Basecamp 3 Review
- Low learning curve
- Intuitive user interface
- Reasonable monthly cost
- Limited feature set
- No integrations
I think the best way to introduce Basecamp is a quote from their own website:
10 years from now people aren’t going to say ‘I wish Basecamp was harder to use’ or ‘I wish Basecamp was slower and less reliable’ or ‘I wish it took longer to get an answer from someone at Basecamp’, so we invest heavily in infrastructure, great design, and customer service.
This mantra seems to have served Basecamp well. Originally called 37signals, this company began as a four-person team back in the olden days (read: 1999). Basecamp (re-christened to reflect the company’s main product in 2014) now employs 50 people in 37 cities. They claim to have written the book on remote working, and with a 17-year pedigree, it is tough to argue.
The folks at Basecamp seem to be on a constant quest to improve their design and provide the best product to their customers as possible. The first version of this software launched in 2004. After eight years of improving and tweaking, the world was treated to the streamlined interface of Basecamp 2, and in 2015, Basecamp 3 launched, complete with a new smiley face on the logo and a goal to meet what the company calls the “six core things every group needs to work together.” According to CEO Jason Fried, Basecamp 3 is “unlike any Basecamp before,” with improved communication, updated interface, and a more user-friendly feel. In an unusual move, all three versions of Basecamp are still available, including support from Basecamp’s customer service team.
Table of Contents
Web-Based (Saas) Or On-Premise
Basecamp 3 exists and functions completely in the cloud. It does not require installation and updates automatically.
Basecamp, in general, is celebrated for its no-frills, no-fuss pricing system. There is only one option here, and it includes an unlimited number of projects, a feature new to Basecamp 3. As always, Basecamp allows for an unlimited number of users.
Business Plan: $99/month
- Unlimited users
- Unlimited Projects
There are also reduced price options for educational institutions and non-profits: Basecamp 3 is free for teachers and students, and 50% off for non-profits.
Basecamp 3 provides a free, no obligation, 2-month trial to potential customers. The trial does not require you to submit unnecessary personal information or a credit card number, and gives you access to every tool and feature the software has to offer, but only allows you to create one project, or ‘basecamp.’
Every subscription requires monthly payment with a credit card. Those who wish to avoid the stress or hassle of monthly payments may opt to pay in non-refundable lump sums; each month, Basecamp will simply deduct your subscription fee from the lump sum. You will be alerted when your balance is low and can monitor/change your subscription or add additional money to the pot from your account page. If necessary, you may pause your account at no charge for up to six months ($10/month afterward) and come back to it at any time.
Ease Of Use
This is one of the most user-friendly project management programs I’ve ever encountered. When it comes down to brass tacks, simplicity is an enormously valuable characteristic, and Basecamp 3 is just that—simple. This is project management software at its most basic and effortless level. The following features are just some of the ways that Basecamp 3 takes the hassle out of everyday chores.
- Simple Design: Basecamp 3 uses six basic features to meet the needs of clients. These range from ‘the Campfire’ — a nice way to encourage conversation between employees — to more common features like to-do lists and a schedule. These features are extremely intuitive to use, and Basecamp 3 offers a guided tour to first-time users, though the interface is so simple that I doubt it is really necessary.
- Autosaving: Everything is autosaved as you type it, so there is no possible way to lose information. Even if you delete a file or an important email by accident, you can always retrieve it within 30 days.
- Archiving: Completed projects, or those that need to be temporarily shelved, may be archived at any point. Archived projects cannot be altered, but they are essential to keeping your account simple and uncluttered. It is easy to archive projects for later reference and just as easy to retrieve them if needed at a later point in time.
- “Today” List: To-do list items and scheduled events that take place “today” are collected in this list, displayed below the six main functions of Basecamp 3. Additionally, any activity (like adding events to the schedule or creating to-do lists) that takes place on the current day shows up here. This allows you to better see what members of the group have both started and finished during the day.
- Mobile Apps: Basecamp 3 has dedicated apps for iPhones (running iOS 9.0 and up) and Android devices (with Android 4.4 and up). Mobile apps have every feature in common with the web app and make for a great way to work out of the office or keep tabs on a team while off-site. Having said that, some users have reported connection issues, and the app doesn’t work particularly well when the internet is spotty.
