First let me say that I’m totally into the idea of marketing a product originally created to fulfill a personal need. For example, I just bought two pairs of pants from http://bonobos.com, which was borne from one man’s quest to create trousers that actually fit a dude. The secret is apparently a curved waistband + a small pleat in the buttcrack. I don’t know how it works, but it does. My ass has never looked better.
The thing I like about those pants (in the context of this conversation, not my physiology) is that they’re unambiguous. The problem is X, and our solution is Y. And handily, like 37signals, Bonobos also has a blog to discuss their “solution”: real-world applications, product pairings, design philosophy, peeks at future offerings, and other such brand and product promotions. But the key difference is that 37signals has to use that outlet--indeed, any outlet they can--not to promote but to justify their product. They have to do that because they’re obviously not involved in solving problems; their business model is essentially duping dumb people into believing that they are.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that 37signals’ suite of products was nominally designed to solve communications problems in organizations. Yet the linked blog post begins with a presumably paying customer noting that the suite of products makes it difficult for him to [decide how to] communicate with his organization! Epic fail.
(The fact that I’m still unaware of what, exactly, their products do, despite poring over their site for what must be hours at this point, is itself a devastating attack on their company. That they’ve amassed a customer base of “over 3 million people” speaks primarily to their prowess at targeting the elusive dumbass demographic.)
The developers’ subsequent, belabored explanation of their own use case in their blog is both necessary and repulsive. Necessary, because by creating ambiguous products that paradoxically effect the problems they claim to solve, they’re required to publicly justify, rather than advocate, their stuff. It’s repulsive to me primarily because they’re so transparent about the idiocy of what they’re doing, almost proud of it: “a Case could also be a Basecamp project. A Highrise Task could also be a Backpack To-Do.” What! This is so obviously a problem with the software, not an advantage of it! Creating something so nebulous as to be impossible to describe in concrete terms, in the aim that it “allows people to decide for themselves on a system that’s best for their needs,” isn’t innovative. It’s fucking zombo.com with AJAX. NERD RAGE AHH.
The situation is summarized, hilariously, by the first comment on that post: “since I started using 37s products I haven’t been able to quite figure out the difference between basecamp and backpack at a functional level.” Literally: since I started using your products, I haven’t been able to figure out how to use them. I mean, for fuck’s sake.