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This is Signal vs. Noise, a weblog by 37signals about design, business, experience, simplicity, the web, culture, and more. Established 1999 in Chicago. Follow us on Twitter for more information on our products.

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Interface inspiration at the office Jason F. Jun 18

32 comments Latest by santiago

When you design for the screen, it’s easy to think the screen is where you should go for inspiration. It’s definitely one place – there are some amazing people doing some amazing work in pixels. But you’d be cheating yourself if you only looked to your own industry, or medium, for inspiration.

I’ve always found inspiration looking at parallel industries. I love looking at physical objects for interface design inpsiration. Designing interfaces for physical interfaces requires more discipline because, unlike the virtual world which has no shape, edges, or boundaries, the physical world has strict limitations. How designers deal with those limitations and tough choices makes for a wonderful library of ideas.

I wanted to start our own 37signals library of physical interfaces from which we could draw inspiration. So I hired Object Design League here in Chicago to seek out, source, and begin building our physical interface library.

The initial collection was just installed last week. It’s near the entrance of our office so you can’t miss it when you walk in:

There are buttons, measuring tools, indicators, timers, and lots of other interesting physical interfaces.

We put together a short video highlighting the start of the collection. Over time we hope to expand the collection and find more inspiration for manipulating the physical, and virtual, world.

Jun 12 2012 Jamie 22 comments Latest by Fred Campbell

Jargon Madness - Forbes.png

Spotted at Forbes: Jargon Madness

Announcing Pow 0.4.0 with xip.io support Sam Jun 07

34 comments Latest by chrux

We’ve just released version 0.4.0 of Pow, our zero-configuration web server for Rails development on OS X.

There are several new features in this release, including port proxying and better support for zsh users, but my favorite is a tiny addition that makes a huge difference when testing your apps on mobile devices.

Pow has always made it easy to access Rails apps on your computer with its built-in .dev domain. Just symlink your app into the ~/.pow directory and visit http://myapp.dev/ in your browser.

But what about testing your apps on mobile devices, or in IE? Pow’s .dev domain only works on your local machine.

Until now, testing on other computers required modifying /etc/hosts or setting up a custom DNS server on your router. Now we’ve fixed that, too.

Introducing xip.io, the magic domain name

Pow 0.4.0 has built-in support for xip.io, a free service from 37signals that provides wildcard DNS for any IP address.

With xip.io you can access your Rails apps from devices on your local network, like iPads, iPhones, Windows VMs, and other computers. No configuration required.

Say your development computer’s LAN IP address is 10.0.0.1. With the new version of Pow, you can now access your app at http://myapp.10.0.0.1.xip.io/. And xip.io supports wildcard DNS, so any and all subdomains of 10.0.0.1.xip.io resolve too.

Read more about xip.io at http://xip.io/ or check out the full source code on GitHub.

Installing and upgrading

See the full 0.4.0 release notes and install or upgrade with one simple command from your terminal:

curl get.pow.cx | sh

As always, the user’s manual and annotated source code are available for your perusal.

From 4 to 32 people in eight years David Jun 05

51 comments Latest by Steve

It’s taken us eight years to assemble the fabulous ensemble at 37signals. Here’s how we’re split across specialities (counting Jason as a designer and me as a programmer):

“Other” currently constitutes Noah on data, Shaun on video, and Andrea as the office manager.

This year we’re probably going to hire at least two more people for support (we’d love to offer true 24/7 coverage) and one person to help with conversion. No plans to hire any more people in design, programming, or operations at the moment.

May 31 2012 Jason F. 7 comments Latest by David

The Mercedes 300SL Gullwing. An instant classic for 58 years and running.

Workplace experiments: A month to yourself Jason F. May 31

50 comments Latest by Eugene O'Brien

Back in 2008 we shared some of our workplace experiments including the four day work week (still in effect May – Oct), funding people’s passions (we’re still doing this, too), and discretionary spending accounts (everyone still gets a company Amex they can use for anything work related).

This June we’re trying something new.

