Articles: Finding an Alternative to Basecamp: A WorkSection Overview

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WorkSection: logo My colleagues and I have been using Basecamp WorkSection: logo for many years, a web service for organizing working interaction on projects developed by 37signals . It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this service for our work - our customers are scattered all over the world, and all communication with them takes place online.

Among small IT service companies like ours, Basecamp has become almost the de facto standard. On the one hand, it is very convenient: new users who have just been invited to our cozy Extranet already know how to navigate it. On the other hand, we are increasingly feeling that Basecamp is shaking us. No wonder: you cannot please everyone, and the guys from 37signals understand this very well, and do not even try to please us.

Without softening the paint, I can say that some of the features of Basecamp are simply enraging. What is only ... however, no, I will not go into details now. What did I mean to say, actually? We are slowly looking for an alternative to Basecamp. And here, in our blog, we will talk about the progress of the search.

So, our journey through the endless world of systems similar to Basecamp, we will begin with the Ukrainian development called WorkSection .

WorkSection: скриншот промо-сайта

“WorkSection is a simple, beautiful and convenient tool for organizing joint work on projects,” the promotional site of this product tells us. And, you know, everything looks that way. I will not hide, the first impression was the most pleasant. I even had a glimpse of whether I had made a strategically wrong move, starting a series of reviews with WorkSection. After all, if this system seems attractive enough, it will be tempting not to continue the search for a better life, but to migrate immediately. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

At first glance, the system looks very similar to Basecamp:

WorkSection: первый экран

It is immediately clear that the developers did not strive for originality for the sake of originality. And rightly so. But if in Basecamp the foundation of any project is a blog, then in WorkSection it all starts with tasks. In my opinion, it’s a good idea: to start with the question “what actually needs to be done?”. Tasks can have subtasks, you can attach files to tasks, leave comments. Thus, all communication between project participants occurs through tasks. At the same time, on the Tasks and Communication page, it is easy to see the status of all active tasks, and even with the text of the last comment:

WorkSection: задачи и общение

In other words, this page always shows the current slice of the entire project, no more and no less. This was so lacking in Basecamp, where topical issues sometimes turned out to be buried deep in the comments on some old post! I wrote about these problems in detail in the article “ What could be better than Basecamp ”, and the solutions used in WorkSection look pretty similar to my suggestions, which is good news.

Given such a difference in approaches, it is not surprising that WorkSection has no direct analogues of such Basecamp functions as Milestones and To-Dos. In some ways, the analogue of Milestone is a task (after all, you can specify a deadline for it), but, as we have already seen, tasks in WorkSection are much more important. As for To-Dos, their role here is played by subtasks. Honestly, in Basecamp I was always confused by this to-do list metaphor. Every time I found it difficult to compose a title for each list, until I abandoned this habit for good. I think a simple two-tier structure “Task-subtask” is more viable.

What else can I say about task management and communication of project participants in the WorkSection system as part of this quick review? I will list briefly what pleases and what saddens:

  • The good news is the ability to limit the visibility of messages and even individual comments, and at the user level, and not at the company level, as in Basecamp.

    WorkSection: ограничение видимости
  • A little embarrassing is the comment thread for the task without any “leaflet”, and the feed starts with the oldest comments. It seems to me that it would be logical to reverse everything so that the last comment appears at the top.
  • Hooray, visual text editor! Due to its absence in Basecamp, we often receive comments from customers with crossed out text or with stuck lists. In the end, in the courtyard of the 21st century. How long should people clog their brains with special syntax for formatting? The first WYSIWYG editor was invented at Xerox PARC in the late 70s. Maybe it would be nice for the 37signals team to go there on an excursion, like Jobs did before creating the first Mac?
  • However, there seems to be no way to insert a table or picture into the text. Of course, the way to insert tables and pictures in Basecamp leaves much to be desired, but probably better than nothing.
  • But the automatically reduced images of the attached files are nice to watch. Just like in Basecamp, all thumbnails are square, but the contents are not aligned to the center, but to the left or top edge (much more convenient in almost all cases).
For example, here's how a reduced photo portrait of our web technologist Alexei Stenshin looks in WorkSection: And so it would look in Basecamp:
WorkSection: уменьшенная картинка Картинка, уменьшенная Basecamp'ом

Experienced Basecamp developers noticed that I have not said a word about time tracking. “Is there really no such possibility in WorkSection?” They will ask. Not at all! But this feature deserves a separate discussion.

As you might guess, time tracking in WorkSection is tied to tasks (like everything else). Spent hours can be entered when closing the subtask, as well as at any other time in the "Time" section (I apologize for the pun):

WorkSection: время

It is alarming that the number of hours for each task or subtask is entered, stored, and displayed with one total digit. That is, there is no way to indicate that on Monday I spent 3 hours on this task, and on Tuesday another 2 hours. Instead, I can only enter the total for the subtask: 5 hours. Probably, for many users this is more than enough, but even to the extreme the simplified Basecamp system allows for separate daily accounting. I think that here the creators of WorkSection went too far, simplifying the interface, and thoughtlessly limited the potential of their product. Let's hope that in future versions the time tracking system will be more flexible and powerful.

Also surprising is the way to assess the completeness of tasks. It should be noted that for each project and for each task, you can specify the estimated time of work. What is this useful for? Clear business to evaluate the current progress. We can see the degree of readiness of the project on the pages “project overview” and “project overview”. For example, like this:

WorkSection: прогресс по времени

But at the task level, for some reason, in this way, the degree of readiness is not displayed anywhere. In the list of project tasks, the current progress is determined only by the number of closed subtasks:

WorkSection: прогресс по задачам

This, in my opinion, often has no value and, on the contrary, can be misleading. Indeed, rarely when subtasks have the same complexity.

But such oddities did not spoil the overall pleasant impression of the system. I’m sure she can have a great future. If you are looking for an alternative to Basecamp, try it - it's worth it.