Customer Service & Support
Basecamp is known for fast, reliable service. While they don’t provide the level of immediate personal support you can get from other software companies (read: no phone or live chat support), the folks at Basecamp respond quickly to email requests and offer a large variety of ready-made aids and live training tools. According to the product website, Basecamp service reps are not shooting for mere customer satisfaction, because “satisfaction is not a measure of success — it’s just enough to get by. We want our customers to be happy. Happiness is success. Happiness is our goal.” I’m not sure how much I personally accept that statement—surely live customer support is more helpful than email interaction in nearly every conceivable situation—but I do believe that Basecamp reps do their best with the tools they’ve been provided.
Basecamp 3’s most helpful support features include:
- Support Requests: While you cannot contact service representatives by phone, you are able to fill out online support requests online. The average wait time for a response (within business hours) is two minutes. Customers are asked to rate any service they receive immediately afterward, and from what I’ve seen, the feedback is mostly positive–in fact, Basecamp brags a 92% customer happiness rating.
- Live Classes: Every Tuesday, Basecamp hosts a live class for Basecamp 3. If you want to take the class but aren’t willing to wait for the next time Tuesday swings around, there are previous classes available for your viewing pleasure.
- Help Guides: Access guides online for step-by-step, written instructions on both elementary and complex Basecamp functions. I found them all easy to follow and well-written, and they are available for all three versions of Basecamp!
- Sample Project: New accounts come equipped with a sample project. The project, of course, contains lots of sneaky information about how great Basecamp 3 is, but underneath the promotional material, there are actually lots of handy, step-by-step instructions. If you learn by example, this is a great way to figure out how to create projects, add users, and manipulate your calendar. I found it extremely useful, especially since it can be easily referenced later straight from your account.
- Social Media Engagement: All you obsessive tweeters out there should know that Basecamp is extremely invested in their Twitter account. The Basecamp Twitter feed is monitored for customer questions, concerns, and feedback between 7am–4pm Monday through Friday, so you can always tweet your questions to @basecamp if you need a quick response. I sent in a question on Saturday morning and still got a response within an hour. For basic customer service, this seems like a good option. As yet, Basecamp has no Facebook page.
Basecamp 3’s biggest support problem, other than the lack of phone/live chat services, is its website. While attractive in a cutesy kind of way, the information here is a little frustrating to access. The site is very sparse in terms of features, without even a search bar to help navigate. To be honest, it looks a little like a spam site for buying extra cruise tickets. Part of the problem is that there are now three whole versions of Basecamp, so it can feel a little unclear what version is being referred to. Users of Basecamp Classic and Basecamp 2 will be the most affected by this, as the only information I could find on either of these programs was on the support pages, which I actually discovered by accident. It would be nice if the main website had some more information on the prior versions of Basecamp, especially since the company has made promises to support these iterations “until the end of the internet.”
Negative Reviews & Complaints
There aren’t a whole lot of serious issues with Basecamp 3 in general. As a software program, it’s been around the block a few times and most of the major bugs have been ironed out over the last decade or so. However, users do have a few common complaints worth noting:
- Limited Feature Set: Basecamp 3 has been distilled into a high functioning task management tool, but it doesn’t do a whole lot more than task management. Many customers wish there were more reporting, budgeting, and accounting features. As I tested it, I definitely noticed there were several features common to other programs, such as Smartsheet and Teamwork, that simply do not exist in Basecamp 3. These include methods for measuring productivity and some more advanced scheduling capabilities.
- Non-Customizable: Unlike similar software programs, Basecamp 3 does not allow you to personalize your account by changing color schemes or inserting your company logo.
- No Built-In Time Tracking: Lack of time tracking is one of the biggest criticisms I can think of for Basecamp 3. Most other project management programs offer a service like this, but it is nowhere to be found in Basecamp. If time-tracking is one of your needs, you may need to look somewhere else.