This June will be a full month of free time to think, explore, mock up, prototype, whatever. People can go solo or put together a team – it’s entirely up to them. This is a month to unwind and create without the external pressures of other ongoing projects or expectations. We’re effectively taking a month off from non-essential scheduled/assigned work to see what we can do with no schedule/assignments whatsoever.

Some companies are famous for their 20% time where employees get 1/5th of their time to work on their own projects. In spirit I like this idea, but usually it’s executed by carving out a day here or a day there – or every Friday, for example – to work on your own projects.

But all time isn’t equal. I’d take 5 days in a row over 5 days spread out over 5 weeks. So our theory is that we’ll see better results when people have a long stretch of uninterrupted time. A month includes time to think, not just time to squeeze in some personal work around the edges.

The culmination of this month of free work time is Pitchday – the first Thursday in July. That’s when everyone will get a chance to pitch their idea, mockup, prototype, or proof of concept to the whole company. The better the pitch, the more likely the project will happen.

Some people have already paired up and recruited others to work on an idea together. Some are going solo. And some are taking the time to work on a combination of smaller things they’ve been meaning to work on for a while.

I’m really excited to see what people come up with (and share what I’ve come up with, too – David and I are working on something together). Hopefully our customers will see the results of some of these pitches over the coming months.

We’ll report back if we have anything interesting to share.

Our API docs are now hosted on Github Nick May 28

7 comments Latest by TVD

Since the all new Basecamp’s API launch, our Developerland site was feeling a bit dated without GitHub’s wonderful styling and syntax highlighting. Spring is a time for cleaning, and that includes API documentation!

Our API docs are now hosted on GitHub. If you’re looking to get started with our APIs, you can head to 37signals/api and check out our authentication guide or our brand guidelines.

Each 37signals product now has its own API documentation repo:

My favorite new feature of the API documentation is that each endpoint now has its own permalink. For example, here’s Highrise’s Get deal endpoint.

Found a typo or have a clarification for the API documentation? Feel free to open a pull request on any of the repos. If you spot a bug or have a question for us, opening a support ticket will be the fastest way you can get an answer.

The Art of Computer Typography Jason Z. May 25

27 comments Latest by GeeIWonder

Ever since I came across Jürg Lehni’s essay on typographic technology and digital fonts, Typeface As Programme, I’ve been fascinated with the story of Donald E. Knuth and his unexpected contributions to typography.

You see, Knuth is a professor and computer scientist well known to programmers as the author of The Art of Computer Programming, widely regarded as the definitive treatise on the subject. The first of the four current volumes was published in 1968 and Knuth continues to work on it to this day. Truly his life’s work.

Where this story gets interesting for designers like me is what happened in 1977. Knuth was obsessed with making The Art of Computer Programming perfect in every way right down to the print and type.

We didn’t want our papers just to be there, we wanted them to be beautiful. I wouldn’t have wanted to write The Art of Computer Programming if it was going to look ugly.

The first three volumes were stunning. It wasn’t until a new edition of Volume 2 was to be reset with primitive digital type instead of the traditional metal type of the earlier editions that there was a problem. Horrified by the inferior results, Knuth took it upon himself to improve things. After all, digital type was software, right? Determined to develop a solution, Knuth stopped work on his books and devoted himself to typography for the next 10 years. The result: The TeX typesetting system and the Metafont font description language. The combination of the two offered powerful typographic control that hasn’t been matched (even today), especially for complex typesetting like mathematical formulas.

What’s interesting about Metafont is its unique approach to digital fonts. Most fonts are described programmatically as a series of outlines and then filled with a solid color. This allows for perfectly precise and accurate representation but Metafont takes a more fundamental approach. Knuth discovered what every student of typography eventually learns, that the roots of type are in handwriting. Before the invention of printing, documents were written and copied by scribes using a broad nib pen. These flat metal tips, held at an angle resulted in the thick and thin strokes we associate with calligraphy. The typefaces used in the first printed books were meant to mimic the familiar handwritten books they replaced and even today many typefaces owe their thick and thin lines to the tradition of hand drawn letterforms.

