We decided to kill a feature to figure out how to make it better

Written by Signal vs. Noise - - Aggregated on Tuesday January 30, 2018
Tags: basecamp, applause

Likes and hearts are all over collaboration and communication software today. Even Basecamp 3 has claps now. On the surface, that seems like a natural step forward: Make it easier to participate, provide encouragement, and create a sense of connection. But scratch that surface and there’s plenty of ambivalence below.

I first really noticed my ambivalence in our own product when reading through the daily updates of what people at Basecamp had been working on. We gather all those in a What did you work on today? automated check-in. (It’s one of my favorite features of Basecamp, and it makes it so much easier to keep up with what everyone is cooking without the constant nagging of a manager checking in.)

But as I read through the replies from the few dozen people who answered the question on any given day, I was faced with the dilemma of the clap. If I applauded an update from Sam yesterday, but don’t today, does that mean I’m expressing discontent with the most recent work? If I don’t applaud for Javan on the same day as I applaud for Sam, does that mean I’m parting favor of one over the other?

Frequently my answer to this question was: Applaud equally for everyone or no one. An easy out for anxiety, but not actually very helpful.

After reflecting on my own issues with minimal-effort encouragement, Jason and I discussed our options. No real immediate fixes came to mind. This is a fuzzy problem with lots of subtle trade-offs. So instead of trying ever-harder to think up the perfect solution, we grabbed the hammer instead and decided to whack the feature.

For our first 6-week cycle of the year, we’re doing without the power to clap for messages, comments, completed todos, or answers to automatic check-ins on our own account in Basecamp 3. No big discussion, no brainstorming, no endless contemplation. Just a big whack, and let’s see where this goes.

And go it went. When we announced the change internally, there was an outpouring of opinions. “Yes, I too have anxiety around the claps”, “Ugh, getting a daily report of applause is really annoying”, “I really use claps to say that I saw something”, “Hey, isn’t it interesting that we’re all commenting with a lot more depth now that the easy out of a clap isn’t there any more?”.

I don’t know what we’re ultimately going to do about applause in Basecamp 3, but I do know we’ll be much better informed by going without for a while on our own account. A foundation for making a better decision we wouldn’t have had if we had just kept talking about it.

When in doubt, give it a whack.


We decided to kill a feature to figure out how to make it better was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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