David Heinemeier Hansson

January 19, 2024

Campfire is ONCE #1

With the successful launch of HEY Calendar a week in the rearview mirror, we’re ready for our second big launch of the new year: ONCE #1. And... drumroll... it’s a rebirth of Campfire! The original web-based chat system we built back in 2006. Brought back to the future as installable software you only need to buy once.

You’ll find the entire rationale for why we’re excited about this retro concept of installable server software on once.com, but let me give you the short spiel. SaaS has been ruling the world of web-based software for two decades now, and made a lot of people wealthy in the process. For good reason, SaaS is great for systems that need to be services. The kind of software that’s constantly evolving or difficult to operate. Like Basecamp or HEY.

But there’s also a lot of SaaS that does not need to be a service. That could just as well be a simple product. A finished product, even. And we think standalone chat is the perfect example of that. It’s simply ridiculous to hear people paying hundreds of dollars a month, if not thousands, if not TENS OF THOUSANDS, for a system like Slack. When all they need is a basic system for their employees to talk to each other.

That’s the category we’ve set our bull’s eye on with Campfire. Dead-simple chat. Without all the endless configuration screens, without all the enterprisey compromises. Just the basics, done really well.

And we’re going to sell this system for a one-time price of $299. That’s right, for some organizations, they may well be able to save two or three or four orders of magnitude on their chat-system bill by hosting Campfire themselves. And included in that price is free bug and security fixes for at least three years. And you get all the source code to audit and study.

We think that’s a pretty good deal! Now, the flip side of this is of course that there’ll be some folks that just need some of those complicated, complex features of enterprisey chat setups. Campfire won’t be for everyone in all circumstances. But that’s fine. With a price this low, you can easily afford to run Campfire as a second system. If you really need to control your data or just want a backup.

So let’s talk about data control. It’s something I’m really excited about with Campfire. YOU OWN IT ALL! All your data, both the messages and the file uploads, live on YOUR server. We never see any of it. We don’t have any user metrics reporting back to our server (although we do collect crash reports, but you can opt out of that too!). This makes Campfire suitable for even the most stringent GDPR or security requirements. You could install this in any European country, work with the data of children or patients. Fully locked down, as you see fit.

Secondly, we’ve gone all-in on mobile web apps (PWA) for use on phones and tablets. This means routing around the damage Apple and Google are causing app makers and consumers with their draconian app store bureaucracies. And it means we don’t have to add 30% on top of the price either.

Campfire’s mobile web apps use the latest PWA technology, so you get push notifications, badge counts, and all that good stuff people expect from native applications. As I’ve said before, it’s not quite as polished an experience in all regards, but for something like chat, it’s more than good enough.

But enough talk. Go have a look at Jason’s product demo video to get a feel for whether Campfire might work for you. Then checkout my installation video, if you’re curious how you’d get up and running. If all of that has piqued your interest, signup to be notified for the full release coming shortly at once.com. We're rolling out invitations to the first batch of interested parties now, and then more next week.

Let’s try something new together!

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.