Comparing type Calligraphy in a Latin Bible of AD 1407 compared to Bembo, a modern typeface with roots in hand written lettering.

While fonts in other systems consist of outlined letterforms Metafont “draws” each letter, simulating the broad nib pen and the actual strokes you’d use to write them by hand. The resulting fonts are not only beautiful but their construction allows for greater control and variation. Rather than simply scaling to different sizes, fonts in this system can be further optimized for things like contrast, stroke, and x-height – essentially redrawn at each size like earlier metal type.

Comparing systems Compare glyphs rendered with Metafont (left) and Postscript.

Knuth created TeX and Metafont because he wanted to extend the care he took in his writing to the design and printing of the physical books. He shared them with the rest of the academic community by putting them into the public domain and they’re still popular today, especially in the publication of mathematic and scientific journals.

I’m impressed by Knuth’s refusal to accept the status quo. When it didn’t meet his standards, he simply made something better. But even more I’m inspired by the focused dedication to his life’s work that led him to put down the familiar and immerse himself in a completely different field for an entire decade in order to realize his art.

Get your free copy of Getting Real Jason F. May 24

19 comments Latest by Ant1j

Getting Real, our book about a smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application, is now available as a free PDF (it used to cost $19).

We’ve used the Getting Real methods to develop all of our products. Here’s what other people have said about Getting Real.

Head over to the Getting Real site to get your free PDF of Getting Real. We hope you enjoy it.

A good day's work David May 22

17 comments Latest by Jason

It’s easy to convince yourself that working until your eyes bleed and your fingers cramp is simply what must be done when starting something new.

You can dangle yourself the carrot that it’s just until you get out of the first hole: “Once we’re live, it’ll all calm down and I’ll be able to relax”.

But that’s rarely how it goes. The reality is that you’re never going to be done. There’s always more work. New initiatives, new customers, new competition, new technology, new ideas.

Unless you learn to set healthy boundaries early on, human biology will set in and carve those habits into your psyche. Double so if you enjoy success. You put in all this pain, it worked, and now you can enjoy the pleasure; it’s too tempting for your brain to pass that up as anything but causality.

One pattern to help yourself fight the mad dash for the mirage of being done is to think of a good day’s work. Look at the progress of the day towards the end and ask yourself: “Have I done a good day’s work?”

Answering that question is liberating. Often, if the answer is an easy “yes,” you can leave your desk feeling like you accomplished something important, if not entirely “done”. And should the answer be no, you can treat it as an off-day and explore the 5 why’s.

It feels good to be productive. If yesterday was a good day’s work, chances are you’ll keep the roll. And if you can keep the roll, everything else will probably take care of itself.

You only get one chance to be a beginner David May 21

26 comments Latest by Drew McKinney

When you’re new to something, all the pain is out in the open. You stub your toes until they’re black and blue on things the veterans have all learned to avoid. This is both a curse and a gift.

A curse because it’s hard to make progress when you’re constantly getting snagged. Frustration is high and defeat feels scarily near. You might well give up entirely before you know the dance of the natives.

But a gift, too, because you have the clarity to make things drastically better. You won’t miss the non-sense the veterans have long since accepted as the norm. Once you’ve acclimated to the temperature of the pot, you’ll get boiled alongside all the other frogs. But until then, you’re in a magical position to make great strides. To propose radical solutions, deliberately ignorant ideas that just might be brilliant.

This is the time to do the impossible, because you don’t know enough to know what can’t be done yet.

All the oxygen trapped in a bubble David May 17

54 comments Latest by Pierre Bastien

There are many good reasons to be concerned about whether the internet industry is in another bubble. Once shaky, unproven businesses hit the NASDAQ, the chance that granny is going to lose her pension fund goes up big time. That’s the direct economic consequence that you’ve probably heard already.

