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Basecamp was under network attack this morning

David
David wrote this on 12 comments

Criminals attacked the Basecamp network with a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) this morning. The attackers tried to extort us for money to make it stop. We refused to give in and worked with our network providers to mitigate the attack the best we could. Then, about two hours after the attack started, it suddenly stopped.

We’ve been in contact with multiple other victims of the same group, and unfortunately the pattern in those cases were one of on/off attacks. So while things are currently back to normal for almost everyone (a few lingering network quarantine issues remain, but should be cleared up shortly), there’s no guarantee that the attack will not resume.

So for the time being we remain on high alert. We’re collaborating with the other victims of the same group and with law enforcement. These criminals are sophisticated and well-armed.

Still, we want to apologize for such mayhem on a Monday morning. Basecamp, and our other services, are an integral part of how most of our customers get work done. While no data was compromised in this attack, not being able to get to your data when you need it is unacceptable.

During the attack we were able to keep everyone up to date using a combination of status.basecamp.com, Twitter, and an off-site Gist (thank you GitHub!). We’ll use the same channels in case we’re attacked again. If the attack does not resume, we will post a complete technical postmortem within 48 hours.

We want to thank all our customers who were affected by this outage for their patience and support. It means the world to us. Thank you.

Finding your workbench muse

David
David wrote this on 21 comments

Much intellectual capital is spent examining the logical advantages and disadvantages of our programming tools. Much ego invested in becoming completely objective examiners of productivity. The exalted ideal: To have no emotional connection to the workbench.

Hogs and wash. There is no shame in being inspired by your tools. There is no shame in falling in love with your tools. Nobody would chastise a musician for clinging to their favorite, out-dated, beat-up guitar for that impossible to explain “special” sound. Some authors even still write their manuscripts on actual type writers, just for the love of it.

This highlights the tension between programmers as either engineers or craftsmen. A false dichotomy, but a prevalent one. It’s entirely possible to dip inspiration and practice from both cans.

I understand where it’s coming from, of course—strong emotions often run counter to good arguments. It’s hard to convince people who’ve declared their admiration or love of something otherwise. Foolhardy, even. It can make other types of progress harder. If we all fell madly in love with Fortran and punch cards, would that still be the state of the art?

I find the benefits far outweigh the risks, though. We don’t have to declare our eternal fidelity to our tools for them to serve as our muse in the moment. And in that moment, we can enjoy the jolt of energy that can come from using a tool fitting your hand or mind just right. It’s exhilarating.

So much so that it’s worth accepting the limitations of your understanding. Why do I enjoy Ruby so very much? Well, there’s a laundry list of specific features and values to point to, but that still wouldn’t add up to the total sum. I’ve stopped questioning it constantly, and instead just embraced it.

Realizing that it’s not entirely rational, or explainable, also frees you from necessarily having to push your muse unto others. It’s understandable to be proud and interested in inviting others to share in your wonder, but mainly if they haven’t already found their own.

If someone is already beholden to Python, and you can sense that glow, then trying to talk them into Ruby isn’t going to get you anywhere. Just be happy that they too found their workbench muse.

At the end of the day, nobody should tell you how to feel about your tools (let alone police it out of you, under the guise of what’s proper for an engineer). There’s no medal for appearances, only great work.

Drawing Trouble

Nate Otto
Nate Otto wrote this on 13 comments

One of the fun aspects of illustrating for the new basecamp.com marketing site is getting assignments from Jamie, Jason, and Mig. One of my favorite briefs I got was “can you illustrate browser trouble?”

Upon getting art requests, I usually search to see if there’s a standardized image for the concept. In this case I didn’t find any imagery that rose to the level of iconic, or was particularly interesting or clear. I opted to start from scratch.

Hmmm, browser trouble

Broken windows, bugs, injuries, cracked screens, dizzy people? I drew a page of visual brainstorms and posted it on our Basecamp project.

Whoever assigns me a drawing—in this case, Jamie—reviews my explorations and then ask me to flesh out one of the directions. Jamie liked the guy with the computer head and suggested that there be a browser window with a frown face.

I drew up another page with color.

With that, Jamie got back to me with “Awesome.”

I waited to see how the image would be implemented. Working with the Basecamp design team is great for me because I’m not particularly strong in Photoshop or Illustrator—those guys are all ninjas. I like to draw, and that is how my time is spent most efficiently.

Usually I have no idea how the images are going to be used until they are implemented live on the website, which is fine by me. I like the surprise of finding a fully rendered web page with my drawings.

Hopefully it is a page you will never have to find.

Yelp's nice settings toggle

Jamie
Jamie wrote this on 5 comments

Yelp updated their Privacy Policy so now businesses can get some insight on their customers. The nice thing is Yelp gives you a preview of how your information would appear to these businesses.

