Getting Real – 37Signals’ book on web app development

Yesterday I bought 37Signals' new book: Getting Real, the book. Here is a bit of background info: "37signals used the Getting Real process to launch five successful web-based applications (Basecamp, Campfire, Backpack, Writeboard, Ta-da List), and Ruby on Rails, an open-source web application framework, in just two years with no outside funding, no debt, and only 7 people (distributed across 7 time zones). Over 400,000 people around the world use these applications to get things done."

The tagline of this book is The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application. The price of the book is $19, and it is available as a downloadable pdf. There are a total of 171 pages in the book, and it took me a few hours to read it. There are some sample chapters on the website as well.

For those in the Web 2.0 industry, this book ought to be required reading. This book might seem like a collection of blog entries and also seemingly contains many already known and general things. However, if Web 2.0 is your religion, Getting Real ought to be the Holy Book. It is something you and your team can refer to again and again until you have the main ideas ingrained in your brain.

According to the book, identify a real problem, and that would be your idea. Draw some paper sketches and move on to designing the interface (with HTML and CSS). You'll have a specific thing which your team can discuss. The actual programming comes later. No need for functional specs, etc. Just get down to the real thing.

There is also a heavy emphasis on less: lesser people (a team size of 3 is ideal till version 1.0), features, processes, meetings, code, documents and even lesser user choices. Finally, when you are done with your web app, have a Hollywood-esque launch: teasers, followed by sneak previews, followed by the actual launch. And all this followed by some post-launch stuff. Ride the blog wave and communicate with your users. The book also discusses product pricing and support, amongst various other things.

I printed all the 171 pages and plan to read them repeatedly. 37Signals is an incredible inspiration for all the web app (Web 2.0) developers out there, and this book is their attempt to share their secret sauce. Go get it.

Related resources:

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What’s under the hood ?

The most important aspect of a Web 2.0 application is what's under it's hood. That means, is there any substance to it ? Is it useful ? Does it do something better, faster, cheaper than some other website ? Would it make any difference to a target user if it dropped off the face of the planet ?

Just having a well designed, nice looking, AJAX-enhanced application isn't enough. Infact, that is just the beginning.

Under the hood, your application could be an amazing blog search engine, based on some neat algorithms (BlogRank ?), or something else. Is BlogPulse a Web 2.0 application ? Perhaps.

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Basecamp

Basecamp is one of the finest Web 2.0 products out there. It is a well designed project management application, and apparently used by many people, some of whom pay a monthly subscription fee. It was created by 37Signals, and built on Ruby on Rails. Infact, Ruby on Rails was extracted from the Basecamp application. 37Signals hasn't required VC funding, and supports almost 400,000 users of their 5 products on 13 servers. I have found Basecamp to be more reliable than GMail.

The free version of Basecamp provides the ability to manage one project. There is an upgrade path if you need more projects or you need to share files. One of the cool features is that uploading files doesn't require a full page refresh.

Couple of things that can make Basecamp even better are a search box, and a rich text editor. Currently, writing rich text in Basecamp involves using their spunky markup. Also, another problem which I came across was that of automatic e-mailing whenever someone posted a comment to my post. And then the whole team conversation moved to email, which kind of defeats the purpose of using a project management application. I think GMail might be Basecamp's biggest inadvertent competitor, since it provides 2GB of free space, message board like conversations and labels.

Overall, Basecamp is a very professional quality product, with a very nice user interface. It is also a very focused and customisable product. For example, a business can put their own logo on the site, and even on the login screen for their users.

I would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants a professional, web-based project management application. You can run your whole Web 2.0 company with Basecamp !

Here are some screenshots (copied from their website):

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Colors 2.0 – The Web 2.0 is a lot about fresh design

I came across this Web 2.0 palette recently (over here). Nice colors and design are an essential component of most of the better Web 2.0 sites out there.

Rounded corners are in. This link explains how to get your rounded corners with CSS only.

Some more niceness (taken from the RubyonRails site):

A bit more candyfloss and feel good stuff (from Strongspace):

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Bubble 2.0, and why you should jump in it now.

These days, the Web is a very exciting place to be. Again. And for a geek, the Web is also the best business to be in.

Some of the Web 2.0 startups have been a cool feature (like Del.icio.us), while some have actually had a good business model (like Basecamp). Del.icio.us, Flickr, Writely…all of whom didn't have a dime in revenue, got bought for a few tens of millions of dollars. Basecamp, on the other hand, has many users who pay a monthly subscription fee.

It's all about users. If you can build a Web 2.0 application, which is able to attract users, you will have a way of making money. That could be through ads, or subscriptions, or getting acquired, or something else. It would be useful if you have a business model prior to going in, but even if you don't, I would say jump right in, and let the market define your business model.

And what if you don't even have a cool Web 2.0 idea ? Still, jump right in ! You might not have a good idea today, but you might have it after a few months, or maybe a year. Or, you might come across someone else who has a good idea and work together. Besides, many existing ideas for desktop applications and Web 1.0 websites are waiting to be recycled in the Web 2.0 mold.

In the meantime, you need to be prepared. You need to have the technical know-how and the appropriate skills on how you are going to implement your website. You might be a terrific Java programmer…but the Web 2.0 sites mostly involve Javascript, XHTML, CSS, Ruby/PHP/ASP.NET, Web services. Update your skills while you are waiting for the right idea !

You need to become a prolific reader and read what's going on in the Web 2.0 space. You need to understand the market, the user interface design, and a whole bunch of other things. You can also start coming up with ideas for your domain name (for eg, something like, say, Goop, can be used for almost anything).

The barrier to entry in the Web 2.0 space is quite low. If you can create a Web 2.0 website and host it, that's all you need, in addition to your passion. If your idea is good enough and starts attracting users, funding and other goodies will follow.

Make hay while the sun shines. You (and me) probably missed the last bubble…are you going to miss this one too ?

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Hello, world!

Welcome to Geek 2.0. Read the about page for what this is all about, add this site to your bookmarks and subscribe to the RSS feed.

The journey has begun, on this holiest of geek days, April Fool's Day (GMail was launched on April 1st, 2004, and ignited the Web 2.0 / AJAX revolution).

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