A few weeks ago we posted about our new way of working. Small teams of three, two-week iterations, and two-month resets.

First iteration

For the first two-week iteration, Team Bravo took on a revamp of our customer forums. For a couple of years we’d been using forum software called Beast. It served its purpose well, but it was time for something better.

The forums were structured in the traditional way: They were separated by product and grouped into categories. There were forums for feature requests, troubleshooting, how-tos, etc. It worked well enough, but it really wasn’t a good match for the primary use of the forums: asking and answering questions.

We also didn’t have any formal spam protection on the forums so every day we had to go in manually and clean out spam. Plus, the anonymity of the forums led to the common devolution of discussion seen across anonymous forums across the net. We had to do better.

So Team Bravo pitched a total re-do. We accepted.

A change of direction

The early mockups for the revamped forum followed the structure of the old forum. Products and categories. We fell into the trap of redoing something by using the old as the guide for the new.

But a few days in we shifted directions and decided to structure the forums in more of a Q&A format and less of a “subject” and “body” format with the usual categories. 37signals Answers was born.

How it works

When you visit 37signals Answers you are shown a list of the products supported by Answers.

Clicking a product takes you to the Q&A for that product. In this case we’ll click on Highrise.

Customer questions are listed. Anyone can answer a question. When someone posts a reply to a question, and someone from 37signals feels like it answers the question thoroughly and accurately, we can mark it .

37signals ID integration

Answers is our first new app built with 37signals ID integration since we launched 37signals ID late last year.

The 37signals ID integration serves a few purposes.

  1. It makes logging in easier. People can use the same 37signals ID username/password to log into Answers as they use to log into their Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire accounts.
  2. It encourages civil discussion. Since people are identified by the same name and avatar they use inside the 37signals products they use, no one can battle anonymously from behind a handle.
  3. We can identify which products someone uses when they post a message. The products are listed below their names in icon form.
  4. It sets us up down the road for further integrations including incentivizing customers to help one another. Since we know who you are, and which products you use, the more you help other customers the more we can reward you. We’re still thinking about the possibilities here.

A great start

We’re really excited about Answers. Our customers appear to really like it too. And we got it all done from scratch in just two weeks. This included getting Rails 3 set up for the first time. Great work from Sam, Jason Z, and Jeff plus support from Mark and Joshua.