May 04, 2005
Backpack: Underwhelming

While I can see the point of Basecamp ("The simplest thing that could possibly work" for project management), Backpack seems utterly pointless. It's an "almost wiki" where each wikipage consists of multiple data items, combined with a TODO list. Pages have access controls and there's a simple email=>wiki update feature where you can do an edit to a wiki page by sending an email.
Augmented wikis are done better elsewhere.
Parts of the application simply shouldn't have been released, since they are clearly not done yet. The "email this page" feature is horribly implemented. First of all - to email a page you have to use a special "email key" as the address. Having a hard to remember email address to keep track of outside your personal organiser application kind of defeats the purpose of an organiser, no? There are simpler and better ways to handle the security issues of email, e.g. the way JotSpot does the it. And when you do send an email to a page, what you get is an embedded subject line, which links to a page with this inviting look. Incidentally, I did not set up this page to be public. Access control just isn't working yet for embedded email.
There's no easy to find search for your data. I thought GMail had made that mandatory for this kind of application.

The most impressive thing is the hype/content ratio on this project - almost enterprise grade. The hypefest here really tested my gag reflex.
But the worst thing is actually this: I don't think the 37 signallers realize they just created a "me too" product of the worst kind. There is nothing new here that isn't in several open source packages and/or one of the other social software products. No convincing extra simplicity, no fresh new UI ideas.

Posted by Claus at May 04, 2005 01:37 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments (post your own)

Thanks for alerting us to the problem with emails in the clear. That has been fixed. Hopefully you'll find what you're looking for in another product.

Posted by: David Heinemeier Hansson on May 5, 2005 7:52 PM

I'm sure I will - Twiki or Jotspot will do just fine. Or GMail for that matter. Search handles a lot of the problems you're trying to address.

There's simply nothing that is easy to do with backpack that wasn't already easy with existing wikis or blogging tools.

Posted by: Claus on May 5, 2005 7:55 PM

That's surely in the eye of the beholder. As a heavy wiki user in the past, I for one naturally disagree. That's even after I developed Instiki, which tries to take a lot of the pain out of the wiki idea. But Backpack can't appeal to all. Just like pure wikis don't appeal to a lot of people.

Posted by: David Heinemeier Hansson on May 6, 2005 11:25 AM

Backpack: File not found

Whoops, that isn't a valid web address

... resistance is futile, negativity is irrelevant.

Posted by: Fez on May 6, 2005 11:25 AM

David: I you can sell this tiny feature set as some kind of "sweet spot" more power to you, but after thinking a while I actually think you have violated the "write less software" principle on backpack. Any plain old wiki, certainly Ward Conninghams original is much simpler than backpack. Simpler means less confusing.
I think it's a critical error that there's no search button.

Fez: The link used to lead to an ugly, contextless uninformative view of only the subject and body of an email. Copy:
I think the new version is better. From a security standpoint you don't want to tell people whether the URL they use is just wrong or whethet they're not authenticated.

Posted by: Claus on May 6, 2005 11:44 AM
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