One of my favorite people in the world is Patrick Rhone. He introduced me to other ways to use Backpack through his thoughtful and well-written GTD white paper, has one of my daily-read Tumblrblogs and we’ve developed a wonderful friendship.Two of our common loves are: 1) Anything Apple-related, and 2) Small, smart applications that run intuitively and unobtrusively. To this end, and adding yet another RSS feed to my overworked Google Reader, Patrick has started Minimal Mac – a site ” inspired by a clean, uncluttered, distraction free computing experience” (I paraphrased).
Applications already highlighted are productivity apps Notational Velocity and TaskMate. I know from our conversations that Patrick has a backlog of apps to highlight, but he’s also looking for recommendations and submissions, so reach out to him on Twitter (@patrickrhone) or email patrickrhone at gmail dot com.
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!
I’ve been working with crayon for just over two months now. It’s been a significant change for me from before – not the least of which is working from home.
At crayon we use a number of web-based tools to stay organized and also to keep in touch – many I’ve talked about on this blog before.
* Basecamp – we use it for project management and have just started to share with our clients. It took a full day to reorganize the existing account when I started – I also put together a couple of screencasts for our team to learn how to use it. I’m also planning to do a couple for our clients so that they feel comfortable using it.
* Backpack – we use this as our own intranet. Anything internal (not project-based) goes here. This has been really successful in terms of adoption – everyone has been adding to pages as well as adding their own.
* Highrise – we’re using this for our CRM solution and to track our new business process. As of right now, only the crayonistas involved with new business have access.
* ooVoo – (disclosure – ooVoo is a crayon client). We use ooVoo for text and video chat throughout the day to keep in touch. I’m looking to incorporate Campfire instead – less interruptions, more work.
* Google Docs – we share docs that we use as a company – status reports, contact lists, etc.
* iPhones – most of us at crayon have iPhones for use on both Macs (me) and Windows (everyone else). I’ve written up for the team how to get our 37signals apps on the home page as well as the different productivity apps I test/use.
* Twitter – we love Twitter. Most of us are using it regularly, the other are just starting to add it into our workflow. Each of us seem to have very different networks for the most part, as well as some overlap.
These are the tools we use at crayon everyday. With a virtual company – communication and organization takes on even more importance. These services work for us today, and as a lot of these are new to everyone, it’ll take a bit of time for complete adoption and the level of comfort that I have – something to keep an eye on.
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.