What hasn’t been discussed as much are some of the secondary effects that a bubble has on the industry. Like how it gets harder to hire good people as a consequence. Sure, you may have heard of The War for Talent, but it’s much deeper than that. This is not simply about the latest tech darling not being able to find programmers in the Valley.

When bubbles inflate as fast as the most recent one, support infrastructure can’t cope. There just aren’t enough programmers, designers, operations people, and other warm bodies to man all the hot air balloons. So you have a predictable effect: Rapidly increasing demand for an only steadily increasing supply. Thus, inflation.

All this new demand is being fueled by the endless flows of cheap cash being pumped into the Valley (and everywhere else it can go). So the circle goes like this:

And every time we do a round, more talent gets trapped in the bubble, chasing things that can be flipped for the most money. Now in theory this is all good and well. Resources are allocated to the pursuits with the most economic value. So if Instapintora is worth $2 billion, of course they deserve to be able to hire 1,000 web builders, right?

That’s the same argument you’ll find for bridges to nowhere and other pursuits void of inherent economic and public value. Sure, people are being employeed, money is changing hands, but come Monday morning, the hangover is that we spent a bundle to build a lot of shit that’s not going anywhere.

As a result, we missed out on doing other worthwhile things. All those smart and talented heads, and all those benjamins, didn’t progress the economic base in a way we’re going to care about tomorrow. And that’s a damn shame.

Three quick Rails console tips Nick May 17

15 comments Latest by railwaymen

I was bouncing around the Rails API documentation yesterday, and I noticed a few rails console tricks I haven’t seen before. There’s been plenty of posts about irb and Rails before, but I’m hoping you’ll learn something new here. The following console samples were taken with Basecamp Next on Rails version 3.2.3.

Dive into your app

Running the app method in rails console gives you an integration session instance, so you can use it just like when you’re a normal integration test for Rails.

>> app.class
=> ActionDispatch::Integration::Session

Generating routes was always a hassle. What module did I need to include again? Did you remember to set the default_url_options? Stop googling and just use app:

>> app.project_path(Project.first)
=> "/projects/130349783-with-attachments"

It can make requests inside of your app as well:

>> app.get "/735644780/projects/605816632-bcx.atom" 
=> 200

>> app.response.body
=> "<?xml version=\"1.0\" encoding=\"UTF-8\"?>\n<feed xml:lang=\"en-US\"  ...

Check out ActionDispatch::Integration::Session and ActionDispatch::Integration::RequestHelpers to see what else this object can help you with.

Try out a helper

Getting a console session bootstrapped with Rails’ helpers is also a pain, which helper can fix for you! You could also use it to play with building HTML tags, or any existing Rails helper that ActionView knows about.

>> helper.truncate("Testing", length: 4)
=> "T..." 

>> helper.link_to "Home", app.root_path
=> "<a href=\"/\">Home</a>"

One gotcha with helper is using instance variables inside of helper methods. Yes, I’m aware this is a Bad Idea™ with helpers in general, but I haven’t worked in a single Rails app without one. Here’s a small example of a method with one:

def title_tag(title = nil)
  if @project.present? && title.nil?
    content_tag :title, @project.name
  elsif @project.present?
    content_tag :title, "#{@project.name}: #{title}" 
  else
    content_tag :title, title
  end
end

We can use our old friend Object#instance_variable_set to violate a core principle of OOP and let us try this helper out in the console:

>> helper.title_tag "Testing!" 
=> "<title>Testing!</title>" 

>> helper.instance_variable_set :@project, Project.first
=> #<Project id: 130349783, ...

