with your project

Catch up on what's been going on with your project

The new design takes cues from stacks of paper to create a simpler user experience that removes the need for a learning curve. An entire project can be viewed on a single page and navigation mimics flipping through sheets of paper, allowing you to dig deep into details and return to your project overview with a single click. It’s great to no longer have to open every Basecamp link in new tabs for fear of losing my place while browsing a project.

Using the new Basecamp

In order to try out Basecamp’s revamped interface I decided to create a new project to build a music review site. If you do have an existing account, though, you can import your data from the older Basecamp Classic into the new interface to get your team up and running quickly.

Once you’ve created or imported a project, you can start adding items to a to-do list, upload files using the new drag-and-drop interface, start a discussion to get your colleagues talking or mark events on the calendar. As with Basecamp Classic, you can add comments to any of these items and also attach files in discussions. What’s different is that pages don’t refresh when you choose to add content – everything happens on a single page.

Creating a discussion

Creating a discussion

A welcome new feature in this version is the Text Document. It offers a simple way to add textual content that may be crucial to a project, such as a design tip or an overview of terms & conditions – just name your document, start typing and allow it to autosave as you go. There’s no need to open up a desktop text editor the next time you need to create a document. If you’ve been using Basecamp for a while, you might notice that this replaces Writeboards, but has more features, too.

Creating a text document

Creating a text document

An older feature that was already great has been improved further – the calendar. It now shows six weeks at once, with options to add events for single or multiple days, view as many calendars as you want in a single view, control users’ access to calendars and send out reminders to everyone concerned. Clicking the Next 6 weeks title allows you to navigate through time to see events from any period on your calendar with ease. And as before, you can always subscribe to the calendar in your favorite calendar app as well.

The revamped Basecamp calendar

The revamped Basecamp calendar

Collaboration made easy

Apart from being able to invite people to a project at any time, you can now finely control what kind of access they have to your data, as well as their ability to create new projects and manage others. Plus, it’s now easier than ever to add Basecamp contacts to companies (and groups within companies – Designers or HR, for example) for easy sorting and collaborating. You can look up people, message or add them to projects by simply typing in their company or group name and they’ll be added to the list at once.

You can also add people to conversations temporarily (such as clients for their feedback on a piece of work) without them having to become a part of the entire project or even having to sign up for Basecamp – they can reply via email and their message will become a part of the discussion. This is the great thing about a project management tool that doesn’t charge per user: you can always feel safe inviting everyone into your Basecamp, and won’t need to worry about having to pay for extra accounts.

Temporarily looping in a client

Temporarily looping in a client

Keeping track of time

Basecamp makes it easy to find out who’s working on what and when. You can view a timeline (called Daily Progress) to note the progress on your project, check on colleagues’ task completion status and even receive daily email updates so you’re always clued into how your project is going. Everything’s updated in real time so you don’t have to keep refreshing pages to see if anything new has come in. There’s also a History feature that shows all the actions on every item for easy reference.

Interestingly, though, there’s no way to enter the amount of time a task is supposed to take, or record how long the team member took to complete the task. It’s more aiming for the big picture, seeing how the project progressed over time, rather than looking at the precise time each little task took.

Checking on a colleague's progress

Checking on a colleague's progress

 

The Daily Progress timeline

The Daily Progress timeline

Is the redesign an improvement?

I’ll say! Basecamp is now extremely fast, looks great and is much easier and nicer  to use than before. Gone are the days when I’d dread looking for a piece of information or a file in a project, or have trouble keeping track of all my responsibilities. Every change has been fully thought through to help make the app simpler and quicker to use, reducing time spent managing the project and increasing time spent actually working on the project.

There’s no official mobile app yet and the new site isn’t designed for phones, but I’m hoping that’s in the works. Other than that, this is definitely a step forward for the app. Be sure to give the new Basecamp a try; we’d love to hear your thoughts on the biggest update ever to the most famous online project management app.


Summary

Basecamp is a very popular project management app that focuses on usability and easy communication and doesn't require a learning curve.

