Basecamp 3 review: More molehill than mountain
Basic project management and collaboration tools wrapped into a tidy web and mobile interface
Basecamp is a web-based business collaboration, project management, and communication platform that allows you to create dedicated workspaces for your business’s teams and projects. Unlike many online collaboration tools, the subscription includes an unlimited number of users.
It also does a lot of hand-holding when you create your account, prompting you to create projects and add colleagues, before presenting its core layout in a video and giving you some sample teams and projects to play with.
You’re also guided through creating welcome messages and check-in questions for your colleagues, with pre-drafted introductions to the system that come in handy if your creativity is running low.
Basecamp is keen to introduce you to its systems through the medium of video and interaction, but there’s also an extensive manual and guide series for the latest Basecamp 3 system, making it easy to distinguish current documentation from that for previous incarnations of the platform.
It’s a fundamentally simple system. There are three categories that you can add colleagues to. HQ is for company-wide announcements and comms. Teams provides a home base for individual departments, such as your finance, marketing or customer support divisions. Finally, Projects allow you to create spaces where people in different roles and departments can communicate and share resources about a specific project they’re collaborating on.
Basecamp 3 review: Features
Each HQ, Team or Project has various tools available to it. A message board, to-do lists and scheduling all work much as you’d expect. Document and file sharing includes support for Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and OneDrive, but not WebDAV. Some document formats, such as PDFs and images, display previews, but spreadsheets and word processor documents have to be downloaded or accessed via their home cloud service if you want to look at them.
Campfire is a simple chat system with support for emoji and file attachments, including animated gifs, and the ability to tag specific people if you need their attention. It’s not very sophisticated compared to Slack or even Microsoft Teams, without threading, hashtags, multiple channels within a team or an in-chat search.
However, you can quickly view all posted files and enable or disable notifications when people post, depending on whether you can be disturbed or not, and it’s fine for quick communication with whoever happens to be online.
Automatic Check-ins regularly ask team members a question and collect their answers, with suggested questions asking people what they worked on today, what they’ll be working on this week, what inspires them and whether they’ve read any good books.
The feature seems to primarily be oriented towards team-building and exchanging tips, but could also be used to collate friction points on a given project or, for that matter, photos of your team’s pets. However, it feels intrusive compared to the more natural flow of chat and forum communication.
Finally, and disabled by default, Email Forwards allow you and your team to forward emails – for example from clients or collaborators – to Basecamp. The first time you forward a mail, you’ll get a reply via email asking you to select which team or project area to save it under. Basecamp will at this point generate an email address for that project, and any email you forward to that address in future will be automatically sent there, including any attachments.
Once imported into Basecamp, the Email Forwards interface in the relevant project area will allow you and your colleagues to discuss and reply directly to the message. The interface here, again, isn’t particularly sophisticated – there’s no keyword tagging, for example. But it does the basics well, includes an archive for anything that’s been actioned and finished with, and provides change tracking and sharing options.
Basecamp 3 review: User experience
Each of these tools can be enabled or disabled for individual team and project workspaces, so if your team doesn’t need a given feature it doesn’t have to clutter up their interface.
On top of that, each user has access to the Pings private chat system; an inbox called Hey (not to be confused with Basecamp’s Hey email service spin-off) which flags up anything awaiting your attention; personal and company-wide activity summaries; quick access to your bookmarks, schedule, assignments and files, and a powerful search feature.
Because Basecamp doesn’t limit the number of users you can have, admins can add as many colleagues as they like, and give them access to whichever sections of Basecamp they need; that means even external contractors can be included without needing to provision and pay for an extra seat.
You can also invite clients to access projects they’re involved in – your teams get to set each item as viewable by the client or not, and client-accessible content is clearly marked.
Basecamp has a generally clean, pleasant UI to work with, and its web interface resizes tidily across a wide range of resolutions and window sizes. Unlike many SaaS web apps, Basecamp lets you use your browser’s back button freely and without breaking anything.
The only element that slightly interfered with our workflow was navigating back to previous pages, which is a little non-standard. When you click from, for example, your HQ or Project’s main page to its To-do lists, you get what looks like it might be a pop-up over the previous page.
In fact, this is an entirely new page with a dedicated URL, and if you go looking for an X or similar to close it, you won’t find one. Instead, the name of the previous Basecamp area can be found at the top of the page, and you click on that to return to it.
Basecamp 3 review: Apps & integrations
Mobile apps are available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store and provide access to all the same features as the web interface. When you click into any of the company HQ, team or project areas, you’re presented with a list of all the currently enabled tools.
From there, you can access message boards, Campfire chats, project schedules and so on just as you would via the web interface. Most helpfully, you get all your Basecamp notifications on your phone.
In its vanilla state, Basecamp is better suited to communication and knowledge sharing than formal project management. However, a wealth of integrations are available to provide tools such as Gantt charts, customer support integration, time tracking and automatic cross-communication between Basecamp and widely used services such as G Suite, Outlook and Slack.
Unfortunately, many of these integrations require you to subscribe to a third-party service, which adds to the total cost of your project management toolkit. Even with integrations, some features are entirely missing, conspicuously the ability to create polls, surveys and proposals.
Basecamp 3 review: Pricing
The service’s pricing is refreshingly simple: Basecamp Business costs $99 a month. That’s regardless of how many user seats, teams, projects or external clients you have. If you have more than a few staff, that quickly starts looking very competitive compared to rivals such as Microsoft Project, which starts at $10 per seat or Facebook Workplace Advanced, which costs $4 per user.
Bear in mind, though, that Basecamp is a communications and collaboration solution as much as it is for project management, and some features that are standard in Microsoft Project, such as Gantt charts, have to be bolted on to Basecamp as extensions.
If you’re a freelancer, micro-business or other very small enterprise, then all the Basecamp Business features may feel like overkill. If so, Basecamp Personal is free, giving you three projects, 20 users and a gigabyte of shared storage. You don’t get teams, customer relations features or company-wide announcements, but it also costs zero pounds and can be upgraded later if needed.
If you’re not sure whether the service does everything you’ll need, the 30-day free trial of Basecamp Business doesn’t require a credit card. If you don’t keep the subscription, Basecamp Business downgrades itself to Basecamp Personal.
Basecamp 3 review: Verdict
Basecamp provides an excellent way of allowing colleagues to communicate both among themselves and with clients, and the fact that it’s a flat-rate service is incredibly appealing, particularly for businesses that work with a lot of external clients or contractors.
Although heavy-duty project management will still call for extra features such as time tracking and charts, Basecamp covers the basics well. Unfortunately, there are a few small quality-of-life refinements that are conspicuous by their absence, such as the ability to look at your project spreadsheets in situ or create a poll to work out the best time for a meeting.
The service is best suited to businesses with multiple small, fast-moving teams and projects whose members need to keep in touch and keep track of core documents and project milestones. It’s definitely a comfortable environment to work in, just not a particularly powerful one.
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