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J Med Libr Assoc. 2009 Jan; 97(1): 67.
PMCID: PMC2605024


Reviewed by Robin Featherstone, MLS

37signals, 400 North May Street, Chicago, IL 60622. moc.slangis73 @nosaj; www.37signals.com; 3 pricing plans: from $24 to $149 a month, based on number of projects and file storage requirements, 30-day free trial available 


The web-based project management tool Basecamp <http://www.basecamphq.com> supports collaboration and allows the sharing of files like spreadsheets and text documents. Project team members access the same secure website where they can post files, make comments on discussion boards, and check assignment due dates. Basecamp provides tools intended to improve communication and keep projects running smoothly, particularly when collaborators are working from a distance.

General description

Basecamp is one of 4 web-based business applications from 37signals. The basic subscription plan ($24 a month) allows 15 projects and 3 gigabytes of space for files. Basecamp's storage relies on Amazon's scalable storage service (S3), which makes up the back-end. Project administers create accounts for team members with permissions that control who can see which projects. Members of a project can make to-do lists, share files, track their time, schedule milestones, add content to “writeboards,” and comment on discussion lists. Contributions to the project site, such as a comment to a list or an uploaded file, result in an email to project members with a live link to the site. For live chat functionality, Basecamp works seamlessly with another 37signals product, Campfire. Monthly subscription costs are billed directly to major credit cards.

Intended audience

Basecamp's simplicity and flexibility give it a wide appeal, and any group could find a potential use for it. The reviewer has used Basecamp for multiple library projects, including creating an open source electronic book discovery tool, developing a preservation vocabulary, constructing new subject pages, and forming an updated version of a core journals list.


Basecamp works with most web browsers (Internet Explorer 6/7, Firefox, or Safari) and is compatible with both Mac and PC. The only real requirement for users is an Internet connection.


While 37signals provides guides and tutorials for using Basecamp, this reviewer did not hear that any project member used them. The site's navigation is self-explanatory, and tasks (like making to-do lists or uploading files) are easy to accomplish. An administrator with even rudimentary technical knowledge could set up an account, add users, and set permissions. Programmers will appreciate the Basecamp application programming interface, which allows integration with other applications, such as accounting programs or dashboard widgets.


Because Basecamp does not allow uploads to be redirected to a local server, the limitations of the basic subscription plan (15 projects, three GB storage) might influence larger institutions to upgrade to the “Max” plan (unlimited projects, 50 GB storage). But at $149 a month, the ongoing costs for such a product may be harder to justify. Also, only the more expensive accounts include secure sockets layer (SSL) security. Basic accounts use password protection only. The only other complaint about Basecamp came from a project member at the library who found it annoying to have to sign in to a website to send a message. The project team preferred to use email instead. As a project manager, however, I appreciated the archival function in Basecamp, which kept all the messages, along with files and discussion lists, together in one place.

Brief comparison to other similar products

The two major competitors to Basecamp are Goplan <http://www.goplan.info> and activeCollab <http://www.activecollab.com>. Goplan is a product of Webreakstuff and, for a comparable cost, offers superior security on their basic subscription package, a public weblog, and options to enable or disable specific features that may overwhelm clients. Like Basecamp, Goplan uses Amazon S3 and does not allow uploads to personal servers. A further disadvantage of Goplan, unlike Basecamp, is that the AJAX chat room does not allow file uploading. Another alternative, activeCollab, is a product of a51 Development and installs on a local server to allow complete control of files at the higher cost of $199 per month for the basic plan. But, as a self-hosted solution, activeCollab requires database and server skills plus knowledge of PHP5. Goplan and Basecamp require only simple registration to get started.


For a library with neither a big budget nor on-staff technical expertise, both Goplan and Basecamp would prove useful project management tools. The limited storage sizes may not prove a serious problem for most library projects—this reviewer did not reach Basecamp's maximum storage limit with over half a dozen projects on the go. Most team members adopted the tool with enthusiasm; however, Basecamp proved more successful for projects with members working at a distance. When individuals worked in close proximity, they tended to rely more heavily on face-to-face meetings and email to keep them up-to-speed with a project's progress. Nonetheless, Basecamp proved a useful addition to all projects regardless of adoption levels.

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