Thursday, March 04, 2010

Basecamp backups – Centripetal Software

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 - – 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 - 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.)


Gene said...

Hi Hugo,

My company just released a Basecamp backup solution called Parachute that downloads your Basecamp files to your hard drive.

What makes Parachute different is that it can rebuild Basecamp's HTML export to include links to your files. So in addition to having all your files, you can have them linked to messages, to-dos, etc., just like they were in the original Basecamp project. Then you have a complete archive of everything in one place.

If you want to give it a try just send me an email. You can watch a two-minute video demonstration at

The Parachute website is

(We don't have Dropbox integration yet, but we'll look at that for a future version.)

Mike Davis said...

Centripetal Software has been providing a complete HTML export as a part of our Basecamp backups. Our HTML exports include links to all files in all of your projects as well as all Writeboards in all of your projects. Backups are automated and, being a hosted service, we manage the updates to the software for our customers when the Basecamp pages and APIs change.

Anonymous said...

Great commentary guys and informative for our members who are looking at backups for our Snap Integrations we do on the platform. The systems are enterprise level to our SaaS Snap Apps but seems to be the same idea.

Will definitely be putting a post on our facebook page for our members this weekend.

Hugo, love the blog and Rework write-up!


Ilyse Kazar said...

Well, CentriPetal Software has vanished, and anyhow according to Mike Davis's post their backup was not truly taking your files, just links to your files. Parachute is Windows-only, doesn't help someone like me (nor many of my colleagues).

I'd suggest to all here that you have a look at TeamworkPM, much like Basecamp except *much faster*, with ability to prioritize tasks, and they respect that your data is *your data* and let you backup by means of a SQL dump. AS IT SHOULD BE.