Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Backpack Questions

I continue using Backpack from 37signals for a lot of different purposes, taking advantage of the excellent per-page sharing feature and the handy reminder system. In fact, right now I'm using Backpack, Basecamp, and Ta-Da Lists. Each app is outstanding in its own way, yet they all share a similar commitment to simplicity and the user experience.

I have two questions about Backpack though that I'd love feedback on. The first is a bug question. I have shared pages with a number of different people and in multiple cases they never receive the invitation email. When you invite someone to a page, you give his or her email address and the site sends a invitation. In some cases, I've invited multiple people and two people receive the email, but the third never does. Even if you delete the address and try again, it is never successful.

My theory is that it is somehow tied to whether or not the email address is already tied to a Backpack account (that has tended to be the case). I've spoken with another Backpack user who has had the same problem. Anyone else?

The second question is just a curiosity. Neither Backpack or Basecamp allow you to pay for a year at a time (whether for a discount or not). Both are charged monthly and 37signals emphasizes the benefit and ease of no long term contracts, sign-up fees, or termination fees.

I love the simplicity of this and think it encourages new customers (If I don't like it, I'm only out $24!) and long-term customers (I don't even think about paying for that. It just shows up on my credit card each month.) I'm curious, though, if customer confusion is the primary reason for this decision. It certainly saves 37signals a decent amount of complication by eliminating cancellation/refund scenarios. It would also complicate the upgrade/downgrade your account option that they make so easy.

I do wonder if this decision limits some of their potential business, primarily from corporate customers who can justify a one-time PO much more easily than an ongoing expense. In either case, the employee will be reimbursed, but no one wants to issue a check once a month.

I know large businesses are not the primary market for these tools, but I still find it to be a very interesting choice that goes against conventional wisdom. The best example of this would be TypePad, which also serves individuals and small businesses, but offers a year subscription for a small discount over the month-to-month plan.

Any thoughts on which approach is better? Is this a case where offering fewer options makes is simpler and better for everyone?