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Meet the Bales Girls

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on Discuss

Stacey Bales has worked in almost every department at her family manufacturing business, from the front office to the shop floor. But when it came to running the entire company, she expected her father, Steve, to do that for at least another decade. That all changed with Steve Bales’ sudden passing in 2009. Stacey and her sister, Sara, found themselves in charge of the business without their father, boss and mentor. Today, they’re building on Steve Bales’ legacy while crafting their own vision for the company. We share Stacey and Sara’s story on the latest episode of The Distance.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to The Distance so you can get all our new episodes as we release them!

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.

Jason Z. on Oct 13 2015 3 comments

REWRITE: Why Basecamp 3 is a brand new code base, the evolution of code, transcendent software, and executing your very best ideas.

Why Basecamp?

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 10 comments

I’m working on some copy for the new Basecamp 3 marketing site, and I figured I’d share some work in progress here. This needs editing, and it should probably be half as long, but I wanted to share it in its current state. I’ve always enjoyed seeing work in progress, so here’s some of mine:

Why Basecamp? That’s a fantastic question! In fact, it’s the question, in’t it? We’ve got some great answers for you.

1. Basecamp understands what you’re up against

You’re in charge. You’re running something. It’s on you to get it done. You have to pull people together to make it happen. That’s a huge responsibility, and you can use a hand making it all happen. You need to communicate, you need to stay organized, you need to make sense of feedback, you need to share work, you need to set deadlines, and you need everyone to deliver.

And on top of all that, you have to manage people and personalities and different work styles and preferences. People are often the hardest part! Talk about pressure! We get you, and we’ve got your back.

The reason we built Basecamp was because we had the exact same requirements you do. We worked for clients (and bosses and stakeholders and organizations…). They demanded the best from us, and we were paid to deliver for them. Before Basecamp we dropped balls, stuff slipped through the cracks, deadlines were missed, and communication was scattered in too many places. This is why we built Basecamp – we had to calm the chaos. We had to get organized. We had to stay on top of things. We had to reduce the anxiety. We had to get our shit together.

So we made the tool we always wanted. We’ve honed it and – with the help of hundreds of thousands of bits of feedback from customers along the way – shaped it and perfected it over a decade. Today’s version of Basecamp is the best we’ve ever made. If you’re nodding your head at anything written above, then we think you’ll absolutely love Basecamp.

2. Basecamp bundles everything you need together in one place

Any work you’re doing with any group of people requires a few things… You need a place to outline and divvy up the work that needs to be done. You need a place to discuss the work – sometimes quickly (chat), sometimes more carefully (topic-based, organized message threads). You need a place to keep decisions and feedback on the record so it’s official and visible to everyone you’re working with. You need a place to lay out key dates and deadlines. And you need a place to organize key assets, files, and documents so everyone knows where everything is and nothing gets lost.


Don’t base your business on a paid app

David wrote this on 10 comments

The App and Play stores have turned out to be exceptionally poor places to run a software product business for most developers. They’re great distribution channels for service makers, like Facebook or Lyft or Basecamp, but they’re terrible places to try to make a living (or better) selling software products.

At a buck or few per app, how could it be otherwise? That type of pricing will work for Angry Birds and a handful of other games, but very poorly for most other types of software products. The scale you need, the sustained influx of new customers, well, it’s a place for mega stars, and people who think they can beat the odds at becoming just that.

That’s why I’ve been discouraging people from chasing dreams of a successful, sustainable software product business by pursuing paid apps. Far better be your odds at succeeding with a service where the app is simply a gateway, not the destination.

Watching users of Tweetbot heckle the team for daring to charge $5 for a 8-month upgrade only reaffirms that belief. It’s a sad sight of entitlement, but at this point also entirely predictable.

Apple and Google both benefit from having apps be as cheap as possible. For Apple, that means people will buy an iPhone more readily when the cost to fill it with software is near nil. For Google, it means app makers have to shove ads into products to make them pay. Win-win-lose.

