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Chris Bliss

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Thinkfuse, Basecamp, and the Tyranny of Features

A few days ago we received a trial invite to Thinkfuse, an up-and-coming piece of software focused on group communications (read: project status reports). Without going into a full review (Thinkfuse is still in testing mode), suffice it to say that Thinkfuse represents exactly what we *love* about good new products: simplicity, focused innovation, and intuitive design. Well done.

Still, after thinking through Thinkfuse (there’s a pun in there somewhere), it’s clear that it’s not a product we’re ready to adopt, at least not yet. Let us explain.

Thinkfuse helps groups of people facilitate project status updates. Every week (or day, or month), it asks a project’s owner to report on what happened since the last update, and what’s planned to happen next. Project stakeholders are updated and the report is archived. Pretty slick.

Problem is, the features more or less end there. Want to view the contextual basis for a contact mentioned in the report? Thinkfuse isn’t CRM so too bad. Want to act upon upcoming tasks? Thinkfuse isn’t a task manager so too bad. Want to see the project’s schedule for next week? Thinkfuse isn’t a calendar so too bad. You get the point.

This creates a problem for Thinkfuse. We love it because it’s not bloated with stuff – it does one thing (status reports) and it does it extremely well. Yet, without more stuff, it’s paradoxically unhelpful, at least to us. Looking into Thinkfuse’s future, we’re unhappily reminded of Basecamp, the bloated-yet-inexplicably-popular piece of software that started the project management revolution nearly 10 years ago. When it began, Basecamp was great: it offered barebones functionality and “fresh” design, just like Thinkfuse. Today Basecamp is an unappealing mess of features, integrations and general annoyingness. Uck.

The point is that products like Thinkfuse face tough decisions about how to grow and what features to adopt (or not adopt). In today’s low-barrier app-ecosystem, successful products will increasingly walk a line between elegance and function. Game changers will marry the two.

For the record, we’re really excited about Thinkfuse, and we happen to know their team is actively examining where to take Thinkfuse next. The nerds we are, we can’t wait to see!

Check us out at vm-associates.com for more thoughts on cloud computing and business software.

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More Stories By Chris Bliss

Chris Bliss works at VM Associates, an end-user consultancy for businesses looking to move to the cloud from pre-existing legacy systems.