>> helper.title_tag
=> "<title>With attachments!</title>" 

>> helper.title_tag "Posts" 
=> "<title>With attachments!: Posts</title>"

Dealing with a helper that uses params is also not straightforward. However, we can trick ActionView into listening to us with a tiny hack. This is the console, after all! Let’s say we have this helper method:

def javascript_debugging_options
  if params[:javascript_debugging] == "enabled" 
    { debug: true, digest: false }
  else
    {}
  end
end

Usually ActionView needs an entire ActionDispatch::Request from the controller to figure out what parameters came in from the user. We can trick it with a little OpenStruct instead:

>> helper.controller = OpenStruct.new(params: {})
=> #<OpenStruct params={}>

>> helper.javascript_debugging_options
=> {}

>> helper.controller = OpenStruct.new(params: {javascript_debugging: "enabled"})
=> #<OpenStruct params={:javascript_debugging=>"enabled"}>

>> helper.javascript_debugging_options
=> {:debug=>true, :digest=>false}

Where does that method come from?

Hunting down the exact location of a given method isn’t always easy. Luckily, Ruby can point you in the right direction with Method#source_location:

>> Project.instance_method(:trash).source_location
=> ["/Users/qrush/37s/apps/bcx/app/models/project.rb", 90]

Whoa! You’ll get back an array with the full path of where the method was defined along with that method’s line number in the file.

I’ve used this when looking for code buried inside of gems as well. Let’s try it on app:

>> app.method(:get).source_location
=> ["/Users/qrush/.rbenv/versions/1.9.3-p194/lib/ruby/gems/1.9.1/bundler/gems/rails-7d95b814583b/actionpack/lib/action_dispatch/testing/integration.rb", 32]

This tip has saved me from an immense amount of source diving. Try it out!

More tips

Looking for more tips? JEG2 gave a neat talk at RailsConf about some of the hidden parts of Rails you might not know about. If you have some of your own, please share!

We're hiring: Help us significantly improve conversion and retention Jason F. May 14

39 comments Latest by Hal

We’re looking for another teammate. This time we’re looking for someone who is completely focused on improving conversion and retention. You love moving the needle, one small step at a time. This job is all about seeing untapped potential.

Conversion could be financial (get more people to start a trial or complete it – what we consider a “sale”), or outcome-based (inspire people to create more Basecamp projects by showing them creative ways to use Basecamp they never thought of before). Or something else.

Retention could be reducing cancellations, or reducing unsubscribes from our mailing list, or increasing the number of people who log into Basecamp every day. Or something else.

You should…

You should be great at figuring out which words or phrases hook people instead of letting them get away. We believe the right words at the right time can make all the difference.

You should look at a sign up form like… …and already know three ways to significantly improve conversion.

You should be great at understanding what motivates people. This requires deep insight into the decision making process. You should know why people buy, why people don’t buy, why people buy more of something they already have, and why people who bought decide not to buy any more.

You should look at a screen like… …and think to yourself – “if they rearranged this, highlighted that, or renamed this other thing, they’d increase sales by at least 25%.”

You should be great at knowing how to help people find value in something they already have. There are always more ways to use something than the ways you already use it.

You should look at a new project like… …and say “no, no, no… a better way to get someone started on a new project is like this…”

Or you should look at an email like… …and think “You’re missing a big opportunity to get more people to take action here. If we…”

Ideas and execution

This is not just a job for an idea person – it’s about ideas and execution. You’ll be expected to write the copy. You’ll be expected to implement the designs. You’ll be expected to shepherd ideas from start to finish – not just to toss them out there for other people to worry about.

You should love to propose, experiment, implement, execute, and measure. You may not be able to take everything on 100% yourself, but you try your best before you hit your limits and have to ask for help.

The challenge: Double our sales

We’d like to double sales over the next 12 months without making deep material changes to our products. We don’t believe it’s possible. Change our minds. Convert us.

Can you do it?

If this sounds like something you’re great at, we’d love to talk to you. This is a new position at 37signals, so you’ll be in charge of making it work.

You’ll be part of the best overall team in the business. From ops, to programming, to design, to support, to data, to video – we’re ready to work together to see your bright ideas through.

To apply

Send an email titled [Conversion] to jointheteam@37signals.com telling us why you’re the one. How you tell us is up to you.

Our office is based in Chicago, but our team is spread out all over the world. You can work from anywhere. We just require a few trips to Chicago a year when the whole company gets together.

We’ll be accepting applications until June 4.

