Backpack, the new tool from 37Signals, continues to impress. For normal people, I would call it a digital bulletin board - a place where you can write, stick post-it notes, and pin your child's birthday party invitations (a white board is too limited).
Backpack is a place for you to put notes, lists, files and pictures. You create a page with as much information as you like and then add additional pages as needed. You can organize them however you want and share them however you want. In fact, I think one of the most impressive breakthroughs of Backpack is per page security. In the simplest way imaginable, Backpack allows you to keep one page entirely private, share another with 3-4 friends or associates, and share one with the world.
For the more technically minded, I would call it a wiki for the rest of us, or, to put it another way, imagine if Apple released iWiki. The basic wiki concept of a free form page that is easily editable combined with a quick way to add new pages is fully present in Backpack. But you've never seen a wiki that looks this good and includes easy file and photo storage (with thumbnails), email reminders, and completely flexible security.
One thing that particularly impress me about Backpack's development is it has perfectly followed the development model Jason Fried regularly describes in his presentations. Two examples:
1. Make decisions just-in-time
Jason talks a lot about delaying decisions and features until they are absolutely necessary. In fact, Basecamp launched without a billing module because they knew they had 30-days before the free trials ended!
They've done the same thing for Backpack. Check out the Help page:
Where's search? We'll be adding search within the next 60 days. Search isn't all that useful until you have a lot of pages, so by the time you have a lot of pages you'll see search in place.
It gives me such joy to read that in a FAQ. It essentially says that a feature can't be missing if you don't even need it yet. This is based on the understanding that software is never finished. Once you embrace that, you are free to focus on what has true business value now.
2. Hold back a few key features until after you've launched
Whether you're launching a website, a new piece of software, or both, the temptation is to release with every possible feature, then retreat into a bunker while you wait for the bug reports to come in.
Instead, hold back a few cool features that you can release during the first month. This will increase momentum and generate additional positive buzz. It's also a great way to highlight a feature that will get significant attention when released on it's own, but may have been lost in the initial laundry list.