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8 years is a long time—and it's practically an eternity for software. And so, in 2012, Basecamp Classic was beginning to show its age. It was still a simple place to manage projects—but it seemed like it could be much more.
The 37signals team had experimented with other app ideas in the mean time, most notably with the wiki-like Backpack. It was similar to Basecamp, but with just a single sheet of digital paper where you could arrange notes, tasks, and files in any order you wanted for a free-form productivity workspace. And when the Basecamp team went back to the drawing board to build new Basecamp (or just "Basecamp", after the original Basecamp was rebranded to "Basecamp Classic), it wasn't surprising to see a number of Backpack-like ideas influencing the new design.
Log into a new Basecamp account, and you'll see a dashboard with your projects along with links to a combined calendar, to-do list, and timeline of everything that's happened across the projects. It's similar enough to the original Basecamp, only this time with enough space to be able to get work done without needing to open a project.
Then, dive into a project, and you'll get a blast of Backpack-like simplicity. Everything—the most recent messages, to-dos, files, and more—are all on one page so you can easily browse through them all. You can't rearrange each section as you could in Backpack, but the same simplicity of being able to see full project at a glance is there.
Open any section—a message, task, or anything else—and that part of the project will open in a second sheet of virtual paper so you can get a closer look at the tasks or discussions without distraction. The core features are similar enough to Basecamp Classic, but with a brand-new design that's simple to navigate. You can still email in discussion replies, subscribe to updates via RSS or a calendar feed, and view changes to text documents in Basecamp, along with managing your tasks and viewing discussions.
There was one major new feature, though: the "Catch Up" page. Here, you'd see a detailed timeline with day-by-day archives of everything that happened in the project, as a quick way to see what you and others had gotten done. Whether you need it to make sure a project is moving forward, or to see what happened while you were away, it was a simpler alternative to detailed reports you'd make in most project management tools.
The experiments persisted with the second version of Basecamp. Basecamp Personal launched soon after as a single project version of Basecamp for a one-time fee, then Basecamp Breeze was added for another one-time fee as a simple way to make email lists (something Basecamp itself is already good at). Both features were eventually cut, in lieu of Basecamp 3's free 1-project plan. And in the mean time, 37signals the company refocused on just Basecamp, rebranding itself after its most popular app and setting the stage for the next Basecamp that'd combine yet another of 37signals' apps into Basecamp: Campfire chat.
But just as with Basecamp Classic, the 2nd version of Basecamp lives on. If you're already using it, you can continue to use Basecamp 2's simple, paper-like design to manage your projects. Then, when those are completed, it just might be time to try out Basecamp 3 for your next projects.
Check out our Basecamp 3 review for details about the latest version of Basecamp.