Marking the end of pixel trackers in Basecamp emails

When Mike Davidson blew the lid off the invasive and appealing read receipts in a new personal email client called Superhuman, it brought about a full discussion of email tracking in general. At Basecamp, this lead to the conclusion that we wanted nothing to do with such tracking.

It wasn’t like we were doing anything as nefarious as those nasty Superhuman trackers, but still, we used the default settings in our mailing list software, which aggregates open rates, and had our own diagnostics tracker, to provide debugging insight for support.

But neither of those two use cases felt compelling enough to justify tracking everyone’s emails all the time. Reading an email shouldn’t leave a long data trail, regardless of whether that trail is used in fairly innocuous ways, like an aggregate open-rate calculation, or in its most devious, like spying on whether a personal email has been seen and from where.

So we killed the diagnostics tracking and turned off the mailing list tracking too. Now the only “tracking” that emails from Basecamp will do is to mark the message you’re seeing in your email as read within the application (and only if you’re a registered user). A feature in service of the recipient, not the sender, not us.

The tech industry has been so used to capturing whatever data it could for so long that it has almost forgotten to ask whether it should. But that question is finally being asked. And the answer is obvious: This gluttonous collection of data must stop.

So we keep taking the steps at Basecamp to examine our use of data, stop collecting it unless its strictly necessary in service of customers, and cut down all the ways we may be sharing it with others (dumping Google Analytics from our marketing pages is next!).

Privacy isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also better business. Discerning customers are already demanding it, and everyone else will too soon enough.

You can heal the internet

The internet is hurting. It’s been colonized and exploited by a small cabal of tech companies. It’s taken most of us a while catch up to the gravity of the situation, but grave it is.

Yet we all sit with the power to ease the pain, even if we can’t cure it in an instant. You don’t have to go cold turkey on everything Big Tech. That’s almost impossible at the moment. Such is the stronghold. But every little bit helps.

So does the perspective that an alternative doesn’t have to give you 100% of what you were getting to be worth the switch. Yeah, so DuckDuckGo might not match Google on every search, but it’s more than good enough to be good enough most of the time.

The world is full of alternatives to the Big Tech offerings that give you 95% of the utility for 0% of the regret. But if you can’t even be bothered to give up 5% to help an alternative along, you also can’t be surprised when the alternatives are so few and far between.

You can heal the internet. One choice – one search! – at the time.

How I Wrote Shape Up

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at the development of our newest book, Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters.

In August 2018, Jason Fried (Basecamp’s founder and CEO) asked me to write a book about how we work. “Sure thing!” I said — having no clue how to go about it or what it would entail.

I didn’t know how to write a book. But I did know how to give a workshop. So I put a call out on Twitter.

The workshop was a prototyping device. It was going to do three things:

Keep reading “How I Wrote Shape Up”

Managing up

5 not-so-often-shared ways to manage up and have a better relationship with your boss.

You want to manage up – but what you really mean is that you simply want to work well with your boss.

Who doesn’t? Especially when your boss is pestering you with questions via Slack after work-hours, or failing to give you enough time to complete projects…

You sigh and think yourself: “How do I manage up effectively?”

This is one of the most common questions I’m asked – and, unfortunately, one of the most common situations that you might face, whether you’re a manager, executive or individual contributor.

Keep reading “Managing up”

Giving unactionable advice

One of the common dings against our books REWORK and It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work (less so with REMOTE), is that we don’t include a lot of actionable advice. It’s a fair swipe.

It seems everyone’s after actionable advice. The advice that tells you exactly what to do. Read this, do exactly that, and here’s the outcome you can expect.

Yeah, no.

Most actionable advice isn’t advice at all, it’s opinion. Sure, you can give someone advice by giving them your opinion, but when you stitch actionable to the front of advice, it masquerades as fact. But it ain’t.

Why don’t we give actionable advice in REWORK and It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work? Because we don’t know how you should act. The action required in any specific situation is highly contextual. If we guessed we’d probably be wrong most of the time.

We can’t tell you what to do. We don’t know what you should do. We barely know what we should do! And most of the time we don’t.

What we can tell you, however, is what we’ve done. In our own unique situation, our own context. From there you can form your own opinion about how it applies to your situation. It’s an input, not the input. Maybe it’s a perfect fit, maybe it’s a partial fit. Maybe it’s not a fit at all. The important part of the equation is you bringing your own mind – and your own situation – to bear. Apply that heavily, not actionable advice lightly.

Seek out unactionable advice. You’ll figure more out.

