37signals’ Highrise contact manager

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project has handled billions of signals from outer space. By 1999 it had only discovered 37 signals which could have indicated intelligent life. At this …

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1st April 2007 at 3:58 pm

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project has handled billions of signals from outer space. By 1999 it had only discovered 37 signals which could have indicated intelligent life. At this time a newly-founded web interface design and usability consultancy was looking for a name. 37signals struck the founders as suitably cool.

Since then, the company has moved into providing software as a web service with a number of products, the best known of which is probably Basecamp, a project management system which has ‘over 1,000,000 people signed up’. March 20th saw the launch of its latest product, a contact management system called Highrise.

Once upon a time, Adam Osborne (RIP), ran a computer manufacturing business. His motto was ‘adequacy is sufficient, everything else is irrelevant’. 37signals has a similar approach. It incorporates ‘enough’ functionality into its web-based products then seeks user feedback. It then responds immediately to what it regards as legitimate complaints*.

Within 36 hours of last month’s launch, it changed the content of its various service packages in response to user comments. In particular, it cranked the free version up from 25 to 250 contacts.

All the services let you maintain lists of contacts and notes or emails relating to each one. If you forward an email to a special address, it is automatically assigned to the appropriate contact. This is powerful stuff. You can also create task lists and assign them dates or, relative times like tomorrow, next week and so on. These relative times are updated so that outstanding entries move from ‘tomorrow’ to ‘today’ or from ‘next week’ to ‘this week’ as time passes. It is also possible to create ‘cases’ to let multiple participants see what’s going on, all from the same page.

The software is straightforward to use and looks reasonably attractive. You can choose a colour scheme and personalise it with your own logo. People, notes and groups can be revealed to, or hidden from, individuals or groups. But tasks can’t be. In a small company, especially, this seems to be a dangerous weakness. I got round it by letting others share my login, but that is not a good way to work. I believe that tasks should have permission attributes too.

If you consider your existing contact management systems to be over-engineered or too clunky, why not take a look at Highrise? You can start at ‘free’ and work your way up the payment plans if you like what you see.

*Re legitimate complaints: The morning after I posted this item, Highrise told me I had no tasks today and reported all today’s actual tasks as overdue. My email to support and comments in the forum will prove an interesting test of the company’s responsiveness. It has a huge fan-base, so I’m optimistic.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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  1. Jason Fried says:

    Thanks for the write-up, David. We’ve gathered some good feedback re: visibility of tasks and we have some ideas.

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