Email standards or go home

I use Basecamp for managing client work, and it is generally worth the trade-off of using a proprietary service.

I know, I feel guilt about using it when so much of my life is free and open, but we can discuss that later. What I want to point out is how “Inbox by Gmail” is not good for long term growth and protection of federated email.

Case in point: Bundled Basecamp 3 Notifications for Inbox by Gmail.

The gist is that Basecamp notifications, which can get unwieldy for active projects, are easier to digest in the Google product. The first sentence is the big red flag for me:

The Basecamp team has worked with Google to organize Basecamp 3 email notifications into bundles.

This is the exact behavior we do not want in email. Vendor-specific development can neither scale nor support an open technology. It is as ridiculous as the highest office in the land personally making deals to create jobs: we don’t need one-off developments! We need better, open, evolving systems and standards.

This is the exact reason I use Basecamp but don’t encourage others to use it: it draws one into an ecosystem of integrations, but between companies rather than open technologies. It’s a bad idea, and will fail those involved in the future.

Email standards, or go home!

Forward email to Basecamp projects

I recently set up a clever little hack to forward messages I need to check off and be aware of, but don’t want sitting in my inbox, to a Basecamp project. It creates todo tasks so I can actually check them off. It uses auto-forwarding rules and Zapier to work, and I dig it.

When I set this up four days ago it was the only way to get email into Basecamp that didn’t have the “clientside” add-on. Now there is a way, you can just forward email into a project.

I still prefer my method. ^_^

A WordPress CRM-thing

Here are my thoughts/plans for a WordPress-based CRM type site. My needs above regular web-based message are basically the reply to email feature in Basecamp. Each time I’ve tried something else, that is what folks complain about, because they live out of their inbox. When I was poking around Mailgun I noticed one of their clients was 37 Signals, and it all clicked together.

Since I use todo.txt for, um, “task management”, I really just need a communication platform to capture messages (especially useful, since I delete mail when I’ve processed it; inbox/archive 0!). I need a place to do group discussion, and a place to do the occasional mail blast to large segments of my client base.

The recipe is WordPress + Gravity Forms + Pods + Mailgun post hooks + some other odds and ends as mortar.

Custom post types for:

  • Folks – Basic contact info, basically name and email, and then tags for sorting (web hosted, email hosted, dns hosted, network-name, etc). I use the tags for sending out notices (“the solanin network is being upgraded next week”).
  • Discussion – A place for people to discuss and collaboration; it has always bothered me that I can work with multiple clients to solve a common problem. Well, I plan on being able to.
  • Tickets (but called something else that sounds more friendly) – When someone has a specific, time-senstive, or private matter that needs fixin’.

I plan to build this as part of my support site that also hold the knowledge base, of which articles will be added as I answer questions, and can be updated through collaboration with the folks that actually use them. This is part of my social documentation idea.

Where do the passwords live?

I use Basecamp, off and on. I normally use it really intensely for about 6 months, while working on a project, and then it just sits there. I like Basecamp as a product, but it is a closed, hosted software as a service, and that really bothers me in the downtime, since at that point I am just paying them to store a project archive for me.

As it happens, I’ve largely mitigated all the features of Basecamp:

  • Messaging – Turns out that none of my clients appreciate the ability to search through the message archive, and since I am normally looped into every message, I don’t miss anything.
  • Documentation – When I can, I use a wiki to document development stuff. This works for some projects, and not others; for those we defer to email.
  • Files – I use ownCloud, and my clients normally just email me files of a certain size. Annoying, and could use a different way.

There is one thing that I haven’t figured out, where Basecamp excels: passwords. Because I normally work alone, and even when I am heading a team I handle all the accounts and infrastructure myself, I am the only person with all the passwords. I create a document called Credentials in each project, and put all the login and passwords there.

The idea is that if one of my clients needs to, they can check that to get access. I used to warn against them doing that without talking to me, but I decided that it was a better plan to just make sure I always have offsite backups and let my emergency rates reinforce how dangerous playing with those accounts can be.

If I didn’t do this, the only place the passwords would live would be on a sticky note on someone’s monitor, or even worse, a text file on a laptop (in my case that is fine, since I use multiple forms of encryption, but I doubt this is common…).

Ideally I would have a secure website that I could dump this stuff on, that I could share with folks who need it. I don’t use private wikae, and while I think everyone should have an ownCloud account somewhere, that is not the fact of the matter.

Ideally I would host some lightweight project management software, but that is really an oxymorom; it ie either impossible, or humans have no quite figured out the right formula. So, where do I keep the passwords?

Basecamp customer survey

I pay attention to the occasional notices that are posted at the top of our Basecamp account. They always give a little insight into where 37signals is going with their products. Today there was a survey posted, and being the type of person who enjoys giving people feedback I popped over and filled it out.

So, why would I mention this, a company’s online survey, one among many that are posted everyday? To start, it was enjoyable. It made me laugh. It made me think (and not just about their product; see below [after you have filled out the survey])! And above all it made me feel that there were real people behind this, and that is something that resonates with me. I imagine (and am kinda betting on) that other people feel the same way.

Among the normal questions about “how do you use this” or “how can they improve that” were gems that cut through and broke up the monotony of the survey. The first one that caught me was “How’s your day going?”, which included answers like “Best day in a while” and “None of your effen business”. At the end there was even a place to enter a haiku competition. Fun stuff.

I was inspired to share two answers of mine, but they ask you to define these words without looking it up first, so if you are going to fill out the survey, don’t read below just yet.





The first word to be defined was nudiustertian.

maiki’s answer: Transparency in political action.

Wiktionary says: of the day before yesterday

Second word was tyrotoxism.

maiki’s answer: Physical symptons resulting from radiation exposure in zero-gravity environment.

Wiktionary says: Poisoning by cheese or other dairy products.

I… wasn’t even close on the first one.

If you are interested in using Basecamp, and would like to use cog motive as a referral, our code is cogmotive, or you can use our referral link.