This is a chance to do the best work of your career. We know you’re out there. Get in touch.

Taking the Pain Out of MySQL Schema Changes John May 14

19 comments Latest by dstroma

A common obstacle we face when releasing new features is making production schema changes in MySQL. Many new features require additional columns or indexes. Running an “ALTER TABLE” in MySQL to add the needed columns and indexes locks the table, hanging the application. We need a better solution.

Option 1: Schema Change in Downtime
This is the simplest option. Put the application into downtime and perform the schema change. It requires us to have the application down for the duration of the “ALTER TABLE”. We’ve successfully used this option for smaller tables that can be altered in seconds or minutes. However, for large tables the alter can take hours making it less than desirable.

Continued…

Basecamp in Antarctica Shaun May 10

14 comments Latest by Piotr

We have customers around the world doing extraordinary things with our software, but Ben Saunders is taking it to a whole new level.

Ben and his team are using Basecamp to organize an expedition to the South Pole and back, unsupported and on foot. This is the same journey Captain Robert Scott died trying to achieve 100 years ago, and no one has attempted it since.

Ben has been a professional polar explorer for more than 10 years and is one of only three people to complete a solo journey to the North Pole. He will be joined by Alastair Humphreys, who has cycled 46,000 miles around the world, and renowned nature photographer Martin Hartley.

You can follow the expedition, which launches this October, at Scott2012.org and be sure to follow @polarben on Twitter.

Special thanks to Temujin Doran for letting us use his amazing arctic footage.

Sortfolio: Going once, going twice... Jason F. May 07

113 comments Latest by Anon

A year ago we put Sortfolio up for sale.

We entertained a variety of offers, met with a few potential suitors in person, and negotiated numbers. Ultimately nothing came together. Then we shelved the process so we could focus all of our efforts on designing and building the new Basecamp.

Sortfolio continued to run itself for another year, generating over $200,000 in profit for us during that time.

Our paying customer count continues to hover consistently in the 170s, each paying $99/month to be listed as a premium member.

The price

We’ve put Sortfolio on the clock: We either sell it by July 1, or we close it down. And we’ll make it easier this time so there’s no guessing: The price is $480,000, cash. No special deals, no partial payments now the rest later, no equity in your company, etc. $480,000 cash and it’s yours. Considering how much hands-off free cash flow it generates, we think that’s a very fair price. We just want it to go to a good home.

We’ve put next to no effort into it over the last year… If you put some effort in you should see significantly higher sales. With over 10,000 free accounts, there’s tons of untapped opportunity here in the existing customer base. And of course plenty more on the outside or in entirely different industries.

What you get

You get the design, the branding, the code (it’s a Rails app), the customers, and the steady cash flow. Since Sortfolio is hooked up to our centralized billing system, you’ll need to write your own code to charge customers. Also, since Sortfolio is hosted on our server cluster, no hardware is included (but you can run it on a cheap server or two – the hardware requirements are next to nothing). We’ll also be happy to announce the sale here on SvN and on our very well subscribed email newsletter.

Interested?

If you’re interested at $480,000, please email me direct at jason@37signals… Thanks.

May 1 2012 David 22 comments Latest by Marcin

Keynote by David from RailsConf 2012 on progress, curiosity, fear, and the danger of easy-bake ovens.

New in the all new Basecamp: Email-in! Jason F. May 01

64 comments Latest by Christopher

This is going to be a big one. Now you can post messages, to-do lists, files, and text documents to the all new Basecamp just by sending an email.

First, some background

In Basecamp Classic, you can post a new message by sending an email directly to Basecamp. This feature is especially useful if you’re on the road and want to post a message to the project from your phone. Just fire up your email app, address the email to Basecamp, and it’s immediately posted as a message to the project.

Initially, the all new Basecamp didn’t launch with this feature. Like everything else in the new Basecamp, we wanted to approach it fresh, take our time to think it through, explore a variety of ideas, and make it even better than before.

