Basecamp Classic

Get to know Basecamp Classic

If you wanted to manage projects, you likely would use Microsoft Project or a similar tool with Gantt diagrams and org charts, and would communicate through email and collaborate by passing files around. The 37signals team—at the time, a web design firm—had a different idea.

"We wondered, what would happen if you took that blogging idea and applied it to project management?" said Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson in Jessica Livingston's book Founders at Work. With that idea in mind, they started building what became Basecamp as a tool for managing their own internal projects with a distributed team.

"Basecamp was basically just trying to be one step above email," said Hansson. "We picked a few simple things: a project weblog, milestones tracking, file and to-do list sharing. And we haven't really expanded beyond that; we've just tried to refine those few simple elements."

The original Basecamp was centered around a dashboard that'd show a log of everything that'd happened recently in the account—new messages and files posted to any project, tasks that were completed, and more—with a list of the task you need to work on in a nearby tab. Then, you could dive into any individual project and see a similar dashboard of recent changes specific to that project. It was like the front page of a news site, for your team's work.

Inside a project, you'd get your work done with 4 main tools: discussions, to-dos, milestones, and Writeboards. Discussions were in many ways the most important thing—they would keep your team from cc'ing everyone in email chains, and give you a definitive log of every discussion and decision. You could make a new discussion as a simple message or a full-length "blog post" with formatting, then your team could join in with comments underneath—or email in replies that'd be saved in Basecamp right along with everything else. Add files, and you could comment on them or even upload a new version as work progressed.

Then, to get real work done, you could add due dates and milestones to the project calendar, write documents with simple formatting and change tracking with Writeboard, and add to-do lists complete with notes, due dates, and assignments to make sure everything got done. You could even share a project with your clients, so they could see how the work was progressing and join in on the discussions where you need their input.

Much of Basecamp's appeal came from how it worked with tools you already used. You didn't have to get the whole team to use Basecamp for it to be valuable—anyone could join in just by email. Or you could follow events and milestones with Basecamp's iCal feed of appointments, or get updated on any changes via RSS. It was just a simpler way to keep everything together, and that was just what many teams needed from project management.

Basecamp grew up over time. Its foundation was spun out as Ruby on Rails, the framework many apps—including Twitter—were built on, while its to-do list and writing tool were both offered as stand-alone apps for a time. And today, the latest versions of Basecamp let the original vision live on in their own way—but if your team still loves the original Basecamp, you can continue to use it as long as you want. And that's the final, most unique part about Basecamp, as it's rare to be able to continue using an older version of a web app in the fast-moving world of continuous improvements and nearly daily changes to web apps.

Want to use Basecamp for new projects? Check out our reviews of new Basecamp, the second version of Basecamp that was released in 2012, along with our review of the newer Basecamp 3 that launched in late 2015.

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