  • Basecamp  | 
  • US$20/month (10 projects) - US$150/month (unlimited projects)  | 
  • 37signals
9
  • Alex Handel

    I have to say that i really enjoy the change and apreciate it. It makes you think in a better workflow and more simply just makes you work more productive. Which is just great.
    And the pricing i would say is quite alright considering you get unlimited members with it. It also works atleast in my workflow as a personal to-do system aswell. So the money is well spent.
    They also are going to add more features down the road to it. So this is just the beginning.
    Looking forward to what will be developed:)

    • Tim

      I am going to take the opposite approach here. While I appreciate what 37Signals is trying to do, I think the the original is much better. I like the look of the new interface, but it takes up entirely too much space. I have to scroll farther than ever before because of all that vertical white space in between stuff. Classic has a nice compact list feel.
      I don’t say that lightly, because I’m a graphic designer. I like white space, but not when it makes it take longer to find what I’m looking for.

      The biggest missing element, though, is no time tracking. If you are already using Basecamp, then you are using time tracking. If you’re not, why are you using and paying for Basecamp when there are free alternatives that don’t have time tracking? Time tracking is an vital part of how large corporation’s work and BILL projects. I guess 37Signals os saying you better rely on some other software for that now. There is not a single company I know that will switch to this new version and stay there if it doesn’t let you track your time.

      I see a very disturbing trend in web apps like this, that they are moving toward a more “social” operation, where everybody is informed of everything that everyone is working on. That’s just not the way companies operate. That’s the way start-ups operate. That’s the way freelancers operate with other freelancers around the world. 37Signals is going to lose some big clients if they ever close down Classic.

      • Alex Handel

        I agree on your points.
        Its just that from my view and from what i read. Its a redesign without taking away features. It was designed not to just port over the same features, becuase if that was the case then i wouldnt think it was any need to make a new Basecamp.
        But i really like what i see and how it works. It makes the communication stand out much more.And makes you to work better And yes it gets social in that way. But for me its a great way to see how far in the project we are. And how much there is at someones plate to work on. But also in a way it works to show how the time is used.
        I guess you just take some time with it, and then get used to how it works.

        And yes but they will not abondon classic for many years from what they have said. Its true that for some time tracking is essential for many people. But i read recently a response they gave regarding time tracking. Which you can see here:
        http://37signals.com/svn/posts/3133-lessons-from-launch-help-us-learn-how-you-track-time

        But what other solutions do you know thats free that integrates todo and project management in a straight forward way?

      • http://www.artkom-agentur.de Frank Juengst

        I agree 100% and like to point out that also private Messages are gone in the new Version. We use them for internal Informations that are not visible to our customers. That feature is essential too i think.

  • http://pauljacobson.info Paul Jacobson

    Thanks for this review. I’m considering using Basecamp again for project management in my firm so this was really useful.

    One of the tutorial videos showed a project to develop an iOS app for Basecamp and assuming that project is real, looks like there could be a “native” app soon: https://vimeo.com/37955545

    • http://twitter.com/teddyzetterlund Teddy Zetterlund

      From what I’ve seen on Twitter discussions and 37signals SVN-blog comments, etc. it sounds like they’re working on getting the site responsive. So not a necessarily a native app but adapted for mobile for sure. (Seems like they have a lot coming up in the next few months, and I love how their recent post on time tracking – which shows that they’re listening.)

  • Tom Quinn

    Please compare with TeamworksPM. It’s similar to Basecamp, but has so many of the features, time accounting for example, that are missing.

  • Marc

    We use ApolloHq and found the milestones management (defer all milestones and other tweaks) + the project and task list templates better than Basecamp.
    + there is an integrated Crm and many other things.

    The support team is really responsive and listening to their customers, that was a big plus for us. We have waited too much to get some features added to Basecamp (and they never made it).

    We really liked Basecamp, but now we enjoy Apollohq even more.

  • http://imknight.net knight

    I would like to point out the file storage is not unlimited, it doesn’t show on the pricing page but once you register and head over to account upgrade page, you will see the basic account is only come with 3GB space.

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  • http://jheflindesign.com JHeflin

    I’ve posted a fairly thorough review of the #newbasecamp over at my blog. It shows a lot of the good but also highlights some of the bad, at least from my perspective. Check it out. http://jheflindesign.com/2012/03/basecamp/

  • DRColorado

    I’ve been arguing with Jason Fried via Twitter, trying in 140 characters to exclaim the biggest disappointment for me, a small paying Basecamp customer with 12 projects. If I want to upgrade to the new version, I have to lose two projects, or leave a couple projects on the “Classic” version, or upgrade to the next level which is nearly twice the price.

