Contacts, and the Management Thereof

If only there was a good way to keep track of people and organizations. The good news is that there is. The bad news it that there are many such ways.

This post focuses on three web-based services for managing contacts: Highrise, Nimble, and Contactually. To be more specific, the focus is on free web-based services for managing contacts. You may not need such a service to be web-based: indeed, you may find an address book, made from dead trees, to be more than adequate. You may have decided that your email service gives you all the online contact management you need. But the premise of this post is that you want a contact management service other than the service provided by your email.

Each of the three services (again, that’s Highrise, Nimble, and Contactually) is freemium: there’s a free version, and one or more versions for which you pay, and which give you more than the free versions gives you. I focus here on the contrast between the free versions. I’m trying them out for contact management. So I provide here a view from the low end of the target spectrum, since they are mainly services for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which the respective vendors are selling into businesses.

Highrise is Simple CRM by 37signals: that’s how 37s describes it. I’ve been using the free version for contact management for a while. I haven’t had problems, but will bump against the 250 contact limit for the free version if I use it in earnest. 37signals is keen to upgrade me to a paid option such as Plus (20,000 contacts, $49/month) or its suite, in which Highrise is one of four services.

Nimble proposes that you “Turn Your Social Communities into Customers”. It brings together contacts, calendars, and conversations from services including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The free version allows up to 3,000 contacts, which will be more than enough for me to be going on with; the paid version is $15 per user per month. Nimble was recently written up at TechCrunch and elsewhere, since it raised $1m in funding from notables including my former colleague Don Dodge.

Contactually (also recently at TechCrunch) is the newest of the three CRM/contact management services. It proposes that you manage relationships “right in your [email] inbox”. I haven’t had time to use it much yet. I should note that I emailed support soon after singing up, and receiving a helpful and friendly reply a few hours later, in the early hours of the morning. That’s not due to a different timezone: Contactually is a local (to me) business, being DC-based.

Now, I should stop writing this, contact some contacts, and look out for any comment you might wish to post here…

37signals, One Suite

I’ve long been an admirer of 37signals. Today, Jason Fried announced the 37signals suite. The suite comprises 4 web apps: Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire. The last of these is for online chatting, the first three for managing, respectively, projects, contacts, and stuff.

There are three pricing options, starting at $99/month. It’ll be interesting to see how and if that changes. 37signals like to keep things simple, while some of their clients will have “but I want more of this and less of that with price more like that” comments.

It’s interesting to see that this is not a freemium offering. There is no $0 small-scale or trial version of the suite.

37signals is the best example I know of a firm with a strategy. By strategy, I mean propensity to respond to requests with: No, that’s not what we do. In particular:

  • 37s takes a hard line against feature creep. To make it into a product, a new feature has to add a lot more in terms of useful function than it does in terms of clutter.
  • 37s does not believe in losing money to gain clients. It has always priced for profit. There are $0 versions of the apps, but they are intended for trial, not for extended free-of-charge use.

In terms of my own use, I like the first of these things a lot more than I like the second. One of the reasons I stopped using Backpack was because my use outgrew the $0, but my inclination to pay didn’t. I do currently use Highrise.

What should 37s do next? Well, what I’d like them to do is a Learning Management System (LMS). A ruthlessly uncluttered LMS would allow focus on learning from the course, without wasting cycles navigating the LMS. But I don’t think that an LMS is on the 37s radar, and so I’ll keep on writing about other LMSs.