Jason Fried

September 25, 2023

Keeping easy from becoming hard

Each Basecamp project has eight built-in tools you can toggle on or off. One for to-dos, one for file storage, one for scheduling, one for a message board, and so on. One of those tools is called "Campfire". Campfire is a real-time group chat. Think of it like Slack, but built right into Basecamp so you don't need Slack or anything else just to chat with your team in real-time.

Now most tools in Basecamp have very simple, self-explanatory names. To-dos for to-dos... Messages for messages... Schedule for events... Docs & Files for, you guessed it, documents and files... Etc. There are two tools with "special" names: Campfire (group chat), and Card Table (for our unique take on kanban).

As we continue our relentless focus on simplicity, ease, and clarity, we've decided to rename the Campfire tool to Chat. That brings it in line with the other tools with self-explanatory names. Less explanation, less "what's Campfire do?" questions, less confusion overall across the board. Sounds like a minor change, and it is, but at our scale, every clarification has a big impact down the line.

Now, on to the title of this post. Keeping easy from becoming hard.

We're changing the name of a tool that exists in millions of existing projects. That could require a migration, which would require especially careful testing and staging ahead of a major deploy. The other sticking point is that Basecamp allows each customer to rename their tools inside a project, or even the default set of tools applied to all projects. So it's possible that some of their Campfire's were renamed to other things like "Group chat" or "Chatter" or "Talk" or "The Watercooler" or whatever else felt natural to them. So not every Campfire is called Campfire.

The hard thing to do would be to automate the process by going through every project and changing any Campfires named exactly "Campfire" to "Chat" instead, and then leaving the rest as is. But we also have foreign language conditions — someone may have named their Campfire "Fogata" (which is Campfire in Spanish). Do we change those too? If we're out to be accurate and consistent yes.

But no. We don't do any of that. Doing that would be hard. And unnecessary. And time consuming. And potentially error prone. All sorts of things could go wrong — or right — but whatever the outcome, it's entirely unnecessary work to begin with. So we won't do it.

We'll simply do this: Moving forward, all new projects have their chat tool called Chat, and all existing projects stay exactly as they were, whatever they were. Consistency is not important here, context is. Let old things be, let new things be different. This sidesteps the extra work, extra testing, conversion complications, and potential for errors.

Does that mean some older projects will have Campfires while some newer projects will have Chats? Even on the same account? Sure does. And that's just fine. It doesn't matter, and in time it'll fade away anyway as more new projects are created than old projects exist.

Don't make easy things hard.


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.