Web workers have a love/hate relationship with Backpack. On the one hand, it’s an incredibly simple tool for collecting information. On the other hand, it’s an incredibly simple tool for collecting information. That simplicity is the application’s greatest strength…and its greatest liability. As part of their “Getting Real” manifesto for developing web applications, the folks at 37Signals have been resistant to adding bells & whistles to their tools. But eventually, they had to give in a just a bit while maintaining the essence of the application and the company’s brand.
There were already many different ways to be productive with Backpack. Last week, Backpack 2 was released, giving web workers a few good reasons to give the online organizer another look. Consider upgrading to the $5/month plan to get the most out of the service, including more pages and a simple calendar.
Relocate items to other pages. One big frustration in Backpack was always its emphasis on the “pretty” over the ability to dynamically move data around. Pages desperately needed to be more flexible. That call has been answered. For example, the new Backpack now lets you dump text, images, links into a single “Collection” page when you’re in a hurry, and then relocate them item by item to organized pages when and how you prefer.
In the past this was a deal-breaker for me, and it’s the primary reason I have now come back to the service.
Search! Simply about time.
OpenID Support. For those of us who use Backpack as a personal organizer while we have Basecamp and/or Highrise accounts for business-related collaboration, this is a welcome addition. More than the ability to log in across all services with a single ID, using OpenID enables the Open Bar at the top of all 37Signals application pages. I’ve found it very handy to bounce between multiple Basecamp accounts and Backpack.
OpenID is easy to use on sites that support it, and you don’t have to remember multiple user names and passwords.
Don’t forget 3rd party tools that can make the Backpack experience better. PackRat, the $24.95 Mac OS X desktop organizer that works seamlessly with Backpack has recently been updated to version 1.3 to address some of the changes in the new web version of the web application. PackRat is ideal for capturing information whether you are online or off, as it automatically syncs in the background. Unfortunately, some new features are not yet supported in the API that PackRat relies on, so if you use PackRat (or a similar tool that uses the Backpack API), give some time for the dust to settle.
A common complaint among users is Basecamp/Backpack’s plain text boxes that can only accept formatting through coded markup (Textile). Nowadays, end users are just too used to visual editors. If you are one of those people and you use Firefox, then install the free Basecode add-in for a right/control-click contextual menu for easy access to formatting commands while in Backpack editing windows. No need to remember whether it’s a * or a _ that bolds text. Basecode’s WYSIWYG editing bar only works reliably in Basecamp, but the contextual menu works in both applications for quickly formatting Textile markup.
Are you a new or returned fan? How are you using Backpack to collect and present information?