Automatic check-ins and the old, personal web

ABOUT A YEAR ago, around the time I launched my new design studio, I moved nearly all business-related communications to Basecamp 3, the latest evolution of the web-based project and communications management tool from my Chicago designer friends who used to be called 37signals.

One of Basecamp 3’s nicest features is the ability to set up automatic check-ins, such as asking all team members “What did you work on today?” at 5:00 pm daily.

On the surface, it’s intended as a way of letting everyone know what their teammates are working on, thereby deleting needless meetings from everyone’s schedules. But the feature can go much deeper, as I’ve discovered to my great pleasure. A day at a time, it can build community and help you design your career and your life. It even brings back some of the joy we once derived from the days of the personal web.

What did you work on today?

Over the years, I’ve started or cofounded several web-related businesses. Rather than limit my new studio.zeldman Basecamp exclusively to the designers, developers, and UX specialists who make up my studio, I decided to include everyone from all the businesses I touch.

Naturally, I’m mindful of people’s bandwidth, so anyone who doesn’t wish to participate can opt out or selectively block threads or projects that don’t interest them. I also refrained from inviting two staffers from one of my businesses who, for whatever reason, have just never hit it off with Basecamp. (Evangelizing any tool, however much one personally loves it, is like trying to convince a carnivore to go vegan. It accomplishes nothing, and leaves everyone feeling hurt.)

Save those two folks, with whom I collaborate through other methods, everyone else I work with on a daily or weekly basis, across all my little businesses, has access to a shared Basecamp. And every day at 5:00 pm Eastern Time, Basecamp asks all of us, “What did you work on today?”

The evolution of open sharing

At first, those who chose to participate took the question literally, sharing the work-related tasks we’d accomplished that day. But, over time, we began something sharing else. We began sharing our lives.

As if in a Unitarian church group, or an AA meeting, we share daily joys and sorrows, hopes and aspirations. One of us has a child leaving the nest; another’s child may have had a tough day at school. One of us is writing a book, another has begun physical therapy. Some of us comment on each other’s shares; others use Basecamp’s “applause” feature to indicate that we read and appreciated what was shared. Some folks write essays; others share via bulleted lists.

Hearkening back to the old, personal web

Sharing and reading other people’s posts has become a highlight of my day. Of course it helps me get my work done, but more importantly, it also lets me focus on my life and professional goals—and those of my friends. I love getting to know people this way, and I deeply appreciate how respectful and safe our sharing space feels—partly because Basecamp designed the space well, and partly because I work with people who are not only talented and bright, but also kind and empathetic.

If we all sat together in the same office space, I doubt we would let down our guard as much as we do when responding to Basecamp’s automatic check-in. Indeed, far less personal sharing goes on with the non-remote colleagues in my NYC studio space—probably because we are all there to work.

It reminds me of what life was once like on the old web, where people shared honestly on their personal sites without fear of being harassed. I’m not the only old-timer who misses that old web; in recent years, several of my internet friends who once blogged blithely have switched to opt-in newsletters, sharing only with subscribers. Although I mourn the personal, open-hearted web we once shared, I understand this impulse all too well. Sharing with my colleague/friends on Basecamp restores some of the joy I used to take from sharing and listening on the old open web. You might try it.

Also published at Medium

37signals’ Jason Fried live today on The Big Web Show

I have known 37signals CEO Jason Fried since he was a young copywriter who reminded me of me, only smarter and more confident. Like many of you, with a mixture of awe and pleasure, I have watched him change our industry, along with book publishing and business generally. Dan Benjamin and I are delighted to announce the mercurial Mr Fried as our guest on The Big Web Show. Join us today, 1 July 2010, for the live taping at 1:00 PM ET.

Jason’s official bio is brief, but he can write at length when he wishes: see Rework, Getting Real, and Defensive Web Design, each a classic, and to each of which he was principal co-writer and guiding force. Besides saying no to meetings, contracts, and VC money, Jason and 37signals are famous for godfathering a speedy, iterative form of web application design; for gifting the industry with Ruby on Rails; for creating a suite of beloved (yes, really) business productivity web apps; for mastering and then abandoning client services in favor of making stuff; for somehow, in the midst of all that busyness, churning out tons of fine content on their popular blog; and for being roommates with the equally fantastic Coudal Partners.

Can’t wait to interview Jason Fried in front of a live internet audience today. Hope you’ll join us.

