Anyone who has read this blog knows that I use and love 37signal’s applications (almost 5 years and many accounts, personal and professional, later…) and that I’m also addicted to my iPhone. It’s been really interesting to watch the 3rd-party iPhone apps supporting the 37s products emerge in the last 6 months – I’ve tried most of them and have been challenged by the differing quality of the applications.
Outpost, by Morfunk, was really the first application that was announced (on a 37signals post) in the summer, but wasn’t released until November – in fact, after many of the others had already hit the AppStore. What immediately made a difference to me what less that actual app – although to me it was a clear winner – than the accessibility of the developers. They had set up a GetSatisfaction page and seemed to be monitoring it 24/7 (at first). Which was even more impressive when I learned that both of the developers hold down day jobs – building a business in a really smart (especially in this economy) way. David Kaneda Morfunk’s Interface Designer/Developer, was kind enough to answer some questions emailed to him about the company, Outpost and what else they’re working on (Tote!).
> 1. Can you tell me a bit about Morfunk? Where and how you started – and what’s with the name 😉
I started the company last July in partnership with Jim Dovey, a Mac developer. We were planning Outpost at the time, and wanted to leave room for doing more apps which integrate with 37signals products. Jim handles the heavy lifting with Cocoa development and I design user interface, the website, and manage the community, for the most part. The word “Morfunk” has been a working moniker I’ve had for some time — it represents the combination of form and function, via the Latin “Morphos” and Greek “Funktios”. It seemed particularly fitting for the partnership.
> 2. Out of the many Basecamp apps in the AppStore, Outpost seems to have the clear lead – featured on the 37signal’s Basecamp site, mentioned on the live show and many positive reviews from the community – what do you think sets the app apart from the competition?
I think the two biggest things that make Outpost different are the user interface and its offline capabilities. I was pretty pushy in terms of design and look, and thankfully Jim was very patient and tremendous in implementing the designs. The offline capability quickly became the most challenging aspect of building the app, but ultimately I’m glad we have it — this is something that sets us apart, and I’m not too fearful of someone else attempting it.
> 3. One of the things that has set Outpost apart from me is the interaction with your team, especially with the GetSatisfaction support page – why did you decide on GS and what’s the support process from your end? It seems like your team is constantly monitoring and available.
We knew from the beginning that we wanted the company to be transparent and I wanted to give GetSatisfaction a try. It’s pretty easy to keep up with via email and we try hard to reply when we can. We both have day jobs, so it can be difficult, but I think the system helps.
> 4. On the last live show, the 37signal’s guys discussed that they wanted to beef up the API’s this year. In terms of Outpost – how many of the feature requests (like Writeboards and Time Tracking) have to do with things that need to be added to the API? And have you been able to work with the 37s team on any additions?
We get a fair amount of requests for file support — not as much Writeboards, but people have asked. I personally think the lack of copy and paste takes away from the usefulness of Writeboards. We haven’t worked directly with 37signals on the additions, though they’ve kindly asked our opinion and we gave it. Our biggest requests didn’t involve the mainstream feature requests above, but rather functional improvements, like adding modified dates to all objects to improve sync times. Another big downfall is that non-admin Basecamp users have way less access than they should.
> 5. Outpost first came to many peoples attention last summer in a 37signal’s post, but didn’t actually get released until winter – what took so long?
A lot of this had to do with the syncing ability of Outpost, and countless tests to maximize sync speed, without sacrificing the apps performance or stability. Unfortunately, a lot of people still experienced problems with the early versions, as it was difficult to know how people used their Basecamp accounts.
> 6. I’m a big believer in charging for quality applications, which not only enable consistent updates, but product support also. One of the challenges in the AppStore right now seems to be in determining pricing. How did you determine what to charge for Outpost and what considerations did you make?
I personally agree, and think that products should charge based on value and audience. With Outpost, we knew we were working within a specific, professional niche and the app provides real value to those users. We thought about what we would pay for it. In fact, we originally decided on a $14.99 price point, but brought it down after seeing competitors release with much lower prices. We believe we put a fair amount more time into our app, which reflects in its usability and feature set, but didn’t want to rule ourselves out of the market.
