Collaborative Project Management Face-off: Basecamp vs Freedcamp

When you’re working in a team, no matter what the project may be, you can make life so much simpler by employing a project management tool. Collaborating with several people means that there are multiple deadlines to consider, and it’s obviously helpful if each person on the team knows what everyone else is up to.

It’s a situation we find ourselves in here on Make Tech Easier. The team of writers need a place to get together to discussion idea, plan a schedule for articles and make sure two people aren’t writing about the same topics! We’ve tried out various options here, but it is Basecamp and Freedcamp that have proved the most useful.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages – it’s very hard to find a tool that’s perfect! – but if you’re looking for an online collaboration tool, which one should you go for. We put the two head to head to see who comes out on top.

Basecamp is probably the more famous of these two tools. The site has some impressive stats that have been cherry picked to entice you into using the service –  over 8 million projects managed so far, 99.99% uptime, and a 97% approval rating from users – and from personal experience I know that it is both easy and enjoyable to use.

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Working on any kind of project requires some level of management, and this is particularly true when there are several people involved. When you have a job to do, you want to be able to focus on getting it done rather than micromanaging everything that is involved, and this is precisely what Basecamp gives you.

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While steering users away from using email as the primary means of communication, there is neat integration. Once a project has been set up and users have been assigned the relevant levels of access to it, Basecamp works almost like a social network.

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Individual projects can be assigned to as many people as necessary and each project can be divided up into however many sections may be needed. Items that are posted can be assigned to individuals, and given a due date, and anyone who is tagged in a post will receive an email notification.

To make it easier and faster to interact with posts, responses can be sent via email without the need to visit the Basecamp website and with no need for complicated set up or email structuring – just enter your text, hit send and the reply will be sent out to everyone involved.

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When managing multiple projects, access rights become important and this is something that’s easy to configure in Basecamp – users only ever see the projects they are involved in and can only perform the actions assigned to them.

A handy calendar is available to give a quick overview of what is happening in the coming days, and there is a timeline feature that makes it possible to see at a glance all of the latest updates.

One compelling reason to use Basecamp is the availability of an iOS app. It’s a shame that there aren’t Android or Windows Phone apps as well, but the Basecamp’s mobile website is a great alternative.

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One thing to keep in mind with Basecamp is that it is going to involve a financial outlay. There is a 60 day trial so you can take the service for a test drive and see if it works for you, but after this you’ll have to start paying a monthly subscription.

There are various tariffs available and the one you opt for will depend on the number of projects you intend to manage with Basecamp and how much online storage space you need. The cheapest option will set you back $20 per month and allows you to work with up to 10 projects at a time and includes 3GB of space.

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If your needs are greater, $50 each month gets you 40 projects and 15GB of space, $100 includes 100 projects and 40GB of storage, while an unlimited number of projects and 100GB of space costs $150 per month. The ability to store files in a central location is extremely handy for any team who is spread across the country or even across the globe. Sharing hardware in an office is easy, and while the likes of Dropbox allow for file sharing, it makes sense to keep everything relating to a project in one place.

If there are any criticisms to be leveled at Basecamp – aside from the cost if you’re on a budget – it would be the slightly cartoony look. Without wanting to sound old and staid, the site can be a little childish and garish looking.

Freedcamp is the only real contender as a serious alternative to Basecamp. These two are far from being the only project management tools available, but these two are easily comparable.

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Perhaps the most obvious difference between Basecamp and Freedcamp is that Freecamp is free of charge (there’s a clue in the name). For businesses on a budget, this may be the most important consideration. The free software movement has shown us that the fact that something is available without charge need not mean having to settle for an inferior product.

This rings true with Freedcamp. While it tackles the idea of project management in a slightly different way to Basecamp, it is still an extremely polished and accomplished tool.

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The lack of price tag obviously means that some compromises have to be made and the most obvious area in which cutbacks have been made is bundled storage. The standard package only comes with 20MB of space. If you don’t mind parting with some cash, you can fork out $2.59 for 1 GB (as well as increasingly the size limit on individual files from 2MB to 100MB), $7.99 gets you 5GB, $16.99 for 10GB, $24.99 for 15GB and unlimited storage costs $39.99 per month (which is still significantly cheaper than Basecamp).

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Just as with Basecamp, Freedcamp makes it possible to tag project participants in a post so they’ll receive email updates. This works just as well in both service, and Freedcamp proves itself to be particularly versatile thanks to the availability of different levels of access. An administrator is allowed free rein to do whatever they want, while general users can have restrictions placed on their accounts. There’s even a “client” mode which is essentially a read-only mode.

One area in which Freedcamp really shines is in its extendibility. There are a number of apps that can be integrated into a project as and when required, adding a range of features such as chat, a wiki component, and much more – there’s even an app store where you can get hold of free and paid-for extensions.

There are also lots of nice extra touches such as the ability to record the amount of time each person spends working on a project – this is extremely handy for generating invoices at the end of the month.

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It could be argued that the interface for Freedcamp is generally less pleasant than Basecamp. This may seems strange as there is a more “professional” look to Freedcamp, but navigation is not quite as intuitive and things seem to take slightly longer to complete than is strictly necessary.

Both Freedcamp and Basecamp are very capable tools – and here at Make Tech Easier we have worked with both. Opt to use either of these tools and you’ll be equipping yourself with a powerful aid to working in a group.

Collaborative work over long distances can be tricky, but Freedcamp just goes to show that it need not cost the Earth.

I find Basecamp to be a more enjoyable working environment, but it does come at a cost. The fact that Freedcamp is free is quite incredible when you look at the range of features and options it offers. Both tools have their advantages and disadvantages, but you’re not really missing out by opting to use either of them.