Top Six Pet Peeves with Basecamp

We’ve been using Basecamp as our core collaboration/project management tool for PublicSquare. While it does seem to be […]

We’ve been using Basecamp as our core collaboration/project management tool for PublicSquare. While it does seem to be true it’s the best thing out there, at least if you are like me and want as lightweight tracking as possible; it has some amazing moments of lameness, some small, some really annoying. I’ve been haunted by them for months, now I must vent.

So here we go, Letterman style:

#6 filenocomments.gif

What’s the difference between uploading in the file section and uploading a file within the context of a message? Not the advantage you might think of, which would be multi-file upload. The difference is you can’t comment on files uploaded in the file area. I wanted to upload files in the file area, because that seemed proper, then discuss them. But no.

It took me awhile to learn this (because I am thick), but now I almost never use the file area, except occasionally to drop a song off, or backup a Photoshop file. It’s a good place to hide things. Which maybe it was made for after all…

I still want multi-file upload. How many times do you need to upload 20+ images at a time? Every time you run a design project.

#5 lamesearch.gif
This is not search. Search has an input box, and a submit button. Trust me; I have seen an unbelievable number of hours of user testing. No box, no see. No see, no search.


Um, why not add textile to to-dos, like everywhere else? It allows one to give context to a todo, if you can link to the message or note where everything was decided.

#3 crapnavigation.gif

Writeboard has been integrated into Basecamp– sort of. Although it looks like a part of Basecamp, with tab access, once you click on the tab, you find it’s just kinda been pasted on. Moreover, you cannot email or IM the URL in the browser window. It just plain doesn’t work. I’m not sure why, but I can’t seem to learn this and continue to IM Lars a URL that doesn’t work.

When I used to see this behavior– users perpetually doing things “the wrong way”– in usability tests, I’d call it an “unlearnable interface.” It so contradicted established conventions that the user couldn’t learn the exception. Since I have a samplesize of one (me!), I can’t say for certain it’s true here, but I suspect…

If 37 Signals didn’t want to take on the technical challenge of fixing this, they might at least place the location of the writeboard somewhere where it could easily be seen, and cut and pasted into an IM, instead of forcing people through the email-me form.


This one has me tearing out my hair daily, when you finish creating a new message entry, it takes you to what appears to be the message overview page. But wait! It turns out it’s been narrowed by the category you filed the new message. You have no idea how often I’ve sat, staring at the page, thinking where the heck did that message I was going to reply to next go? One team member has just given up using categories at all.

Also, if you edit the category, and save your changes, you are dropped on the page narrowed by the category the post *used* to be in! So the message essentially disappears. Wha-huh?

The ideal solution would be showing you all the messages once you have finished composing, but since this has been the behavior for some time now, and customers may have grown used to it, stronger feedback would be helpful. Perhaps a paperclip saying “We notice you filed that in design, so perhaps you’d like to look at other design posts.”

#1 stupidajaxupload.gif

This is my biggest annoyance, the one I call “Using Ajax to make your interface worse.” One day, instead of the simple easy flat entry interface for writing a new message, they replace it with hidden fields you just open when you need. Sounds peachy? Well, let’s say you are going to upload three images with a message, perhaps a thumbs up, a thumbs down and a warning icon, in order to get feedback. Well, lucky you. Instead of having to upload them one at a time, which is already painful (browse, select, upload, browse, select, upload, browse, select, upload) you know have to open up the upload access (open, browse, select, upload, open, browse, select, upload, open, browse, select, upload). Great, with ajax you just made my work harder!

Thank you for listening. I feel much better now.

Basecamp is a lovely application, with many many wonderful moments. I still do not hesitate to recommend it. But gosh, wouldn’t it be swell if these moments never happened?


Add Yours
  1. 2
    Jess McMullin

    My pet peeves are:
    – not being able to reply to comments in email (they come in email, and then totally wreck the model of email as a two way medium) Clients hate that.
    – its security model is uncomfortably reliant on security through obscurity

  2. 3

    It’s all about the stupid stupid Files tab.

    We have to train clients, DON’T USE THE FILES TAB.

    It’s less useful than Messages in everyway (since you can get at all your files through messages).

    It’s utterly bizarre.

  3. 4

    The biggest peeve for me is in the the URL situation, but I want to use the URLs in Writeboard, in messages, in the ToDos. Many times I am working on a document in Writeboard in Basecamp and want to point to another related document that is posted in the same project. This is a web interface and should allow web interactions.

    The other downside, which opening their API seems to have the ability to resolve (see PackRat for BackPack) is being off line with I want to work in Basecamp. I get a very strong urge to dump my thoughts in to a Writeboard, set ToDos for the team, review items related to milestones and edit Writeboard – all of this as soon as the airplane door shuts. I get a lot of work done on planes in two hours as there are no, or few distractions. I know others that have the same problem on trains for their commute.

    The problem with web-based apps is they are web-based and we are not to the point of having our whole life connected (it is getting close) and there are those that do not want to be connected 24/7. People do want to get their work done in the wedges of time they find open so to spend time focussed on family or friends or Star Trek (what ever).

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