How to build social connection in a remote team

Virtual team building is tough. Here are 7 ways you can build social connection in a remote team, even from afar.

I’ll be shocked if you’re shocked: Building social connection in a remote team is the hardest part of managing a remote team. According to a survey we ran this past fall with 297 remote managers and employees, “fostering a sense of connection without a shared location” was seen as the #1 most difficult part of being a remote manager – and the #1 most difficult part of working remotely, in general.

It’s predictable. When you work in a co-located office, you walk by someone’s desk and give them a friendly hello, catching up about their weekend. You notice a coworker’s body language appears a little “down” so you ask if they want to grab coffee later. You share a joke over lunch with another colleague when you realize you both oddly adore the same brand of obscure New Zealand mints.

Those serendipitous moments of social connection don’t happen with the same frequency or fidelity when you’re working remotely. As a result, the sentiments of “Ah, we’re in this together” or “You’ve got my back” can be absent in a remote team, unless you deliberately foster them.

Keep reading “How to build social connection in a remote team”

No Half Measures

Photo from Welcome Industries

Pam Daniels had an idea to make an everyday household item—a set of measuring cups—more useful and fun. When her first plan to get her product into the world fell through, she found a different path. The latest episode of the Rework podcast tells the story of what it took to get one product launched.

A quick programming note: This is our last Rework episode until September, as we’re taking a short hiatus for the rest of August. During the break, we’ll play some reruns of the old (like ten years old!) 37signals podcast, so stay subscribed! We’ll be back with all-new episodes in September.

How to share your company vision as a leader

The #1 piece of information you should be focused on as a leader is sharing company vision. Here’s exactly how to do it.

“Company vision” might be the fluffiest business term I know.

Thrown around by every nearly business book and article, “vision” is often used vaguely, without nuance or thoughtfulness.

Yet despite it’s watered-down usage, “vision” is the most important information for us to communicate across a team. According to a survey we conducted with 355 people in the fall of 2018, vision was ranked as the #1 information people need to share in a team.

Given its significance, how to best share a company vision within a team?

Before we can answer that, we must start with what company vision exactly is and why it’s important. Then, we can dive into to how you can make sure it’s shared across the team.

Keep reading “How to share your company vision as a leader”

The worst part of hiring

We ask a lot of job applicants at Basecamp. First, they have to make it through a long, detailed description of the opening. Then we request a dedicated cover letter that’s unique to Basecamp. And then there’s the polishing of a CV. It can easily take hours to apply to a job at Basecamp.

It used to be even worse too! For programmers, for example, we’d ask everyone upfront to submit code samples as part of their first application. Finding a good piece of code, either through open source, learning apps, or whatever, takes time. (Thankfully we don’t do that any more. You have to make it to the second round for us to talk code.)

So it’s not an unreasonable expectation to hope for some detailed feedback if the application isn’t successful. It’s entirely human to wish for feedback on “why didn’t I progress in process?”, “what could I have done better?”, “what else were y’all looking for?”.

And yet the math simply makes that impossible for us. A recent opening for a senior programmer drew over 400 applications (for customer support, we’ve seen over 1,000 applications per opening!). For that programmer role, someone spending just 20 minutes giving diligent feedback per application would keep them busy for almost 7 weeks, if they worked on that for 4 hours per day, 5 days a week!

That really sucks! It’s easily the worst part of hiring to reject hundreds of applicants who’ve put in a lot of their time with a generic “thank you for applying, but unfortunately we’ve moved forward with other candidates!”. Ugh.

So the least we can do is to be honest that this is the process. And, evidenced by the feedback from several applicants in the last hiring thaw, we clearly failed at that. So apologies to everyone who had reasonable expectations of some actionable feedback, and were left cold with a generic rejection.

Next time we’ll spell it out in the post. And applicants can make a more informed decision as to whether it’s worth their time given the risk that the sum of a response might well boil down to “thank you so much, but sorry!”.

Hiring is hard.

Shape Up Roundtable

Basecamp’s new book, Shape Up by Ryan Singer, explores the way designers and programmers at the company build and ship software. In the latest episode of the Rework podcast, Ryan, designer Conor Muirhead, and programmer Jeff Hardy go deep into Shape Up principles, talking about the parts of the process they find most useful and sharing real-life examples of both successes and setbacks.

(If you haven’t yet read Shape Up or listened to last week’s interview with Ryan, it might be helpful to do that first. We’ve also linked to the relevant sections in Shape Up in the show notes for this episode if you’d like to follow along that way.)