- Poorly-Designed Website: Like I mentioned earlier, the Basecamp website is confusing and off-putting at first glance, and I’m definitely not the first person to make this observation. There are quite a few other users who find the site perplexing.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials
Basecamp is well-loved, there’s no doubt about it. Most people who have used it for any length of time develop a strong, life-long affinity for Basecamp in all its iterations. This software seems to inspire passionate brand-loyalty among its users. Beloved features include:
- Low Price: This is one of the most affordable project management solutions available, especially considering how well it functions.
- Upfront Pricing System: There are no hidden fees with Basecamp 3—no cancellation penalties, no per-user costs, nothing unexpected. Almost universally, people rave about how above-board and upfront the pricing system is.
- Intuitive Design: Basecamp 3 is eminently user-friendly. The functions are simple and elegant, and no time or space is wasted on unnecessary material or over complicated features. Most people want to perform normal tasks without the necessity of an advanced degree in computer science; Basecamp 3 is useful technology that is also accessible to the layperson.
- Smooth Function: Project management in Basecamp 3 has been condensed to a precise science, and the software functions reliably with little to no bugs or glitches.
- Unlimited Users: Who wouldn’t like this feature?
- Unlimited Projects: This is a great addition to Basecamp 3. While Basecamp Classic and Basecamp 2 limited the number of projects (or “basecamps”) you could have open at a time, Basecamp 3 has done away with those restrictions.
- Speed: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Basecamp 3 works like a well-oiled machine. It is fast, people.
The following are excerpts from favorable customer reviews:
Basecamp is so good, projects practically complete themselves.
The new Basecamp is better, faster, and more elegant than any project management tool you have ever used.
The simplest and best project management tool. Even if you try other tools you will always come back.
The best thing since sliced bread. We have a saying in our company….’if it’s not in Basecamp, it’s not real.’ Basecamp helps eliminate ‘gray market’ communication…you know, when a client sends an email to someone asking for something and no one else knows about it. Our use of Basecamp has substantially helped our business.
For more feedback from satisfied users, visit the Basecamp website.
Like I mentioned earlier, Basecamp claims that there are “six core things every group needs to do their best work together.” They further claim that “Basecamp 3 is the only product specifically designed around this bundle of six tools and methods.” I thought it might be informative to list those six core things and tell you how the software’s various features play out in that context. The core elements of Basecamp 3 are as follows:
- Centralized Home Screen: Many other software companies call this a “dashboard,” but in Basecamp, it is just called “Home.” This is where you go to see all of your projects (basecamps) in one place. You can also see the teams you are currently part of, as well as the tasks you have coming up. In the words of Basecamp’s website, “Your Basecamp Home screen gives you a 10,000ft view of everything that’s happening across your whole business.”
- Message Boards & Common Threads: Basecamp 3 has a couple of tricks up its sleeve when it comes to team communication. First, a previously separate program known as Campfire has been folded into Basecamp 3 and now operates as one of the software’s main functions. Campfire is essentially a group chat board that keeps things very conversational but does not separate topics into different groups. If you need to have more focused discussions, Basecamp 3 also offers Message Boards, where every topic has its own page. This keeps conversations more direct and specific. Having both of these options available front and center (they are both main features of Basecamp 3) gives you a good idea of what is important to Basecamp: group communication. Additionally, every part of Basecamp 3 has a comment option.
- Real-Time Chat/Pings: The Campfire and Message Board features definitely fit into this section as well, but while these chat methods go out to the whole group, Pings give you the ability to send individual messages. While not featuring quite as clearly on the main page as other features, Pings are still a significant part of the communication side of Basecamp 3 and allow for direct, one-on-one communication between you and other members of your project.
- Automatic Check-Ins: This is one of Basecamp 3’s widely enjoyed features. When you first open your new project, Basecamp provides four automatic check-ins. These are: What did you work on today?, Are you blocked on anything?, What are you working on?, and See anything great that inspired you? If you choose to turn these on, they will automatically go out to all members of the project each day. If these questions aren’t specific enough for you, Basecamp 3 also lets you create your own automatic check-ins.
- To-Do Lists: Every other Project Management program I have seen has to-do lists linked to specific events. In Basecamp, the to-do list feature almost is the calendar. There is a normal schedule where you can add important events, but when you add items to your to-do list, they also appear on the schedule. This threw me off at first, but then I really started to like this feature. To create a to-do item, Basecamp 3 first asks you to name your list, then add different items to it. The process is exactly as simple as it should be. And, if you want to reference something from the past, to-do lists are archived once they have been checked off. The one thing I think would improve this feature would be to add a “recurring list” option, so that common tasks do not have to be re-entered constantly.