The Big Web Show is taped live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards (often within hours of taping) via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.

Photo © John Morrison – Subism.com

A SXSW Story

One of the things about SXSW Interactive is that you are constantly meeting new people. One day at breakfast, I was introduced to a friend of a friend, who said:

“Your book is dangerous.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” I replied, “but exactly how is Designing With Web Standards dangerous?”

“Oh,” he said. “You didn’t write Rework?”


Customer service, not Ruby on Rails

Among developers, 37signals has achieved a cult following for giving us web applications like Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire, and the Ruby on Rails platform. But the real secret of their success is as old fashioned as your great grandfather’s Victrola. It’s customer service.

We opened a HighRise account to manage our A List Apart author contacts and then didn’t use the account for whatever reason.

This morning I cancelled my account with two clicks of a button.

The messaging clearly explained that canceling the account would mean losing the contacts, and provided an opportunity to rethink the decision.

When I chose to go ahead with the cancellation, it happened instantly, and I was taken to this page, which reassured me that the account was closed and that I would stop receiving product-related emails. Smart. I was instantly satisfied and had no more questions. How often does that happen when closing, say, a phone or cable or internet account?

The page also offered me the opportunity to try another 37signals product or to provide customer feedback in a survey. If I had quit using the product because of dissatisfaction with it, I would have been able to use the survey to tell 37signals everything I disliked about my experience. If I liked the product but found it wasn’t right for me for whatever reason, I could tell them that (which could help them focus on their core audience’s needs).

All smart, businesslike, and yet inoffensive and un-pushy.

37signals not only constantly fine-tunes their products, they also think about the customer experience even when the customer is leaving.

I find that instructive, educational, and inspiring.

Disclaimer: Jason Fried is my friend, and I do business with 37signals through The Deck advertising network, so I’m not impartial. Just impressed.

On Board

If you enjoy A List Apart and zeldman.com, please doff your chapeau in the direction of our sponsor, the 37signals Job Board.

Everyone knows 37signals, inventors of Ruby on Rails and creators of Basecamp, Highrise, and other great productivity apps. We studied the leading web design and development job boards before signing on with theirs. Each job board we looked at had something great going for it.

We chose 37signals’s board because it appeals to the hybrid designer/ developer who cares as much about great user experience as clean code—the kind of web professional who believes great content and great design are inseparable. This new kind of designer, forged in the fires of the web, reads ALA and this site, and the 37signals Job Board is where you are most likely to find him or her when you need to hire skilled professionals with vision.

Income from the board helps defray the cost of producing our sites and paying our staff. But more importantly, running it alongside our articles provides a service to our readers, whether they seek a job or a great employee.

Looks good to Mies

The Seed Conference, held in Crown Hall (the “Cathedral of Modernism” designed by Mies van der Rohe) is a one-day event about design, entrepreneurship, and inspiration. Learn about taking control of your own work by seeking out methods to inspire new thinking and adopt unconventional ideas about collaboration and business.

Speakers include Jason Fried, Jim Coudal, Carlos Segura, Jake Nickell and and Jeffrey Kalmikoff, Edward Lifson, and Gary Vaynerchuk. An open panel will follow the presentations and the day will conclude with a reception on the lawn of Crown Hall, featuring wines selected by Mr. Vaynerchuk. Registration is $499/person; attendance is limited to 270; seats are going fast (with nearly 50% sold out in the first week).

[tags]seed, seedconference, design, conferences, segura-inc, carlossegura, 37signals, coudal, threadless, vaynerchuk, edwardlifson[/tags]

Designers wanted

Great jobs for designers currently available on the 37signals Job Board include:

[tags]design, webdesign, jobs, happycog, apple, 37signals, flickr, hiring[/tags]

All Bits on Deck!

We’re as pleased as pale punch to welcome web designer, CSS whiz, microformats monger, icon designer, outstanding public speaker, and best-selling CSS-design-book author Dan Cederholm and his freshly redesigned SimpleBits site to The Deck, our advertising network targeting web, design and creative professionals.

Dan is a friend and creative hero of mine (and of yours, too, I bet), and it is a thrill to be able to drop a few pennies in his cup.

The premier advertising network for reaching creative, web and design professionals, The Deck serves up millions of page views each month and is uniquely configured to connect the right marketers to a targeted, influential audience.

[tags]simplebits, dancederholm, advertising, webadvertising, deck, thedeck[/tags]