For about the last year we’ve been using an internal app we developed called In/Out. This tool grew out of our need to keep track of what people are doing right now, plus the last few things people have completed.

We used to do this in Campfire. At the beginning of every day people would check [in] with a list of things they wanted to do. At the end of the day they’d check [out] with a list of things they actually did. It was a good way to see what people had planned for the day, and what actually happened that day.

Twice a day updates weren’t enough

But once in the morning and once at the end of the day wasn’t really enough information to know what people were working on right now. So we often asked “Matt, what are you working on?” or “Sam, what’s keeping you busy right now?” We knew there had to be a better way. Interrupting people just to find out what they were doing was counterproductive.

In/Out was born

So we built a little tool in a couple days called In/Out. In/Out let everyone set their current status (“Working on the Affiliate Program” or “Preparing for my presentation on Friday”), plus In/Out allowed you to make journal entries for the things you’ve finished (“Updated book proposal” or “Modernized list reordering” or “Deployed Backpack calendar reminders”). People were encouraged to be as specific as they wanted to be.

One screen, left and right

Your stuff was on the left and everyone else’s stuff was on the right. It was a one-screen app with everything right in front of you. It was killer. We quickly got a handle on who was busy on this and who finished that.

Here’s what it looks like:

Other people would find this useful, yeah?

We had been thinking of releasing In/Out as its own product, but it would require a fair bit of work which we knew we’d never get around to. We’d have to build a site, allow people to sign up, and deal with all the other stuff that comes with launching a brand new product. We knew In/Out had a lot of value, but we just had more valuable things to spend our time on right now.

Coming to a Backpack near you?

Over the past few days we’ve been working on adding the In/Out concept to Backpack. It seems like a good fit since relaunching Backpack as more of an intranet and workgroup tool.

So we’ve retired In/Out internally at 37signals and are now using the version we built into Backpack. It’s not public yet — we’re going to use it for the next few days and see how it feels. If we think it’s a good fit we’ll likely launch it publicly as part of Backpack sometime in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned.