Over the past few years the way we work has changed drastically – most companies now implement intranets or web apps to communicate within their organizations, invoices and accounting are managed in the cloud and teams share ideas and work together without being in the same office or even the same country. We have the internet to thank for this, as web apps have cropped up to suit every need for every kind of task or group. Of all the work-related functions we can carry out using apps, the most important would probably be project management – after all, it’s what helps teams and clients stay on the same page throughout a partnership, communicating, solving problems and building together.
There are several project management apps available including Project Bubble, Pivotal Tracker, Subernova, Apollo and Basecamp. These are all great options but what if you need to keep costs down? Freedcamp may be your answer – it’s a free app that aims to rival the major players in this segment, and is suitable for smaller teams and their clients. But does it have what it takes to become the app of choice for project managers? Let’s find out.
Freedcamp bills itself not only as a fully-featured free app, but also claims to have addressed the issues of difficult learning curves and setups, commonly faced by first-timers including startups, small businesses and freelancers. The app covers a lot of ground in terms of offering functionality similar to its prime competition and does a good job. Signing up to use Freedcamp costs you nothing and allows unlimited groups, members and projects with 20 MB of space, but additional storage for your team’s files starts at US$2.49/month for 1 GB and goes up to US$39.99/month for unlimited space.
Once you register with Freedcamp, you’re greeted by a screen that allows you to create a new project or import your data from Basecamp or contacts from Google, Twitter or Facebook. Next, you can invite users via email (and import Google contacts to do so) to join you. You can then create a new project by giving it a name and description, and then choosing which apps you want to use to manage this project with. Here, you can choose from the ones built by Freedcamp; there’s also a marketplace to get more apps, including paid ones. Freedcamp’s app marketplace presently features only a handful of apps including a bug tracker, wiki, invoicing, and personal task manager.
I decided to try Freedcamp in helping my team stay on track while building a rival app review site(!). To do so, I chose to use all the default apps on offer and began setting things up. Freedcamp features a clutter-free minimalist interface and keeps everything accessible with links and a navigation bar with your selected apps at the top of the screen. When you log in you’ll see a Dashboard screen where you can add and customize widgets to display data from your apps, such as your upcoming milestones, the progress on your to-do list and your group’s activity on Freedcamp. The widgets display information only once you’ve begun using the apps and that’s where the fun begins.
I started by adding a bunch of milestones that my team and I would have to cross to build a website, including meetings, finalizing design and copy, coding and testing. Milestones can be assigned to individuals and marked with a due date. As with all the apps within Freedcamp you can edit, view and sort each item on the same page. There’s also a calendar so you can click on marked dates and quickly find out what’s due by then.
Next, I assigned a few tasks to my team members using the To-dos app. This is a simple task manager where you can add tasks and information about each. It’s odd that anyone who can view the list could also tick off/delete tasks created by the admin, even if they aren’t admins or if the task hasn’t been assigned to them. The Discussions app works like a typical forum where you can post messages, attach files, make posts sticky and have it all displayed in a thread view. This works well enough and seems like a better interface for hashing out issues like we’re used to on email.
There’s also a time tracker app called Time where you can add tasks which you can work on with an always-visible timer. This is useful if you bill by the hour and want to have your team track how much time they’ve spent on tasks. They can also upload and share files in the Files app which is like a common dropbox where everyone can see all the files uploaded, including those uploaded from other apps in Freedcamp. Files can also have multiple versions, which is great for reducing clutter and confusion.
The Wall app is just a simple messaging tool with which you can leave notes for everyone or for certain people to read. From the marketplace, I tried the free Password Manager and Invoice apps. The former would come in very handy for web developers who need to share multiple logins with team members; the invoice app is too basic to be of real use as there aren’t enough editable parameters and not much control over the format of the finaloutput (sample invoice shown below).
Working with a team on Freedcamp
You can manage all the users on your project by creating and assigning roles to them. You can create as many roles as you like and decide what apps each can access. For example, you can invite a client to Freedcamp and allow him/her to only view your progress in the Milestones app, while allowing your team to view all the tasks they need to complete internally in the To-dos app. Similarly, if you’ve got freelancers outside your company collaborating on your project you can assign them a role so they can view Milestones, share files and track their time spent on tasks.
There’s also a provision to create user groups, but I couldn’t figure out the way this was intended to be used. As a project manager I’d have liked to have created groups such as Designers, PHP coders, Content Team and so on so that I could have separate discussions with them while also working with them in my main project. However, creating a group in Freedcamp doesn’t allow you to use the default apps like Discussions and To-dos with the group – you only get a Wall app and those that you install from the marketplace, which isn’t very helpful.
Should you try Freedcamp?
If you’re looking for a cheap project management app – definitely. Freedcamp has a lot going for it and if you’re not ready to spend on a more popular app, it’s a great choice. There are several rough edges to contend with though:
- The site could seriously use microcopy or tooltips to explain button actions, input fields and terms used.
- Project templates and groups follow a certain flow which isn’t obvious and end up being less useful than they could be.
- It’d be nice to be able to add multiple milestones at once to save a few clicks – and similarly, add multiple to-dos and files.
Other than that, Freedcamp looks neat, employs Ajax to run smoothly without page reloads, and is pretty simple to get used to. I’d certainly recommend this to freelancers and startups using a project management app for the first time. Take it for a spin for free today!