Better than before

In Classic you could only post a message via email. You couldn’t make a to-do list, start a text document (called Writeboards in Classic), or upload a file via email.

But in the all new Basecamp, you can do all these things and more. Plus, it’s easier, clearer, and more powerful than before.

Here’s how it works

At the bottom right corner of every project you’ll see a link that says “Email content to this project”.

When you click that link, you’ll see a sheet pop up that looks like this:

You’ll see five icons at the top of the page. Each icon describes a different email-in feature. Starting discussions, making to-do lists, creating documents, uploading files, and forwarding emails. Clicking any one of those icons shows you the simple steps to follow for each feature.

Below the steps we show an example of an email and how that content will look when it’s posted to Basecamp.

When Basecamp receives your email and posts your content to the project, it immediately sends you an email receipt letting you know it worked.

For most content types, the email also includes a link to let you notify others on the project letting them know that you just added something to the project. If you click that link you’ll see:

Since we expect a lot of people to email in from their mobile phones, we made a mobile optimized version of the notifications screen too:

And a bonus feature

In addition to allowing you to start discussions, make to-do lists, create text documents, and upload files via email, we also allow you to forward in any existing email to Basecamp. This is especially useful if there was a conversation going on outside of Basecamp. Just forward that email thread into Basecamp and it’s stored along with everything else on the project. Easy peasy.

Forwarded emails get collected into a “Forwarded emails” section at the bottom of the project.

And if the email was an HTML email, we show the full HTML email, too:

So many uses

There are so many interesting ways to use this new email-in feature in Basecamp.

One of the things I’ve loved about it so far is that I can sketch an idea on the whiteboard/chalkboard in a meeting room in our office, take a picture of it with my iPhone, and email it directly to a Basecamp project. It’s such a great way to get the physical results of a brainstorm, meeting, or sketch session right into Basecamp. And now that it’s in Basecamp, I can erase the whiteboard and not worry about ever losing that idea.

Email-in is also a great little “poor-man’s API”. You can have your apps send emails direct into Basecamp whenever you make a sale, get survey results from a customer, or who knows what. The opportunities are endless. We’re eager to see what sorts of things people come up with.

Thanks again

We’re thrilled with the feature and we think you’ll feel the same way. Thanks again for using Basecamp!

A/B Testing: It's not about the results, and it's definitely not about the why Noah May 01

8 comments Latest by Alejandro Sanchez

In college, I worked for a couple of years in a lab that tested the effectiveness of surgical treatments for ACL rupture using industrial robotics. Sometimes, the reconstructions didn’t hold. The surgeons involved were sometimes frustrated; it can be hard to look at data showing that something you did didn’t work. But for the scientists and engineers, all that mattered was that we’d followed our testing protocol and gathered some new data. I came to learn that this attitude is exactly what it takes to be a successful scientist over the long term and not merely a one-hit wonder.

Occasionally, when we’re running an A/B test someone will ask me what I call “success” for a given test. My answer is perhaps a bit surprising to some:

  • I don’t judge a test based on what feedback we might have gotten about it.
  • I don’t judge a test based on what we think we might have learned about why a given variation performed.
  • I don’t judge a test based on the improvement in conversion or any other quantitative measure.

I only judge a test based on whether we designed and administered it properly.

As an industry, we don’t yet have a complete analytical model of how people make decisions, so we can’t know in advance what variations will work. This means that there’s no shame in running variations that don’t improve conversion. We also lack any real ability to understand why a variation may have succeeded, so I don’t care much whether or not we understood the results at a deeper level.

The only thing we can fully control is how we set up the experiment, and so I judge a test based on criteria like:

  • Did we have clear segmentation of visitors into distinct variations?
  • Did we have clear, measurable, quantitative outcomes linked to those segments?
  • Did we determine our sample size using appropriate standards before we started running the test, and run the test as planned, not succumbing to a testing tool’s biased measure of significance?
  • Can we run the test again and reproduce the results? Did we?