You can Change Privacy Settings to toggle between how much info you want to reveal. As a Yelp user I’m not passive in this. I’m given a choice. I thought this was a pretty cool interaction—a nicely done modal.

The Category Moat

Ryan
Ryan wrote this on 15 comments

A few of us at Basecamp became fans of the “job to be done” framework taught by Clay Christensen, Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek. The core idea is that what you are selling and what people are buying are two different things. Understanding what people are trying to do with your product helps you know whether you’re getting hotter or colder as you consider changes to your product.

For example, we think we’re selling a project management product. But some people really use our tool and pay us every month to manage their clients. The projects were always fine—it’s the clients that are a challenge! That’s just one example.

Clay has suggested (eg. here) that when you identify what people truly use your product to accomplish, you protect yourself from competition. He’s a smart man, so when he says something odd like that I try to dig in. I’m starting to see what he means.

It’s natural to identify with a product category. You think “we make product management software” or “we make candy bars” because you have to explain yourself over and over. It’s always easier to use available categories than to invent new ones. It’s just like language. We speak the lexicon instead of inventing words.

But for people who want to innovate, this is a problem. Identifying with a product category is outsourcing your strategy to the past. Is the world really carved up into allowable product categories? No. We are all figuring this stuff out every day. Experience shows that amazing breakouts and surprise successes competed on unorthodox dimensions (see Blue Ocean Strategy for examples).

Bob tells the story of a clock maker. They sell an alarm clock for small kids who started sleeping in their own room. It’s not a normal alarm clock. It has an arrow that points to whether the kid is supposed to be in bed or whether he is allowed to get up. That way he doesn’t go running into his parents’ room until after a reasonable hour.

If you think this product is a clock then it’s in the clock category in the clock aisle with a clock price. But parents who bought the clock said they would pay $100 or more for it because it keeps the kid out of their room. It’s a sleep protector.

So how does thinking outside the category protect us from competition? I’ve been conducting interviews with Basecamp customers, and I’m feeling first hand how tricky it is to think outside of a category. You don’t have a shorthand. You don’t have words and feature lists given to you. It’s like you’re floating out in space with nothing to grab onto.

That’s the key. The fact that it’s so hard to think outside of a category is the moat. Staying focused on why you made the features you did, what specific situations call for them, and how that combo creates progress for people requires diligence and confidence and unyielding attention to actual behavior. Sticking to the truth of the matter instead of the walls of a category keeps you on your own path and away from the pitfalls of conventional thinking. That’s hard to compete with.

Going Rogue With Basecamp

Dan Kim
Dan Kim wrote this on 18 comments

The last company I worked for was huge – roughly 550x the size of Basecamp! Not surprisingly, we had every “enterprise” app in the book. You know, the ones with features that make the procurement department happy, but make actual users miserable.

I’d been a longtime Basecamp user before I got there, so I was keen to get our team using it. I knew from experience that a small team, even in a huge company, could do great work together by using it.

So I started lobbying, pitching, selling, and borderline begging to get a Basecamp subscription. But nobody would listen – it wasn’t on the magical “approved vendor list” (Don’t get me started on what a racket that is!)

Confining myself to the dark ages of enterprise apps didn’t sound like much fun. So as desperation set in, I took a gamble – I signed up for Basecamp anyway. Ask for forgiveness, not permission, right? Within minutes we were setup and no one was the wiser. Until now. ;)

It’d be fair to ask, “why take a risk like that, hacking around the system?” Believe me, it wasn’t because I enjoyed breaking the rules. It was simply this: doing good work was important to me. That meant keeping our team of fifteen people (not a thousand) focused and happy. It meant that the software we used 100 times a day had to be easy, even enjoyable. Procurement-selected software was never going to be that.

That got me wondering. I can’t be the only person who’s gone rogue to use Basecamp, right? I bet there are a bunch of you out there who’ve done the same, bending the rules to use Basecamp when you weren’t really supposed to. And I bet that makes for some great war stories.

So let’s hear them! If you’ve got such a story, shoot me an email at dan@basecamp.com with [ROGUE] in the subject line. Tell us how you’re using Basecamp under the radar, why you’re doing it, and how it’s going. We’ll read them all and share the good ones with everyone – 100% anonymously, and with your permission only of course!

It’s so humbling to hear about our loyal customers going out of their way to use Basecamp. So to all our customers – rogue or otherwise – thanks for trusting us with the things that are important to you. We love how much you love Basecamp, and we’ve got some exciting times ahead of us!

