37 Signals

Amongst the perennial flotilla of product launches and buzzwords (anyone still using Orkut?), every now and then you stumble across a product that really gives you that tingly “Ah-Ha!” feeling. Organizing forces for the J-School site redesign, experimenting with various online collaboration tools, came across three {Ruby-on-Rails plus Ajax} products from 37 Signals: Basecamp, Backpack, and Ta-Da Lists. Basecamp for project management, Backpack for organizing your personal life, Ta-Da List for dirt-simple online to-do lists. All are optionally private or shareable.

It’s not like 37 Signals is the first to do project/life management online. What sets this stuff apart is the incredibly elegant simplicity of their interfaces. Something about them just reaches out and screams “Use me!” And so I am. Choosing between Basecamp and Backpack was tricky, because both include features I wish were present in the other — e.g. frustrated that Backpack only allows for a single to-do list (crimony!), and that Basecamp doesn’t include the Wiki (Whiteboard) module. Ultimately settled on Basecamp, and am up and running with a team. Add in the fact that you can subscribe to project changes via RSS, and publish project milestones to iCal format, and it all just clicks. A thing of beauty.

For the first time, starting to see Ajax in action in ways that are genuinely useful, rather than just buzz. Being able to drag and drop list items around on a web page (without resorting to Flash), you start to see the first real glimmers of why Microsoft has always been worried that web services could make Windows irrelevant. Google buying and integrating a product like this would push them into that futuristic space where the operating system matters less and less.

Will probably port some of my home and work tasks and schedules to 37 Signals stuff soon — the free versions are more than adequate for most purposes.

Music: Mekons :: Fantastic Voyage

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