Wednesday, May 4

I love Backpack - On 37 Signals' new PIM, the ever evolving tech bloom, and the democratization and socialization of everything

Wow, so I'm like trying out Backpackit.com and it frigin' rocks!

Backpack is a complete original. Backpack is brilliantly original in fact! 37 Signals actually hit the nail on the head with Backpack's usability, accessibility and placement of the product! In short they met a need I never knew I had. That's impressive, it's also very pleasantly surprising. Pleasant surprises should be a marketing technique we all aspire to, it's so underestimated what with sex appeal and celebrity endorsements and all.

Enough of the compliments though. There's so much hype out there already I could piss on your shoe and tell you it's raining, but what's the sense in that? Let's get to the criticism. (Evil grin. :)

If Backpack has a flaw it is that it's not quite aimed at the same power user, techno elite demographic as Flickr and Del.icio.us. (Read "It's not quite aimed at me.") In other words it's not robust enough yet to make it indispensable to we the power user techno elite. Snobs that we are.

Backpack needs slightly more robust features on both the free and pay services. It needs a more inviting yearly price break. It needs an ironclad guarantee that data will never be lost or service terminated. I'm not going to pay $10 or $20 dollars a month for anything unless I know my data is going to be around for a long, long time. I don't turn my day to day life management over to just anyone. We're not talking monthly commitments here, we're talking a long term commitment. This means the feature curve has to be a little more robust on the free services, and a little more long term on the full-service packages. How bout an introductory yearly offer? Flickr's down to $25 a year (a complete STEAL BTW) I would think Backpack could enter the mass market at a nice $35 or $45 a year as opposed to the $5 a month price plan.

Calendaring? -- I like the fact that it integrates with Apple's iCal after all I'm one of those Apple freaks, but what about Outlook, Mozilla Calendar or other non-Apple, Microsoft platform software. Also, it doesn't seem to have an actual calendar, just alerts. While alerts are great for 99% of things, sometimes I MUST see how my day lays out.

Visualization of time is a key component to personal information management. This may be Backpack's one weakness... My first impression is it may well require a calendar in order to take over my everyday task management. But, perhaps I will be wrong... only time will tell.

RSS! -- I love the RSS feed on the Changes page, however their should be RSS on every page. Sometimes I just want changes for X page, X project or X to do list.

Alarms! -- Backpacks's best feature is that it can send alerts to my cell phone. This is te' BOMB! I can't think of any place I'd rather receive alerts. Simple discrete, and I'll never miss them. On a side note, this must have required hella tech to integrate. Someday I'm going to have to look into it.

Sharing! -- I'm not sure yet how I'm going to use sharing in the day to day, but damn, I'm sure within a week I'll have discovered 57 ways to use sharing. Collaboration is key. I think?

WYSIWYG editing? -- Ouch. Backpack's baby flaw. There's some deficiency in WYSIWYG editing on Backpack. Precisely, I don't see any WYSIWYG editing at all. Backpack really needs to use WYSWYG editing. Really. They seem to use a very simplified wiki markup language and don't support HTML at all. :(

Inviting! -- Yes it is! Backpack is very inviting. I was completely suckered in by the free services and the simplest signup process evar. Yes, evar! How could you not immediately fall in love with this app. I just want to hug it and squeeze it and call it George.

Outliner? -- While simple task management is a great feature in Backpack what I'm really wanting and dying to see in the next generation is some hierarchy to my tasks. Sub-tasks if you will, but it's more than that. What Backpack needs is a full-on outliner. Once Backpack steps it up to this next level they'll be no stopping it. Let's not forget OPML export and even an OPML subscription mechanism. Does anyone have an OPML subscription tool? I'm thinking CVS OPML. :)

Open source? -- Yes, I really am the devil, but, can I get this in open source? Friends will tell you I'm a freak about transparency but what if Backpack was offered as an installable source package. It doesn't need to be open source necessarily, but what about offering it up like Moveabletype's famous blog package. Imagine what developers might do with this package for $500 a license. Imagine the future of not only Backpack but also Basecamp, 37 Signals' full-on project management package. Imagine enterprise licensing. Imagine community projects sites. Imagine, NFP group-ware. Oooh, I salivate. Millions of dollars, and yet it doesn't undermine Backpack and Basecamp's general public user base (aka. market) either. Eat shit yahoo calendar!

I wish i could install it on my server, integrate it with my blog, a wiki, who knows what else. That's all. Is that so evil?

Will it hit it's market? -- I have no doubt it will have some success, but I'm not sure it will have quite the widespread, critical mass appeal of Flickr or even del.icio.us unless there's some radical new feature updates. I'm going to gamble on it though and say with such a GREAT start that the guys (and gals) at 37 Signals are brilliant enough to keep adding features like calendaring and outlining that will make this an indispensable and unique tool that will kick the snot out of any calendaring and task managing tools that Yahoo and other portals have. Note to 37 Signals' people: I offer you my services, even if you only want my maniacal ideas. (I'm your biggest fan. ;)

And where's the coup d'etat? Where does Backpack go so right?

