Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Early adopters and late arrivals

I like to think of myself as an early adopter of technology. I was a cell phone junkie when mobile phones were still considered a novelty if not a public nuisance. I lived in the online world back before there was a Web. I was running my own little news site on the Internet before CNN went online. I blog. I tweet. I left Second Life before it got really popular.

But in reality, I tend to lag the true early adopters.
My first cell phone fit in my pocket. I didn't have one of those crazy briefcase models. My first forays into online communities were on Compuserve and AOL, not in The Well. And although the inspiration for my first news product was the San Jose Mercury News' Mercury Center on AOL, which debuted in May of 1993, I didn't actually distribute anything until two years later when AOL offered Internet mail for the first time.

All of which is to say that it shouldn't surprise anyone that I only got around to using Basecamp last week.
Basecamp, for those adopters even later than I, is the Web-based, project management system beloved by thousands. It is, to oversimplify, a way to create and organize to-do lists.
But Basecamp and its sister products are also a way to organize editorial workflows.
And it was the quest for a better way to assign and track stories in a Web-first publishing model that finally convinced me to try Basecamp.

In the past few months I've run into a half-dozen newsrooms that are using workflow-tracking software that is based on Lotus Notes. And it's been driving me crazy. More importantly, this old-fashioned method of organizing work is driving the workers crazy. It seems that every time I ask editors to explain where they see barriers to moving to a Web-first model, they begin to complain about the systems they use to track stories.
Now don't get me wrong. Lotus Notes was a pretty remarkable development some 20 years ago. And there are new versions that offer a slew of new and remarkable features. But the stuff I'm seeing in newsrooms is pretty much the same stuff that first appeared years and years ago. It's been altered and rebranded and turned into something that "only works here." But the functionality is the same as what you could get back when I was first playing with AOL.

It seemed to me that in 2008 there must be something better.
So I tried Basecamp.

I'm not alone.
There's anecdotal evidence that publishers are abandoning their existing story-management tools and turning to Basecamp.
Basecamp's site has this testimonial from a Web publisher as well as this one from an executive at the Baltimore Sun who uses the system to track design projects. College publishers such as this one use it too. This article on the Poynter Institute's site talks about a citizen-journalism site that uses HighRise, a similar product from the makers of Basecamp.
But what I haven't seen are any major publishers using Basecamp to manage story flow.
Which leads me to wonder...am I missing something, or am I more of an early adopter than I give myself credit for?

For more on Basecamp, check out this article by Rex Hammock, the king of the magazine industry's early adopters.
Or click here for a description of the world of collaborative software.

tags: , , , , , , , web-first publishing


  1. Paul - couldn't agree more about Basecamp. We've been running our consulting project workflow on the system for about a year now and all my team members are very impressed. It's simple, scalable and basically does "what it says on the box".

    I can think of various business types for which it would work really well and editorial management is certainly one of them. Heck, in these days when you're most likely working with a virtual editorial team, you can even host editorial meetings in the Campfire conferencing section!


  2. I'm flattered, Paul. First you give me a great new title and then you link to a magazine story I've written -- not a blog post. I wrote it because I became fascinated with Basecamp -- and the staff at Hammock started "living" in it -- and I became curious how it came into being. The more I learned about Jason Fried, it's creator, the more I knew that I'd have to go to Chicago and spend time with him to do the story justice. About the time the story came out, the news broke that Jeff Bezos (not through Amazon, but personally) had invested in Jason's company in a way that has subsequently allowed it to grow without having to get wrapped up in the whole Silicon Valley swirl of fund-raising and hype.

    Because of all the interest in Jason right when that feature story came out, I decided to do something I've never done before: Post my notes from the Interview. If someone is interested in the creator of Basecamp and wants to go through the notes, here they are.

    Two years later, we're still big users of Basecamp at Hammock -- we call it "Hammonet" and each issue of every publication and every online and video project we carry out is tracked through the product.

  3. Sorry to be late commenting here but you guys are so on the money here. I started using Basecamp at Cygnus and we've been leveraging it at Red 7 across multiple projects -- web, events, marketing. They keep adding new features to make it even easier to coordinate, most recently the big addition of being able to reply to threads right via e-mail.

    It just proves you don't need big scale, big money or a platform that requires days of training to successfully manage projects anymore. There are so many easy to use tools, open source applications, cheap web-based products out there -- you do wonder how long it will take to spread throughout the industry.