App Store Ratings Mystery

Jamie
Jamie wrote this on 32 comments

All software developers want to get good ratings in the app store. That’s how customers judge the quality of your app. The other desirable metric is quantity of ratings—the number of people who have reviewed the app. It’s hard enough to get good ratings, it’s even harder to get a lot of people to review your app.
Here’s the mystery.
Basecamp for iOS has been out for over a year and has received 578 ratings (as of today).

Basecamp for Android has only been out for a few weeks, yet it has 358 ratings (as of today). That’s over half of the number of ratings we got for the iOS version which has been available for over a year.

Do Android users like to review apps? Do iOS users hate to review apps? Is Google’s Play Store designed so it’s easier to rate apps? I have no idea, but I’m curious about this uptick in Android ratings.
What do you think?

Join our team: We're hiring a product designer.

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on Discuss

We’re looking to add another product designer to our team! We don’t hire for this position often, so we really savor moments like these. We’re eagerly anticipating hearing from you.

Besides design, your job is to make an undeniably positive impact on our company, our culture, our products, and our customers. As long as you make your best effort, and you love to learn, we will do everything we can to support you creatively and help you do the best work of your life.

Product designers at Basecamp are always working on different things. You may be working on polishing up an existing feature, pitching and designing something brand new, or fundamentally rethinking how we do something. You could be working on the web or you could be exploring designs and interactions for a native mobile app. Projects at Basecamp always start with design, so you’ll constantly have the opportunity to lead us in new directions. Challenge us! Push us! Be original and show us the way!

Besides having great visual taste, talent, and the right sensibilities, you must write well-structured HTML/CSS. Basic Javascript or Rails skills are a plus, but not required. Experience designing for iOS and Android is also a plus. Great writing skills are required.

We are not looking for someone who’s already expert in everything they do. We’re looking for someone great who demonstrates the interest, drive, and desire to keep learning new things and continually get better.

At Basecamp you’ll be working with great people. Friendly, talented, original folks from dozens of cities around the world. The people who work here have a wide variety of interests and interesting life experiences. You’ll have a chance to learn from some of the best people you’ve ever met. And we’ll get to learn from you. We’d love for you be part of our patchwork.

Working as a product designer at Basecamp is a unique opportunity. We have a small team, so you won’t be one of dozens. You’ll be one of a few, so your impact will be felt inside and outside the company. You’ll be working on a product that is used by millions of people. You will help drive us in new directions. You’ll help us see things we haven’t seen before, consider things we’ve never considered before, and bring fresh perspective to our team. Brighten us up and put a big smile on our customers’ faces.

You love to write, too. You understand that copywriting is design. The words matter as much as the pixels. Great visuals with weak words are poor designs. You should care about how things are phrased as much as you care about how they look.

We’re open to hiring the best person no matter where they are. If you’re in Chicago we have an open desk for you in our office. But more than half of our company works remotely all over the world, so you’re welcome to be part of the team no matter where you live. If you do want to relocate to Chicago we’re open to that as well.

How to apply

Send relevant work samples, and anything else that will make you stand out, to jason@basecamp.com. Extra effort and personal touches will be looked upon favorably. Show us how much you want this job and not just any job. Please include [DESIGN] in the subject of the email.

It doesn’t matter where you went to school, or if you even graduated. It doesn’t matter if this is your first job or your fifth. Doing great work and being driven to improve yourself and everything you touch is what matters.

If we think you’ll be a good fit, we’ll be back in touch with step two of the application process.

Giving less advice

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 20 comments

I’m often asked for advice. I’ve decided it’s time I give less of it. There are things I used to know that I just don’t know anymore. I should stop talking about those things – it’s unfair to anyone who’s listening.

If you want advice on product design, copywriting, reducing complexity, business strategy for a well-established small business, or building a team – happy to help. I know I can be valuable there because those are things I’m thinking about and working on every day. I’m current.

But if you want advice on how to start a new business, how to get your first customer, how to hire your first employee, or anything related to starting something brand new, I’m not your man. It’s been 15 years since I started my company. I just don’t remember what it’s like anymore. I’m out of touch.

Advice, like fruit, is best when it’s fresh. But advice quickly decays, and 15 year-old advice is bound to be radioactive. Sharing a life experience is one thing (grandparents are great at this – listen to them!), but advice is another thing. Don’t give advice about things you used to know. Just because you did something a long time ago doesn’t mean you’re qualified to talk about it today.

Think you’ll get a good answer from a 30 year old telling you what it’s like to be 15? Or a 20 year old remembering what it’s like to be 5? Shit, I’m about to turn 40, and all I remember about being 25 is that I wasn’t 26. How clearly do you really remember anything from 15 years ago? And how many of those memories are actually marred by time and current experiences? How many of those things really happened the way you recall them today?

If you want to know what it’s like to start a business, talk to someone who just successfully started one. If you want to know what it’s like to hire your first employee, talk to someone who just successfully hired theirs. If you want to know what it’s like to make an investment, talk to someone who just made a successful one.