The core to Backpack's uniqueness is it's designed to be a SOCIAL tool. That's right! Social is the word.

We've seen web based task managers and calendars before and many of those out there like that integrated into Yahoo's personal web mail are still more robust than Backpack. Sure Backpack is revolutionary in it's ease of use, and bravo for that, but usability is not a product, it makes a product better. As Dow would say, "We don't make the product we make it better." What really makes Backpack click is that it was designed from the bottom up to be a social tool, a tool for collaboration.

Back in the day when Yahoo and all the portals were developing tools like Yahoo groups or integrated calendaring services to go with your personal web mail we'd not yet learned a thing about "social networking" and "social engineering". We were just making "tools" and stuff that worked. I guess we didn't know crap about usability or accessibility in those days either. We'd barely begun to understand how one person would use such tools let alone how many people would collaborate with them. There was only public and private. What years of revolutionary but ultimately self indulgent social networking tools like Friendster and Orkut (sorry guys, social networking is a means to an end, NOT a means unto itself) have taught us are that the future of building web based tools is NOT building Microsoft Word in a web interface, but in creating tools for ubiquitous social collaboration and communication.

For years people like the CEO of Oracle and large venders including Microsoft had hazy dreams of "thin-client" applications these drove Java and Flash technologies on the web, but in the end they were wrong. Dead wrong. The value in such web based applications is in their ubiquity. There is no purpose in having a word processor online or for that matter a to do list... unless.... unless it can go anywhere and do anything and collaborate with anyone. That is to say, unless it can go social. Today's Microsoft Word is the wiki.

What we've learned from all the social tools like blogs, wikis, and bulletin boards over the last few years has cleared the way for this whole new generation of web based software tools. Sure we've got these so called "Ajax" browser based interactivity frameworks that make internet based apps like Google Maps and Backpack so damn fun and easy to use... but... and I say this being an obsessive UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) freak.... the real revolution here is the social evolution.

What makes these new web based services like Backpack, Flickr, Del.icio.us and such rock is that they're all informed by new ideas from the "social revolution" that has come about in the last couple of years on the internet. What's driving this new boom of web based application design and development is the democratization of all things... from media to product management, to encyclopedias, to personal information management and project management.

What happens when all the world has access to a project manager? How about an enterprise development manager? The best encyclopedias? The coolest, latest greatest tools? What happens when "amateurs" have access? They fuck things up right? Wrong. I'll tell you what happens... they build even cooler shit for each other. (Damn, why does the world make me have to cuss so much.)

Welcome to the latest tech bloom, the next evolution, Web 2.0.x. We're soon to see what happens when democratization goes beyond email and blogs and wiki's. We're soon to see what happens when democratization happens in the rest of the media, the really really rich debate. The one with people yammering and stuttering all across the planet in simultaneous mass amateurized debate. The hallmark of this next evolution will be democratized media and Web 2.x starts with audio and video. It's time to break mass communications out of the box and see what next happens when all the world has equal access to all the to the the great debate shaper...

...and stuff.

Never forget the stuff. As a great man once said, to paraphrase, we do all that other stuff because we must, but this other stuff is WHY we do all that stuff. It really does make it all worth while. Don't you think?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm let down with backpack. Hosted wikis like jotspot.com (commercial) and schtuff.com (free) offer the user alot more in the way of shareing, sorting, tagging etc. Maybe I should go back to running twiki locally.

Anonymous said...

The beauty of Backpack is that it IS less. And in the case of personal and small biz organization, less is often more. Less fields you need to fll out. Less structure. Less features to get in the way. More of what you really need - open space, flexibility, and speed.

Ali Daniali said...

I love Backpack, so I decided to write an add-on that captures my voice messages and puts it into my Backpack. When I'm on the road and need to remember somthing I call it and leave my messages.

It knows up to 3 different numbers.

So if my wife only wants to leave me a message, she calls it from the house and leaves me a message.

Because it's not calling my phone directly, it won't interupt my cell phone, and I can get it without having to dial into my voicemail box from my cell phone.

The best part is that it's totally free!

Try it at http://www.celltell.tv/backpack

-AD

Ali Daniali said...

I love Backpack, so I decided to write an add-on that captures my voice messages and puts it into my Backpack. When I'm on the road and need to remember somthing I call it and leave my messages.

It knows up to 3 different numbers.

So if my wife only wants to leave me a message, she calls it from the house and leaves me a message.

Because it's not calling my phone directly, it won't interupt my cell phone, and I can get it without having to dial into my voicemail box from my cell phone.

The best part is that it's totally free!

Try it at http://www.celltell.tv/backpack

-AD

Anonymous said...

you can get it without having to dial into my voicemail box from my cell phone?

Anonymous said...

Less features to get in the way. More of what you really need - open space, flexibility, and speed.links of london