    I feel like 37Signals is doing nothing but alienating their smaller customers and are playing a quick trick to get them to hand out more.

    I’ve come to love BC, despite the ugly UI that looks more like an Excel spreadsheet than some of the more thoughtful designed UI’s out there (I am, after all, a UI design guy). It just worked.

    And the NEW BC looks pretty nice. So the prospect of leaving a couple projects behind, on a system that 37Signals themselves said they’d not shut down but not spend any development on (who would, they’d rather you up your ante over at the new version), just doesn’t suit me.

    So I started looking around. Boy have things changed since I last did this and was blown away at the pure awfulness and pricey options out there. Freedcamp looks like a really nice option, Wunderkit looks like an even nicer UI and more iOS like experience. TeamBox is also really well thought out. The days of looking at Copperbox and 5pmweb and other messy and/or expensive UIs looks numbered.

    Which is why Basecamp, IMO, likely decided it was time to stop excusing their “shut up, it just works!” mentality and redesign it.

    They have competition. And as long as they alienate customers like me, their competition will find new customers. Like me.

    • Tim

      I totally agree with this, and charging more money for FEWER features is not cool. Meaning NO time tracking! Looking at the “big picture” when you’re a big company is not how it works. Big companies want to know where their time and money is being spent (at least the one I work at does). So Basecamp is going to lose its small customers and its big customers are going to stay with the old Basecamp until we find something better, which isn’t that far off.

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  • Erik

    This version of basecamp is hard to navigate and use as compared to the last version. The tabs at the top are gone, you have to navigate up/back to get to a different part of the project. If you are frustrated with the new basecamp version then try out Proofhub. Proofhub is quite simple, user friendly and the most important thing is that it provides features like time tracking and milestones and many unique features also like hidden mode, instant chat and many more.

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  • http://hotproject.com Anthony B

    Hi, great post.

    I work with a company called Hot Project http://hotproject.com, we’ve just launched a free version of our software which is used by some of Australia’s biggest companies.

    We’d love to your thoughts, and also those of your readers!

    Thanks
    Anthony

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  • Philip Beesley

    Basecamp has created great frustration for me as a heavy user: abysmal file housekeeping and file management, privacy, and search functions; poor permissions administration for team members; and perhaps most vexing, suppression of the active user forum where collective knowledge about this quirky and problematic software might be handled constructively. I have posted in detail about these things, sigh, on the expired user forum. By suppressing matrix-style flexible formatting and management in favour of drag-and-drop mouse-based operation, this past year’s redesign makes things worse for an administrator needing to control and renovate complex files.

    So, why am I still using it? Only because I have not yet found a really good alternative that is easy to migrate to- once the kind of organically tangled pile that Basecamp creates grows, converting is difficult!
    Suggestions gratefully considered.
    PB

  • http://letsbreeze.com Rene

    If you like Basecamp but need more agile approach (better overview of tasks, Kanban style) then try Breeze (http://letsbreeze.com). It is a hybrid between Basecamp and Trello plus it adds tons of stuff like reporting, time tracking, budgeting.

    Cheers

  • https://basecamp.com/personal Peter Frohwein

    Basecamp just got personal. Check it out.

    https://basecamp.com/personal

    Take care.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ella.mark.777 Ella Mark

    I am a big fan of Classic but the thought that there won’t be any more updates on that tool, is making me insecure. So far I am enjoying http://proofhub.com as the closest alternative to basecamp Classic.

  • Dan Otherside

    We have been Basecamp Classic users for 3 years, and at first we were totally disappointed in seeing the lack of time tracking in the new version. Pretty soon I realized that, to tell the truth, Basecamp Classic time tracking features were very limited, and very far from a full-featured time tracking solution. When we migrated to Basecamp New, we chose a compatible extra to manage our time tracking. We are extremely happy with it: we use Timeneye (http://www.timeneye.com), and we love it because it allows our users to track time directly from Basecamp commenting on to-dos with the time spent on them.

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