Obligatory Backpack post

by redshift

I feel it is my duty to inform the readers of Halffull of good things. (I was going to say “all our readers who are virtuous and pure of heart”, but I want someone to actually read this)

37signals has come up with another gem, released this month, called Backpack. When they released Ta-Da lists, I was an avid user for quite a while. It only had a few minor issues like the reordering of elements not being quick enough – it could desperately use a drag’n’drop system. Other than that, it was marvelous – quite simple and intuitive, and with just enough use of AJAX to be useful.

Backpack has obsoleted it in one fell swoop. In essence, it’s a personal information manager, or PIM, on steroids. This is not to say that it has every feature under the sun, or even that it’s terribly innovative in its type of features. The genius was in getting it just right. It’s not a wiki, but it has some wiki-like syntax thanks to Redcloth and some wiki-style interconnectedness thanks to its page-based design and easy linking. You can have any number of notes, files, images, list items, and body text on every page. The free version offers 5 pages (more than enough for many people) and 10 reminders, with no images or files; the pay versions start at $5/month.

The reminder system is great – not only is its interface intuitive (“+15” to be reminded in 15 minutes, or just “7:30pm” for a specific time) but you can be reminded via email or even to your cell phone. [Note: Currently you can choose one (or both) of these options, but they’re global, not per-message. Hopefully that will change soon.]

If you’re not a fan of web forms, you can even email content to your pages. Each page has a unique email address – you can send notes, files/images, and even make todo lists via email through an easy syntax.

Complaints?

  1. Backpack inherited its list system from Ta-Da Lists, which means it has the same awkward reordering.
  2. While Backpack makes sharing your pages publically, or collaborating on pages with friends, quite easy, they only offer full public read-only and private read/write options. It could really use private read-only and public read/write (wiki-style) options as well.
  3. There are a couple features that might come in handy – a calendar element, for example. Currently calendars have to be made with HTML tables done through textile, which, while easy enough, have to be edited manually every update.

These are really minor complaints though, and 37signals listens (and often implements) suggestions from their forum. If there’s something you miss, they’re probably already thinking about it.

Things I’ve used Backpack for so far:

  1. Storing a Quick Reference of my various ID numbers, IP addresses, contacts, etc.
  2. Listing books/websites I want to read, and in what time frame.
  3. Keeping track of WoW information, like talent builds, quest to-dos, etc.
  4. Email reminders of important tasks, like picking up hulk at the airport.
  5. And of course, general notes, todos, songs I want to download, etc. Pretty much anything fits.

[edit] They added drag-and-drop reordering, so my biggest complaint is gone. It works really well, too, and for both to-dos and notes. Check it out!
[edit] After more than two years, they’ve finally added a calendar element. However, it’s extremely basic at the moment, and couldn’t be used as a full calendar system unless you have the most boring life ever. In addition, Backpack has been nearly obsoleted by newer, more interactive web applications. I personally haven’t used it in well over a year. However, 37signals is working on a Backpack rewrite which could be quite interesting.