This might sound a lot like the way a chemist evaluates an experiment about a new drug, and that’s not by accident. The way I look at running an A/B test is much the same as I did when I was working in that lab: if you run well-designed, carefully implemented experiments, the rest will take care of itself eventually.

You might hit paydirt this time, or it might take 100 more tests, but all that matters is that you keep trying carefully. I evaluate the success of our overall A/B testing regimen based on whether it improves our overall performance, but not individual tests; individual tests are just one step along what we know will be a much longer road.

"Sign up in seconds" ... and then what? Ryan Apr 30

34 comments Latest by Mikel

Today I saw a familiar pattern on a website for an analytics product. The home page pitched the product, and then above the signup form there was a headline: “Sign up in seconds.”

I see this all the time on signup forms and it makes me wonder: why did the designer put that there? My best guess is that they were trying to relieve some anxiety the customer might have. Like, “don’t worry, it’ll be over soon!”

I’ll bet that the time-to-signup isn’t an important anxiety factor. When’s the last time you shopped for a software product under intense time pressure, where every second counts?

When I evaluate web products I often feel uncertain about what will happen after the quick signup. Sure it takes seconds to create an account, but then what?

I had an idea to address this uncertainty. You could preview the workflow steps that come after the signup so it’s clear how much of a gap there is between signing up and getting value out of the product.

Check out this sketch. It shows “what happens” after you signup. Once you sign up, you get a Javascript code, paste it into your website, and then you can watch real live graphics of traffic come to your website. Sounds pretty easy right? Why not try it?

I haven’t tested this approach on any sites. Intuitively I like how it integrates the call to action with the sales pitch in a single flow. What do you think?

Code Spelunking in the all new Basecamp Nick Apr 27

14 comments Latest by Gareth Rees

Over the past few months I’ve learned an immense amount from the all new Basecamp codebase. This year for RailsConf, I was able to show off some new (and old!) patterns in the codebase along with some neat libraries that we’ve put to serious use for our customers. The slides are over at SpeakerDeck if you’d like to see them all, and hopefully a video of the presentation will be up soon!

Here’s a few choice sections from the talk, and plenty of great links to check out in the meantime:

Continued…

Across the pond? Join the 37signals Customer Support team! Joan Apr 27

7 comments Latest by Bertrand

We’re looking for one or two more folks to join our support team. Specifically, we’re after some great people in the UK time zone (or close to it) to cover business hours in that part of the world. Launching the all-new Basecamp got a lot of people excited and we want to expand our team to cover business hours in more time zones.

You’ll be responsible for providing tremendous customer service via email for Basecamp, Basecamp Classic, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire. You’ll also help us answer questions via Twitter, create and edit help documentation, and maybe run some online classes.

You’ll be expected to answer about 75 emails per day once you’re fully up to speed (2-3 months on-ramp). This is a significant volume, so be sure that you’re ready and able to deal with that kind of daily load.

We’re looking for some great writers who love helping our customers, so you should enjoy making complicated situations simple and painless and have a passion for our products.

If you live in the UK (or thereabouts) and want to join Ann, Chase, Emily, Kristin, Merissa, Michael and me in making our customers happy, please apply!

How to apply

Please submit a cover letter explaining:

  1. Why you want to work in customer support.
  2. Why you want to work at 37signals and not somewhere else.
  3. A description of a great customer service/support experience you had recently, and what made it great.

Also, attach the following writing samples:

  1. Explain in 3 paragraphs or less why a customer would pick Basecamp vs Highrise.
  2. Respond to a customer asking for project categories in Basecamp that it’s not something we offer, and suggest she work with the project titles and stars to add organization.
  3. A company using our job board failed to find to find a suitable candidate and wants a refund. Respond that we don’t offer refunds for job postings.

We offer heaps of lovely benefits, plus a progressive work environment. Starting salary is $45k USD, depending on experience.

Email everything to jointheteam@37signals.com. Include “Customer Support” in the subject line. If you’re attaching a resume, please send it as a PDF. Note: We look favorably on people who get creative with their applications.

We look forward to hearing from you!