What’s good for platform makers is often not good for those who build upon it. That’s where the whole picking up pennies in front of a steamroller comes from. Yes, a few may be quick enough to pickup enough pennies to fill a jar, but for most, it’s not a wise trade of risk vs reward.

Forget the paid app.

“Sometimes you just have to see it”

Conor Muirhead
Conor Muirhead wrote this on 2 comments

“Sometimes you just have to see it to get a feel for it”

^ That’s what Jason said to me yesterday right after he pushed some tweaks to a design we’ve been ping ponging on this week.

When I read that I found myself nodding my head and thinking, “ain’t that the truth”. Now, if only I’d learned that lesson a few years ago.

You see, not long ago I used to spend a lot of time and energy pushing back on ideas. I think I must have seen myself as some sort of Design Guardian or something. I know, stupid, right? In that (ridiculous) role I seemed to think it was my job to protect the product from “bad” ideas. Only problem is, how did I know if an idea was “bad” or not?

One of my teammates would usually suggest an idea, I’d imagine it in my mind, and then (unfortunately all too often) I’d explain why it would never work. I bet I missed out on a lot of great ideas doing that, probably some good friendships too :(.

It gets worse though. When shutting down an idea without giving it a chance to be seen, I miss out in at least three ways:

  1. The idea could be fantastic once I saw it, used it and felt it.
  2. While trying it out, I may stumble into another, even better idea.
  3. I’m stifling my teammates, and discouraging them from jumping in and helping.

All three of those kinda suck.

Nobody Wants a Design Guardian.

I’ve learned that I’m not a guardian, and that I never should have tried to be one. The team didn’t hire me because they thought I’d be a great guard. No, they hired me to try things, to experiment, to build stuff, and to find out what worked.

The Good News

Here’s the good news though: it’s usually easy to try out an idea enough to actually see it, use it, and feel it. In fact, I think in the past I’ve wasted more time bickering than I ever spent just finding out!

So, the next time an idea comes your way, give it a chance. Try building or prototyping it, seeing how it actually feels. You’ll be done faster than you could even argue about it!

Ancient history, modern family

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on Discuss

We have a new episode of The Distance about a family of numismatists and antiquities dealers (listen to the episode to find out what a numismatist does!). As students of history, Harlan Berk and his three children know that circumstances around them can change rapidly. They’ve learned to adapt the family business through 51 years of buying and selling ancient coins, as well as antiquities and maps. From rare artifacts to a mystery involving long-lost valuables and the FBI, there’s no telling what might turn up next at Harlan J. Berk Limited.

What’s more important: An extra gig of RAM or 3D Touch?

David wrote this on 3 comments

The hardware engineering and software coordination behind 3D Touch in the iPhone 6S is impressive. It’s such an Apple feature. Executed with exquisite diligence because they control the whole stack. Marvelous.

But you know what, it’s not my favorite feature of the 6S. That honor belongs to the low-tech, behind-the-curve addition of an extra gigabyte of RAM. Something that probably cost Apple just a few extra dollars per phone and almost no engineering prowess. (Compare that to the probably hundreds of millions in revised tooling, advanced development, and more needed for 3D Touch.)

Doubling the RAM means apps aren’t constantly being swapped in and out. Which means switching between them is super fast more of the time. Which in turn makes the whole phone feel much better over the course of a day.

It’s been repeated ad nauseam, but it’s still so hard to internalize for most product people: Speed is a feature.

Usually, it’s one of the most important features. Yet it’s also one of the hardest to get right. Chiefly because every other feature is generally at war with speed. Any excess CPU cycles are quickly captured by new, advanced, and ultimately slowing features. Extra cycles are like a surplus government budget: The constituency is going to have a thousand ideas for how to spend it.

It’s not easy to get this balance just so. You have to be fast at what people want and expect. Being the fastest phone running iOS5 or Window OS isn’t going to get you any business.

Comparing this RAM apple and that 3D Touch orange, though, is also a worthwhile reminder that good product design doesn’t deal in distinct categories. It’s all a fruit salad! Customers just want it to be delicious and nutritious.