How Backpack Made Me Like Gmail More, by Nate Burgos
Posted on April 7, 2009
I guess we’re on a little bit of a 37signals kick over here at the Geek Girls Guide. Last week, our pal Julie outlined how she and her husband use Basecamp to manage their home remodeling. This week, our newfound friend Nate Burgos of Design Feast shares how 37Signals’ Backpack has helped him keep his inbox cleaner by streamlining his writing and editing process. This article is a great example of how one technology tool (Backpack) can help simplify another (email). I don’t think Nate is alone in wanting to keep the amount of “noise” in his inbox down.
We’ll be posting some more articles around here soon about how to keep your Inbox(es) under control. Let us know if Nate’s post gives you any bright ideas!
Since starting my blog last year, I had been using Gmail to send files to my editor Silvia. The system was simple: State the blog posting number in the email’s subject header, insert pleasant greeting and notification, and attach Word document. Writing is naturally iterative. There were a number of times that I would email another, and sometimes still another, revised version of the same posting. In these instances, the subject header would read USE THIS.
At times I needed to make sure that the latest version was indeed the latest, so I used Gmail’s fast search to track it. This way of sharing and commenting on versions was my workflow for making content to post. But repeating this workflow, with each compounded and buried email in my Sent folder, proved that the system wasn’t the right solution.
Last January, my writing-and-approval system was not only refreshed but also reengineered when I began using Backpack, 37signal’s tool for sharing and organizing information. I thought my immediate choice would be Basecamp, but decided that Backpack was appropriate for my purpose. Backpack allows you to create a Page, however many needed, dedicated to a topic. Each Page serves as a central place to store the stuff pertaining to the topic of that Page, like this for a past topic for a blog entry:
You can add a checklist and notes, and upload documents and images. These “digital assets” live on a Page that can be as tall as needed, depending on how many things you feel are necessary, or unnecessary. At first, I created a Page per blog piece. Then I shared the Page with Silvia, who accessed it to download the document and upload her revised version. But this quickly proved cumbersome. This led to one Page to accommodate all blog-writing projects.
This new approach meant Silvia would use just one shared link to access the Page that holds sections for new content (including those for other projects), a designated review space, a “From Silvia” section and a Downloaded section. The space makes it easy to post and identify both documents that are ready for review or have been edited. Everything is conveniently accessible on one surface, which also acts as a Backup. In other words, one Backpack Page to rule them all.
Some observations from the organizational move from Gmail to Backpack:
When uncertain about which web tool is good for you, sign up for a trial
For too long, I was toggling between Basecamp and Backpack. I really wanted to use the former, but felt that it offered more than what I would use. Watching videos of Backpack’s features honed my attention toward this webapp. But seeing videos and reading testimonials only goes so far: You have to use a tool to believe it. Signing up for a test run greatly helped the decision-making.
Email can only go so far in organizing information (Duh?)
Backpack’s make-a-Page action, resulting in a single Page view, is comprehensive. It’s comforting to have one’s bits and bytes about a topic on a single surface, rather than in a folder directory and mixed up with non-related content. I also use Backpack’s create-a-Divider action a lot to visually chunk my Pages and make them more digestible.
Ease into the more “robust” version of a web-based tool
Buying into a web-based tool is an out-of-my-pocket expense. I bought into Backpack’s Solo plan, which allows me to make 100 Pages and includes a personal calendar plus 1 GB for files and photos. Security is a part of this plan too. So far, this plan works for me. The option to upgrade is something to look forward to as my work and needs evolve.
Backpack promotes proactive documentation
Effectively using Backpack obviously depends on my input. I treat my project-based Pages in Backpack as canvases. It’s whitespace, and you should engage it with matter: a List, a Note, an Image, a Document. Searching for something is confined to the Page, of course, if you put in there in the first place.
I thought that I would let go of Backpack when the trial version was up, and I was promptly reminded: