Discussions are threaded messages (like email), but strictly managed to stay topic-focused. The majority of communication happens as comments within existing Discussions.
A 6-month project will have 40-50 Discussions in total — far less than email threads would have taken place. This makes it very manageable to find, review, and continue a specific Discussion. Each Discussion should be broad enough to cover multiple related decision-points, but narrow enough to not need indefinite input. Striking that balance comes with experience.
Throughout the project I edit, rename, move, and delete content posted into Basecamp. Don’t take it personally. Basecamp is a tool for starting, organizing, and recalling our decision making. Pruning keeps it efficient.
This may seem like overkill, but trust me. These practices matter 1000 replies into a project, and you need to find a comment.
Thoughtfully naming discussions establishes breadth. Try to reframe an inquiry from a single question to a useful bucket of information.
Use this format:
Bucket: Topic Phrase
- Bucket — A high-level grouping for types of Discussions.
- Topic Phrase — This specific Discussion’s content written as succinctly as possible.
- Design — For defining global aesthetics, interaction patterns, typography, or fixed elements (header, footer, nav, etc).
- Chatter — For relaying info to the entire team (only one thread per project).
- Extension — For discussing a third-party module’s implementation.
- Feature — A workflow or component not tied to a specific “Page” or that requires more detailed discussion than should be included on the parent Page’s discussion.
- Plan — For discussing a long-term goal or series of events (ex: project timeline).
- Research — For competitor analysis, brand persona, user persona, or analytics discussion.
- Technical — For defining practices affecting the frontend that aren’t visual/concrete.
Example discussion names
These should give you a sense of Discussion breadth:
- Design: Aesthetic Style
- Design: Header
- Design: Product Carousel
- Extension: Nosto Recommendations
- Feature: Cart – Shipping Estimate
- Feature: Header – Search Interaction
- Feature: Top Promotion (Modal/Slide)
- Page: Cart
- Page: Product
- Page: Shipping & Returns
- Technical: URL Design
- Technical: Performance Budgeting
Note: the “Page: Cart” has a sub-discussion for “Feature: Cart - Shipping Estimate”. It’s sometimes useful to break out sub-topics to their own Discussion (if their complexity requires it), and leave the parent discussion for defining their relationship to one another or a larger workflow.
- Participants — Always subscribe everyone in the project to a new discussion. Let openness be the default. If they decide it’s not relevant, they can unsubscribe. That’s better than being out of the loop.
- Tacking On — Don’t add an unrelated point or question to a Discussion because the participants’ attentions are there. Post it separately in the appropriate Discussion or create a new one. Every discussion should re-read like a continuous chain of thought. This isn’t possible if you have to criss-cross between Discussions to get the full picture.
- Files — Follow the Basecamp Files guidelines.
- Text Formatting — Use the text formatting tools in Basecamp (bold headings, lists) to organize your thoughts. Nobody likes a giant block of text.
Replying to discussions
- Basecamp sends an email notification when a Discussion you’re subscribed to is updated. You can reply to the email to comment, but I don’t.
- Always visit Basecamp to respond if you can. Some email apps inject line breaks that make your response difficult to read.
- You can edit your posts for 15 minutes. If you forgot to say something, just edit your post — don’t write another post.
- To address a specific person, write
@ John: your reply...so it’s clear who you’re speaking to. Or
@ John @ Mike: your reply...
When to email
If treated exactly like email, Basecamp will become unusable. Anything with long-term reference value belongs on Basecamp. Otherwise, just use email for things like:
- Scheduling meetings
- Inquiries not relevant to any Discussion
- Inquiries too small to merit a new Discussion
- If you’re just unsure where a topic belongs
If anything non-fleeting comes over email, I’ll re-post in Basecamp where it makes sense. As you use Discussions, it’ll become second-nature where this line is.