> 7. Any word on Tote – or anything else, 37s or not, that you’re working on?
Tote, our web app for Backpack, is still in the works and will hopefully release soon. While developing Tote, I found a need in the market for a jQuery-based iPhone web framework, so I created and released jQTouch. We are also currently in the process of planning a native app for Highrise. Expect a few updates to the blog over the next month.
Thanks for your time David. Looking forward to watching what’s next for Morfunk!
In the last few months, my life has changed significantly. My company was acquired in December and our corporate structure is significantly different. I have a number of accounts assigned to me as well as being part of the senior strategy team on many of the others. It’s exciting but exhausting – and I need to be able to organize everything and hopefully share among the necessary teams. All of whom I work with remotely.
So I’ve been using OmniFocus since last May – I adore this app and the Omni team. The effort and enthusiasm that went into building this application was infectious, the whole beta process was an incredibly collaborative and enjoyable experience. I very much love this application.
But with my new world order, I needed to shake this up a bit.
I was at SXSWi and saw Jason Fried’s keynote on “What We’ve Learned at 37Signals” (side note – who at SXSWi thought it was smart to schedule JF’s keynote at the same time of John Gruber’s panel? Bad, bad scheduling!). It was the best panel of the day (for me – the whole conference) and it reminded me how much I love their products and how much I enjoy using them.
Backpack is a particular favorite. I have used Backpack when it was really just a great personal organizer – all of the bit and pieces of my life went in it. In fact, my friend Patrick Rhone and I met through our shared love of this product (and his Productivity White Paper – where Backpack is a major factor). In the last few months, Backpack has gone through a significant upgrade and it was time to look at the product again.
Backpack is now a multiuser solution – great for small team collaboration (which is what I do – many small teams, much collaboration).
* Multiuser – All team members can log into a single account
* Calendar – Users can log into a single calendar with additional controls as to who can see what
* Reminders – messages can be sent by email or text to many users as well as yourself (love this feature!)
* Messages – People can post messages and can also receive comments
* Newsroom – (my favorite new feature) gives you an update on all recent activity in your Backpack.
So I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and really enjoying it. But for a couple of projects I need a bit more control. So I upgraded my Basecamp account and have started to use that for some larger projects.
I’ve used Basecamp for about 3 years – first with my prior company and now with Zeta. What I love about Basecamp is that I can set milestones for my projects, assign to do’s, messages and use the system to email all appropriate team members.
What’s great also is that there’s a Open bar at the top where I can switch from Basecamp to Backpack (and to Highrise – but that’s another post). So according what I’m working on, I can switch between the accounts I’m using to track those projects.
But there was one more thing that I was missing – I’m traveling a lot, in a ton of meetings and pitches and also need the ability to shut everything and everyone out when I can to get some stuff done. But I don’t want to miss anything or give people the impression that I can’t be reached.
So a couple of days ago I added Campfire – and as the website says, it’s iPhone compatible!
Campfire lets me set up “rooms” according to need – projects, conversations, etc. I use these to chat with my teams, share links and screenshots on projects, etc. It also integrates with Basecamp – so I can set up these rooms for each of those projects. It also allows me to participate when I want to – not always immediately.
So for the first time in a few months I feel like I’m more in control – not just organized, but working with my teams more efficiently. And my teams have been very supportive in trying these tools out and participating. While I don’t have the ability to block off time each day to get work done (too many meetings – grrr) without interruption, I can track what needs to be done and get things done before and after the “workday”.
I’ll track our success (hopefully!) and our challenges and will report on them here. BTW – I’m not the only person struggling with these issues right now – see the related link below.
Widget Watch: Avalanche – A free Basecamp client for Yahoo! Widgets – The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)
Widget Watch: Avalanche – A free Basecamp client for Yahoo! Widgets – The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW): “Basecamp is a popular and powerful web-based project collaboration and management service from 37signals, makers of other TUAW favorites like Backpack and Highrise.”
