Automattic finds a better way to Twitter

There is some buzz around the announcement of Prologue, Automattic’s – the makers of WordPress – new ‘group twitter’ application. It seems to be more of a presence tool than anything else:

We’re fans of Twitter around here, in fact many Automatticians have accounts, but while the format appealed to us it really just whetted our appetite for something more, like a way for each of us to share short messages about what we’re doing or working on internally, or private messages between groups of folks.

As you can see on my blog below, I do use twitter from time to time, but I haven’t really found it to be too useful for a business setting. Prologue, however, may open up the possibilities to improve group interaction when dealing with people in disparate settings. There are more than a few people who have already compared Prologue to 37Signals’ Basecamp. I think Basecamp is a more rigid, traditional project management application, but I can see some similarities here.

Read more here.

37Signals’ Backpack gets an update

There are few web 2.0 companies that get as much positive buzz as 37Signals does. For the uninitiated, 37Signals is the company behind some of the more practical web applications and productivity tools available today. One of their most popular applications, Backpack, was recently updated. Essentially, backpack is a light wiki-type application that allows you to create task lists, manage notes, and store files all within a simple/elegant web interface. When first launched a couple of years ago, Backpack received enormous amount of buzz, and helped catapult 37Signals into the web 2.0 mainstream. In recent times, however, Backpack had fallen behind in updates, and quite a few users openly wondered if 37Signals had abandoned the project. While the company might have put Backpack on the back burner, it has re-assumed center stage with some nice tweaks and enhancements to the interface. A complete list of updates can be seen here.

Search, finally


I’ve used Backpack, on and off, since it’s inception. The application is deceptively simple, but can also be very frustrating. One of the major frustrations that drove me away from daily Backpack use was the lack of a search capability. Well, as you can see on the right, that has been corrected. Can you imagine having a central repository of notes, ideas, or tasks that didn’t have any ability to search? Just by adding a search capability, 37Signals has substantially enhanced the usability of Backpack. Search is not perfect, as it only presents back the page on which a searched term resides.

Move stuff around

Another major complaint about Backpack was the inability to move sections (lists, notes, attachments, etc.) from page to page. 37Signals had already incorporated a slick drag-drop capability to move stuff around within a page, but not to other pages. This has now been fixed. Sections can be dragged onto other pages, and sections can be moved about anywhere on a given page. This is really, really nice. One big miss here is that individual list items can’t be moved from page to page. I’d certainly like to see that sometime soon.

There are a bunch of other tweaks worth checking out. Overall, this is a worthy upgrade to Backpack, not a huge improvement, but they’ve addressed many shortcomings in this iteration.

By the way, Satchel users will be happy to hear that the upgrade only caused minor hiccups in the ability to synchronize Backpack with the PalmOS based Satchel.

Highrise, 37Signals finally ready to reveal it’s contact management application

More than a year ago, I wrote about 37Signals’ plans to unveil a ‘CRM type’ application to go along with their wildly successful Basecamp and Backpack online applications. What was then referred to as ‘Sunrise’ has now morphed into ‘Highrise’ just as details are beginning to emerge. The original announcement hinted at a CRM style solution, while today’s announcement lays out a more modest vision. Instead of trying to address the sales force automation (pipelines, opportunity management, etc.) aspect of CRM tools, Highrise will help you track the relationships in your business (and personal) life. 37Signals expects to slowly reveal the features of the new tool in the coming days leading up to launch. If you’d like to get in on that launch, be sure to register here.

Like their other online applications, it looks like 37Signals is painting with a broad brush stroke. Already there are some people complaining about this feature or that feature that hasn’t made the cut. Yes, Highrise does not live up to the expectations that were created by pre-announcing Sunrise, but I don’t think anyone will doubt the usefulness of the application when it does launch. From what I’ve read, so far, it doesn’t look like a legitimate replacement for my SugarCRM deployment. But, then again, I can’t wait to see what these guys have come up with.

Satchel: A new way to interact with 37Signals’ Backpack emerges for PalmOS users

I have to admit that I’ve been a spotty user of 37Signals’ Backpack service ever since they unleashed it into the wild. Although I love the ability to setup pages to track all kinds of odds and ends, several annoyances have gotten in the way of me becoming a devoted Backpack user. There are the obvious omissions – no search, not inherently easy to move tasks from list to list, etc. The most overlooked annoyance, however, is that Backpack isn’t really portable. You’d think that a service called Backpack would be, you know, portable?

37Signals addresses this shortcoming by granting outside developers access to a rich API (application programming interface) set, effectively empowering outsiders to craft their own tweaks to the Backpack core. From a portability perspective, most of the API-based development has been relegated to Apple Mac users. There is also a nice Yahoo! Widget available that gives you desktop access to Backpack, although it doesn’t provide true portability. Less has been done, however, for true portability via PDA or smartphone. 37Signals themselves built a spartan mobile interface which allows for the most basic Backpack portability possible (as seen to the left). I’ve never been a fan of this interface. It fails on three fronts. First, while it’s simple – it may be too simple. It just doesn’t feel as intuitive as it should be. I know that designing an interface for mobile devices is extremely difficult, given the wide variety of browsers, screen sizes, etc, but Backpack’s mobile interface doesn’t cut it for me…not to mention that mobile browsers tend to be slow, even if you’re on a wireless broadband network. Second, the mobile interface requires a password to login every time it’s accessed (at least that is the case on a Treo)…not good for rapid entry and access. Finally, this mobile interface doesn’t provide true portability; in other words, you still cannot take your Backpack offline.

All of these factors have kept me from adopting Backpack as a comprehensive task, notes master. I’m also very committed to David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, so contextual access to my task lists is absolutely critical. To be a true GTD centric application, offline task lists are key to making contextual access possible.

Enter Satchel

After many stops and starts with Backpack since it’s release (like many GTD’ers I tend to look for different ways to be productive all the time), I finally came across a near perfect implementation of Backpack portability in Satchel. Satchel is a Backpack API dependent application that runs on PalmOS (Access) PDAs and Smartphones that gives you portable access to Backpack’s lists, notes, and reminders functionality while on the go. With Satchel, I am able to synchronize my Backpack task lists and notes onto my Palm Treo 700p, and send back changes in a flash. This is not just wireless access to my data, but a full fledged offline, syncable client on my Palm device. I’m not a heavy user of the Reminders function on Backpack, but Satchel also lets you setup Backpack Reminders – which then are added to both Backpack and the Palm Calendar. Task lists, notes and reminders are by far the most critical features within Backpack and Satchel lets you manage all of them in a simple and elegant manner, without being tied down to a computer. The program is still in beta mode, so there are some rough edges to it, but the beta is active for another two months (up through Mid-March 2007). It is certainly worth a look for anyone who has wireless access on their Palm device and relies on Backpack as a central repository. Standalone makes some of the best applications for the Palm that are available today. I’ve used their Super Names contact manager for years, and also use their Quick News RSS feed reader. Both of those products have evolved quite nicely, so I’m confident that Satchel will continue to get better and better.

Now if we could just figure out a way to get 37Signals to freshen up Backpack with some badly needed upgrades….