I thought it might be time for a good news story. I am a huge fan of 37signals, and particularly their project management app – Basecamp. I’ve now introduced it into three separate companies, and it just works. (Anecdotally, I also trialled Huddle on a project, which didn’t work, despite offering more functionality, as it just wasn’t simple enough. Don’t underestimate how much work goes into making things look easy – just ask Apple. Or read this – when did you last work for a company who took this much care when revisiting an existing feature? It worked – I’ve upgraded. Twice.)
Anyway, one of the major bugbears with Basecamp, and the forums are littered with complaints about this, is the data backup feature. You can download all of your content from Basecamp, in HTML or XML format, however, this does not include files uploaded to the site. Which, if our usage is at all indicative, makes the service almost useless, as almost every message thread has a file attachment, as do many of the comments. This is clearly deliberate, but it’s not clear whether this is encourage client lock-in (bad idea), or to reduce their Amazon S3 charges (which makes sense). If everyone decided to backup everything daily that could cause some bandwidth charging issues, although you wouldn’t have thought it would be that hard to design some kind of automated backup policy that restricted their exposure?
In idle moments I’ve thought it must be possible to parse the Files section and download every file, but it always seemed very fiddly, and besides, how would it work – a desktop app, downloading everything locally?
So, this morning, whilst wandering through the 37signals site looking for Basecamp extensions (for something else that’s been on my mind recently), I came across these guys - http://www.centripetalsoftware.com/ – an online service offering Basecamp backups, including all files, and Writeboards.
I signed up for the free trial, and went through the registration process during which you’re prompted for a Dropbox account – which is the genius behind this*. In essence it operates like any corporate backup – you set up jobs, and they run on a schedule in the background. Before you know it your Dropbox icon is whirring away in the task bar and the files are downloaded to your local computer (and of course to your Dropbox account).
I then got an email (automated I presume, but you never know) from the founder detailing the job status, and asking for feedback. So, Mike, here it is – it’s a fantastic service, and a must-buy for anyone who depends on Basecamp.
Taking a closer look at the website (here it is again - http://www.centripetalsoftware.com/) they seem to be aiming to broaden their service to offer a similar service for other “cloud” based applications – and good luck to them I say. It’s a simple idea, well executed, and you can’t ask for much more than that. (Except perhaps a bi-directional sync between Basecamp and Dropbox – save a file to Dropbox, see it appear in Basecamp, with versioning. Thanks Mike.)
* You can backup to an FTP server, if that’s your thing.
(BTW – 37signals new book – Rework – is out March 9th.)