I’ve not used my Basecamp account for a while (new job, new system!), but this would have been handy when I did. Except I’m not really a Yahoo!Widget-kind of girl…but I applaud the functionality.
UPDATE: The 37Signals Product Blog has a new post on Avalanche (more detailed!) with comments by one of the developers.
I’ve been playing with 37Signals new Highrise application for the last 24 hours and think that it’s a great Contact Management resource (CMS). There’s a great tour that walks you through the entire application and all of it’s many features.
Since I’ve been using Basecamp (another 37Signals app) for over 2 years, many of these features are familiar to me. There’s a 30-day free trial (although you do have to give them a credit card) and I decided that I wanted to test the Plus plan ($49/month). The Plus plan includes up to 15 users, 1GB of file storage, Cases (a really interesting feature), SSl and 20,000 contacts. There are six levels in the Highrise pricing plan and I wanted to experience the whole application – especially the “cases“.
After I signed-up, I immediately imported my contacts into my account by exporting my iCal contacts as a group vCard. You can manually add contacts, upload vCards and also import from Basecamp accounts (We use Basecamp as an internal project management tool that we don’t share with clients, so that didn’t work for me!). After importing contacts, I set up my first case. What’s great about cases is that I can share them with the people directly involved with these projects. I had originally thought that “Cases” might be able to be adapted as a GTD system, but while it has some great features – Actiontastic is still my GTD app of choice. Highrise may work for some people for a GTD app, just not for me right now.
> Contacts – each contact has a page that includes a photo, contact info, tags, notes, files, tasks and more
> Tasks – Can be assigned to yourself or others. Action categories can be added (Call, Email, Etc.) and reminders can be sent by email or cell phone.
> Permissions – specify who can see whatever.
> Users and Groups – You can invite people to join your account and set the permissions for people, notes and cases.
> Cases – Keeps everything all together. Great to organize projects with its notes, tasks, files, images, people and more.
> Email friendly – Forward email to the Highrise dropbox and it will automatically be attached to the specific contacts page.
I’m a big fan of 37Signals. They have killer products, which include Basecamp (a collaborative project management system which I’ve used with my team for 2 years), Backpack (a space where you can create your to-do lists, gather ideas, notes, files… online. Also collaborative.) – I used this as my GTD system for awhile, Campfire (Instant group chat) which is great for remote teams and can integrate with Basecamp. Their next release is a CMS product named Highrise (coming soon!).
37Signals also has a very active blog, Signals vs Noise, which talks about their products and the industry at large. It’s one of my (endless) feeds that I read each day and one that always gives me something to add to my del.icio.us account.
I started using Basecamp at the urging of one of my Art Directors. My team was growing quickly and we needed to implement a more robust project management system. It fit our bill for a number of reasons:
> Functions as an Internal and/or Client Extranet
> Schedules Milestones and ToDos by Team member
> All interaction tracked by project and email
> Tracks time
> File sharing
It really gave order to chaos pretty quickly and as they have pretty flexible pricing plans, our Basecamp was able to grow as we did (during this time frame – 2 years – we grew from 2 people to 12). We’ve tried to implement other agency-wide systems with no success. Great flexibility, great price, great product.
The other product I’ve used from 37Signals for the last year is Backpack. To me is a more personalized productivity tool.
> Makes ToDo lists
> Adds Photos
> Set reminders
> Keep a calendar
> Send email to Backpack
> Tag Pages
> Keep it private or share!
> Plays well with email
> Send alerts to your cell phone
After I read Patrick Rhone’s great article (listed below) I started implementing GTD on my Backpack system. I made a page called “Inbox” where everything was dumped and then created pages for each of my actions (@calls, @email, @work, @mac, etc.) and then individual project pages. The project pages were shared between team members and I could also send items back to my computer to integrate with Basecamp.
While this has turned out to not be my GTD system of choice, I still like the product and still use it. Again, flexible payment plans, great flexibility, great price, great product.