Equipping your Virtual Office with a Multiuser Backpack


Backpack, 37signals lightweight online information organizer has just morphed into a very handy intranet for web worker online businesses with the addition of multiuser page, calendar, messaging and reminder functions.

Multiuser Backpack

“The concept of an intranet has been perverted over the years to be a bunch of different things,” said Jason Fried, CEO of Chicago-based 37signals.” Our idea of what an intranet needs is what we have encountered over and over and over when we used to do client work. People just need a place to share common information. They need a place to keep track of very simple calendar items – when a meeting is, when something is going on. And they need a way to share documents. So we see Backpack as a new breed of intranet – returning to the original promise of the intranet: a closed system for people within an company to share information.”

“Backpack is perfect for distributed companies. We have 10 people at 37signals. Five of those people are in Chicago, and five of those people are in five other cities around the country. So we’re a very distributed company – that’s how we work. In fact the five people in Chicago don’t usually work together, we work from home,” he added.

Three things got my attention in the new, somewhat lower priced multiuser Backpack:

Backpack pages are dirt-easy collaborative workspaces. You – or anyone you let into a page – can add lists, notes, whiteboards, files and pictures as quickly as you could arrange this information in a desktop spreadsheet, for example moving items from your to-do list on a page to their to-do list on that page, just like what people do in physical offices. “That’s the whole concept of Backpack pages: they let you put together whatever sort of information you want. What people want to do is share information that the entire organization needs.” Fried added.

typical Backpack pages

Backpack will make sure everyone gets the word. Whether you want to spot changes via the new Newsroom feature online, or want to get a steady RSS feed to your iGoogle home page or want email updates or text to your cell phone, Backpack accommodates your web working style.

River of Intranet News

Offices – even virtual offices – need a supporting web of reminders (“Expenses due Friday or else.”) to make sure things run smoothly. Emailing gets old very quickly as a way of communicating non-urgent information and is a terrible medium for organizing the kinds of multi-person projects distributed companies thrive on. Backpack’s reminders make it easy to get the word out without belaboring the point.

Fans – and there are over 350,000 users presently of Backpack – of the old single user Backpack don’t need to pay for multiuserness they don’t need: The Solo plan for a single user provides up to a hundred pages, calendar, 1 GB file storage and SSL for $7 a month down from $9. Other plans range from free to $149 a month depending on users, pages and storage.


Michael (Nozbe.com)

This is really a nice coincidence… I’ve been using Backpack and since it wasn’t good with GTD (Getting Things Done), I developed Nozbe and now we both launched our multi-user accounts in the same time.

However in Nozbe I take a different approach, it’s not multi-user, it’s multi-accounts – so each user has separate account but “under one roof” so it’s just easier for these users to share projects together, they share messages, have one “business” login screen, etc.

But the idea is similar – you buy one multi-account for your company and let everyone in your firm to get things done… together.

I think the approach 37signals did with Backpack is good as a company intranet… Nozbe is meant to be a collaborative tool to get things done… thus I took a little different approach to the multi-user thing.



Oh, one more thing. When you share pages with specific people, those pages are not open to the public. Pages are only open to the public if you specifically share them with the world.




You can share an individual Backpack page with anyone; they don’t need to have a user in your account. They do, however, have to sign up for a free Backpack account.

I get the impression that multiuser Backpack is intended as an intranet, within a company. Another of 37Signal’s products, Basecamp, is intended as an extranet/project manager; you can invite an unlimited number of clients to it at no extra charge.

(a very happy Backpack solo user)



I signed up for a free account to test the multi-user capability. Very slick, very well executed. However, a little too pricey for what I’m willing to pay at the moment. A solo consultant like myself with 50-60 clients would have to pay $149 a month. I don’t need 7,500 pages, I need 60 users with about 100-200 pages.

So, keeping it real, I love your new Backpack but it just doesn’t fit my budget. I’ll have to continue to use Google Docs with its built in sharing, and hope that their new upcoming Google Jotspot rollout will give me some Backpack intranet functionality that I’ve been hoping for.



Jason Fried

“If they had an easy way to share password protected information, I would upgrade to multi-user account in an instant.”

Bob: We do. That’s the point of the new Backpack. You can create an account for your client and share a page with them. You can specify who can see which pages.


I’ve been a solo Backpack user for years, using it to track my assorted information. However, I’ve never used it with my clients due to the requirement of each user needing a Backpack account. I don’t want to put my clients in the position of signing up with 37Signals just to view their data. And if you make the pages public, then the whole world can view the semi-private data.

If they had an easy way to share password protected information, I would upgrade to multi-user account in an instant.


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