- Docs & File Storage: Basecamp 3’s file storage is pretty versatile. You can upload files from your computer, link files from Google Docs, or even type new documents in on Basecamp 3 itself. As you would expect, you can organize these files in folders, the better to navigate complex projects. And, as I mentioned earlier, Basecamp 3 allows for comments on all of these options for optimized communication.
- Focus Mode: Basecamp encourages interconnectedness between users, but sometimes the constant notifications from chats and campfires can hinder productivity rather than help it. If you need space from team interaction to actually get work done, turn on Focus Mode to temporarily suspend the noise.
- Centralized Schedule: The schedule on Basecamp 3 is one of the more useable I have seen. It does not offer a traditional calendar view, which some might see as a drawback, but I actually prefer the list-style schedule in Basecamp 3. The list view shows all events (including to-do list items) chronologically. In my mind, this is more useful than a calendar. Some may agree, others not so much.
- Hill Charts: Like most things in Basecamp, hill charts fit neatly into the outdoorsy schtick the company is clearly going for. In their view, work is like climbing a hill; push the idea up and up until you reach the summit and the downhill on the other side. With that in mind, Basecamp has introduced Hill Charts. Designed to measure confidence and uncertainty, the Hill Chart is basically a communication tool, where team members represent their level of progress by setting a location on an illustrated hill:
There is one other notable feature that doesn’t really fit into the six categories Basecamp outlined for themselves: Notifications Settings. Basecamp knows that people do not stay at the office 24/7 and that people use weekends for things other than work. For this reason, you can set Basecamp 3 to “save up” your notifications for when you are actually at work. Additionally, if you find that Campfire chats and the Message Board are distracting you from getting things done, you can set Basecamp 3 for a “3-hour Snooze” where you do not receive notifications for three hours. Once those three hours are up, you get any notifications you may have missed, in addition to any new ones.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Basecamp 3 does not have any add-ons or integrations or an open API. This is something that could easily be seen as a drawback since Basecamp 3 has a few gaps in its fence. It would be nice if there was an add-on for a timer solution, and some may find the lack of traditional calendar irritating. Hopefully, the API is something Basecamp is working on adding soon.
Basecamp, like most cloud-based programs, takes a number of security precautions to protect user privacy and information. Security features include (but are not limited to):
- Multiple Location Backups
- HTTPS Encryption
- Multiple Server Redundancies
- Advanced Physical Security
- Infrastructure Updates
- PCI-Compliant Billing
I have to be honest, I really enjoyed my test of Basecamp 3. I love the visual design and I love the way they call each project a “basecamp,” as if it is the start of a daring ascent to the top of whatever your project might be. I love that their social chat is called a Campfire, and not just a “chat room.” I love that the schedule allows for to-do lists, but also other kinds of events, such as vacation alerts and birthday reminders. I love that you can turn notifications off for the weekends or evenings, or even for a three-hour heads-down work session. These are features that tell me Basecamp wants to make the most user-centric product possible.
However, Basecamp 3 is not exactly perfect–at least not yet. The fact that to-do list items cannot be set to recurring is definitely an oversight. As I have said, the lack of a traditional calendar view may rub some users the wrong way. And most importantly, the fact that there is no API for add-ons means that there is no way to plug the holes from which Basecamp 3 certainly suffers. Hopefully, these things are on Basecamp’s list of future updates, and we will see them showing up in the near future.
When it comes down to it, you are going to have to decide if the significant pros of Basecamp 3 (simplicity, rapid support, and common-sense approach to design) outweigh the less significant but still annoying cons (lack of API, limited calendar, etc). Personally, thus far this is one of my favorite project management programs, and it is not just because of the adorable smiley face on the Basecamp logo. The way Basecamp 3 works just make so much sense to me, and I am not bothered too much by the deficiencies, especially since the team at Basecamp is dedicated to improving their product. If you feel like this is the case for you as well, I definitely recommend giving Basecamp 3’s free trial a go; you can make your decision from there.