While distance from the event itself can provide broader perspective, the closer you get to the event, the fresher the experience. If I want to know what something’s really like, I’d take a fresh recollection over a fuzzy memory. I think the same is true for advice.

Google Play Banner Design

Jamie
Jamie wrote this on 3 comments

Apple provides a nice “Smart App Banner” hook for developers to promote their iOS apps from within their web apps. Unfortunately Google doesn’t have anything like this for the Play Store. Now that we have Basecamp for Android, we want to promote it to customers using Basecamp on their phone browsers.
Thanks to GitHub there are a few nice solutions:


These combine both iOS and Google Play designs which we didn’t really need. In the end we rolled our own solution, but I based the banner design on Vitaly Glibin’s Smart App Banner.

I uploaded a working version of the HTML to GitHub. Please feel free to use this design to promote your apps in Google Play. Thanks again to Vitaly’s Smart App Banner for the inspiration.
And if you’re an Android user get the Basecamp app on Google Play!

Prophet: My first commercial web site design project (1996)

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 22 comments

With the big name change from 37signals to Basecamp, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic. So I decided to go back to the beginning and dig up some old work. Thank you Wayback Machine!.

Back in 1996, I landed my first web design freelance gig. I was still in college, so this was very much a part time endeavor. I learned basic HTML by viewing source and deconstructing other sites. I knew my way around Photoshop 3 just enough to be dangerous. So it was time to do some selling.

I looked around the web for sites that I thought I could improve. My interest was in finance at the time, so I reached out to a variety of financial sites. I often sent a short email to whatever email address I could find on a given site. Usually it was webmaster@domain.com.

I don’t have any of those original emails anymore, but they went something like this:

Hi there-

My name is Jason. I'm a web designer in Tucson Arizona.

I think your site is pretty good, but I think I can make it better. If you'd like, I'd be happy to put together a one page redesign of your home page to show you what I can do. It'll take about a week.

Let me know if you're interested.

Thanks!

-Jason

As you might imagine, hardly anyone returned my email. But a few did. And one of those folks was Tim Knight, the owner of Prophet Information Systems.

Tim took me up on the offer, so I whipped up a quick redesign idea for him. Unfortunately I don’t have that work handy anymore, but ultimately it was good enough for him to hear me out on a complete redesign.

I pitched him a full site redesign (which I think was a few “templates” and a home page) for $600. He bought it. Tim became my first ever web design client. He was the first person to really bet on me like that. I’ll never forget that.

I can’t remember if I met with Tim in person before I delivered the first few design ideas, but we met a few times during the project. His company (which was just him) was based out in Palo Alto. So I’d find some time to head out there on the weekends in between classes. Or maybe I skipped classes, I don’t remember.

We went back and forth via email and phone and finally we landed on something we were both happy with.

So here’s the big reveal. Here’s my first ever commercial web design project from back in 1996.

The home page / splash page looked like this.

When you clicked enter, you went to a menu page. Remember when web sites had splash pages and menu pages? It was such a simpler, clearer time back then. Here’s what the menu page looked liked:

If you clicked one of the links, you’d end up on a page like this:

One of the things I really miss about that era of web design was the “links” page. Most sites back then linked up other sites that they liked or respected. It was a cool mutual admiration society back then. Companies weren’t afraid of sending their traffic elsewhere – we were all so blown away that you could actually links to other sites that we all did it so generously. Here was the links page at Prophet:

Last, one of the other things I really miss about that era was the ability to sign your work. There was often an understanding between the designer and the owner that you could have a credits page or a link at the bottom of the site showing who did the work. So here was the credits page (“Spinfree” was my freelance name):

You can actually walk through the whole site using the Wayback Machine. Here’s Prophet Information Services as it was in October of 1996.

It’s fun to look back and see where you started, who took a shot on you, how you did, and where you’ve been since. I’m so grateful that Tim saw enough of something in me to give me a chance (or maybe he just saw a cheap $600 price tag ;). Regardless, it changed everything for me.

Tim also taught me a lot about technical trading, so not only did I get $600 and my first client, but I learned a bunch too. I was a finance major, so it was fun to get some real-life exposure to technical trading. They didn’t teach this stuff in school, and Tim was a good mentor. I couldn’t ask for anything more. In the years after, I did a few more site designs for Tim at Prophet. He was a great client.

Here’s Tim today on LinkedIn. He blogs at Slope of Hope. In 2010 he wrote a book on technical trading called Chart Your Way To Profits. And to complete the small world loop, Tim has a show on TastyTrade network which is based here in Chicago. Good times.

So what about you? Who gave you your first shot? Who was your first client? Care to share some (embarrassing) early work?