Hurting your partners the Basecamp way
I was recently pointed towards this thread on github which I read with growing horror as the thread developed.
Now, fair disclosure – I’ve never really liked Basecamp. In the words of an old friend, they appear to have confused “simple” with “simplistic” and released a product that left me in the position where I always wished it did more than it did. As a result, I’ve only ever used it when customers require it for their projects.
However, the discussion on that thread isn’t related to the product per se, but rather the release of the new version of Basecamp. As developers occasionally need to do from time to time, they’ve rewritten the product. This does occasionally happen when you reach a point where design decisions were made on assumptions that are no longer true – often due to growth. Fact of life. No problems here.
The problem comes in how Basecamp have approached their partners – Basecamp is at its heart an end-user-focused application and some of the principles outlined in the book that they released back in 2006 hold well with that ethos. The problem they have is that along the way, they have taken a product decision to allow integration with third party apps via their API – so when they released v3 of Basecamp and focused around their users, they left their partners in the dark.
My biggest problem with this whole situation is that Basecamp could easily have avoided this if they’d clearly communicated with their partners – a group of people who Basecamp have to engage with in a singularly different way to their end users. Had they said, back in November, “hey, look, v3 is coming out but because it’s a rewrite the API will be different and not backwards compatible, so you need to tell your users that” then I’m sure the partners would have been unhappy but could do something about it. Even identifying which version a user was using based on the old API would have been useful so that at least the third party app could pop up an alert.
Instead Basecamp have strung their partners along for the ride for several months, all the time promising an API “real soon, now!”. As a result, end users who felt, like me, that the product needed extras and used third parties who used the API to implement those extras are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. Companies who wrote integrations are facing a real problem, especially if they’re small shops whose business models rely on this integration.
Maybe I spend too much of my time in a world where APIs, resilience and reliability are “table stakes”. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by companies who place the importance of integration front and centre of their product strategy. Maybe I’m too used to companies who understand how their users use and perceive their products and are willing to communicate clearly to those “users”, whether they’re end-users or third party integrators.
Maybe, once again, I’m just expecting too much from Basecamp.