I’ve been thinking about the incident at Basecamp for most of the week. I wanted to write something about it earlier, after hearing about the policy changes on Tuesday, but I’d figure that it would probably be best to wait a bit and learn more about the issue first. The last thing I wanted to do is add one more knee-jerk reaction to the mix during the heat of the moment.
But it is something that I want to comment on. I’ve only recently started following the writing of DHH and Jason Fried but I am aware of their reputation in both their approach to business and their dealings in the open-source community. To hear of a scandal form a business founded by these two took me aback. That’s probably why I’m writing this post at all. Hearing news like this from companies as large as Facebook or Google, with tens of thousands of employees, doesn’t surprise me as much as something arising from a company of about sixty people.
The thing about being on the outside looking in is that you have an imperfect picture of the whole incident. And even after reading the open letter, the report from Casey Newton, and the response from DHH, it’s still not the full picture, as you cannot be inside the head of those involved. You can only work with what you read, and how it shapes your view of the principal actors that lives inside your head. This, along with the current environment that this event occurred in, makes it difficult for me to comment on the matter.
But I do see a few things that are regrettable. It’s regrettable that such a thing like the Best Customer Names list exists. Far be it from me to be above making light of those that I deal with on a day-to-day basis, that such a list exited seemed like a step too far, particularly when it deals with those that you are being paid to serve. I can understand if this was a small startup with a handful of employees working hard to get it off the ground, and there was a need to vent. But for a company of sixty, especially one that thinks highly about how they operate they write blog posts about, it strikes me as unprofessional, and it does them no credit.
It’s also regrettable that this matter could not be have been dealt with internally.
One thing that struck me was how long the build up to this policy change was. It did not happen overnight; clearly something was brewing in Basecamp for a little while. And although I recognise that there were attempts to settle the matter internally, with the list removed and an apology from the founders, I also recognise that we are dealing with people with very strong personalities that are not afraid to air their opinions. So I wonder whether or not it could have remained an internal matter at all. Nevertheless, it’s in the public now, with the associated backlash and loss of credibility.
Which brings me to the third regrettable thing, which is the ban on political discussion. In the abstract, this is not something that I personally support; a company does not operate in a vacuum after all. Maybe for a company like Basecamp it could act as bit of a circuit breaker if deployed for a little while; I get the sense that the founders thought similar. But it is a shame that it got to that level, and I do hope that they reverse it once things settle down. I think it’s good of Basecamp to offer severance packages to those employees that disagree with this measure, and wish to find work elsewhere. That indicates that they are willing to back their employees decision to leave, rather than leave their employees with a bit of a Sophies’s choice situation.
So, what will I be doing going forward? I’ll probably continue to read posts from Jayson and DHH, and continue to use their open-source frameworks.
I’m not a paying customer of Basecamp, although I do use their free offering, and I’m planning to continue doing so. Of course, I can understand if others choose a different course of action. Although I’m not a fan of making decisions in the heat of the moment, I can understand and respect the decisions made now, given that more on the incident has surface. I will be interested in seeing how Basecamp operates going forward. An event like this could have a lasting impact on a company, it’s founders, and it’s employees, and it would be interesting in seeing how to move on from it.