Why We’re Dropping Basecamp

Screen shot depicts a Microsoft To Do task labelled "Let Basecamp subscription lapse."

We at Duke University Libraries have decided to stop using the project management platform, Basecamp, to which we have subscribed for almost a decade. We came to this decision after weighing the level of its use in our organization, which is considerable, against the harms that we see perpetuated by the leadership of Basecamp’s parent company, 37signals. As a result of our discussions, we will not renew our current subscription when it ends in December. In the meantime, a small group of our staff have committed to help colleagues export their Basecamp content so it can be archived, and we will move to using other productivity platforms.

In July of this year, in a team chat, one of our colleagues shared a link to a blog post authored by one of the founders and owners of 37signals, and commented, “We really might want to rethink our usage of Basecamp.”

It jogged our memories of events some 26 months earlier, when another colleague shared an article published on The Verge, “Breaking Camp.” As reported, internal conflict regarding a culturally-insensitive list of “funny” customer names led Basecamp’s leadership to ban employees from holding “societal and political discussions,” ignoring that the conflict focused on workplace dynamics. Mass resignations resulted, and the experiences of the employees interviewed paints a picture of company leaders who initially supported Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) activities but eventually placed severe restrictions on how those activities could play out at work. In a playbook for the ages, those in power failed to acknowledge the complicated interconnectedness and nuance of the issues under discussion, and set policies that shut down discussions challenging the company culture.

The discussions we had in 2021 identified concerns about both the culture at Basecamp and the impact a decision to leave it would have on our daily work. Staff reflected on the ease of using the platform, the large number of projects that rely on it, and the complication of a decision that would impact groups across in the Libraries in such a direct way. While we talked about how we might respond to the values of third-party companies, we eventually decided not to pursue a cancellation.

When we revisited the discussion this summer, it took a decidedly different direction. The blog post that our colleague shared in July, titled “The law of the land,” by 37signals co-founder, co-owner, and CTO, David Heinemeier Hansson, celebrates the US Supreme Court’s ruling ending considerations of race in admission to colleges and universities. In that post, Hansson links to another that drew our attention, “The waning days of DEI’s dominance.” We also read a third post of his, “Meta goes no politics at work (and nobody cares).” We found there a thread of ugly thought, couched in an overriding intellectual dishonesty, that re-escalated our discussion about continued use of Basecamp.

We’re not going to address each of the many falsehoods and distortions in the blog posts by David Heinemeier Hansson. Instead, we will focus on a few emblematic statements that stand in for a pattern of rhetoric that runs counter to our own values.

In the “waning days” piece, Hansson depicts Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a movement that became entrenched in 2020, a process he characterizes being “accelerated” by a number of factors, including “the riots in the wake of George Floyd.” Referring to the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd as “riots” is an offhand gesture as Hansson uses it, but it gets our attention because we know how false, ideological, and ugly it is. 

Research and the documentary record show that the protests of 2020 were overwhelmingly peaceful, that incidents of violence were limited and often instigated by counter protestors or provocateurs, and that in many cases the responses of the police and federal authorities provoked and exacerbated the violence. The characterization of these events as “riots” followed as part of a deliberate disinformation campaign by right-wing groups, media’s distorting focus on isolated incidents, and biased framing by political campaigns. It plays on a longstanding and shameful tendency in the US of depicting any protest or demands for justice from Black members of our society as innately violent and threatening. 

In the same post, Hansson takes glee in the mass layoffs of tech workers in late 2022. He imagines that they were the group “from whom the DEI movement drew its most active and engaged disciples,” and seems to be delighted that “hundreds of thousands” of tech workers will be out of work – “perhaps for quite a while!” – and therefore “the most fervent ideologues among them” will be unable to find work. The implication is unavoidable, that he and perhaps other tech bosses might blacklist workers who have records of advocating for more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Hansson certainly is entitled to his opinion, and to publish his own blog. We are not in the habit of running “ideological enforcement” to ensure “quick compliance” from beleaguered corporate executives or whatever it is that he’s talking about in his posts. We simply have our own opinions and our own blogs, and in some cases, we have good choices available to us regarding the companies to which we give our business.

After all, we’re the libraries. We have plenty of experience with corporate entities that don’t reflect our values. We deal with the journal publishers who practice a business model that hoards the world’s knowledge and maximizes profit from the research that our university’s scholars conduct. When it comes to the academic publishing system, institutions of higher learning have made a deal with the devil, and we, the libraries, are the campus units who pay the bill. We do it every year, often facing steep price increases with flat budgets.

We also know all too well the very worst of what humanity can create, because we collect it. Our shelves hold some of the most god-awful, hateful stuff you can imagine, in the form of explicit hate literature; and the much larger bulk of mainstream materials we hold are pervaded by casual racism and assumptions of white supremacy. Our job is to maintain it all for research, and to provide the context required for responsible inquiry. We know that our collections as a whole are themselves the legacies of systems of oppression in what they do and do not contain. The entire foundation of our organization was developed on assumptions, in the early days of Duke University, that excluded groups would not use the materials we collect or the services we provide. We know about these legacies, and we reckon with them by considering the harm they’ve caused, and asking what we can do to mitigate it. 

We also know the harms that our own workplace practices and culture have caused over the years. We know about it because we listen to each other, both informally and formally, via climate surveys, workshops, and other practices. 

The point is not that we’re perfect, or a model to emulate. The point is that we are not naive. We have seen (and done) some stuff.

So when we encounter a tech company boss who takes in a nationwide movement of organized protest against police brutalization and systemic racism, led by Black activists, and amplifies the rare incidents of violence, much of it instigated by the police or right-wing counter protestors, using the mendacious language of extremists to refer to it as “riots,” we have a good idea what we’re looking at.

When we enter into business with a company whose boss takes delight in the mass layoffs of tech workers because it disempowers those who might speak out against their company keeping a list of non-Anglophone names that some members of the team find hilarious, we have a decent sense of who we’re dealing with.

We here in the libraries are world-weary and sophisticated. We recognize that it’s the nature of our world, so interconnected now. We think all that interconnection makes us stronger, more vibrant; it’s wondrous, but it also means that as we encounter difference, we need to “do the work” (as Hansson mocks), be aware, and be open. Not every situation is going to be easy, but bringing “our whole selves” (another phrase that he mocks) to it has an impact, makes it more real, more human. 

There are always going to be the free riders – tech companies, perhaps – who benefit from the interconnectedness of the world while refusing to do the work. They may even taunt, from their blogs, those who try. Their paths are going to intersect with ours; that’s just the way it works. Often, we’re not in a position to choose not to deal with them.

But occasionally, we are. Not because we want to eliminate anyone’s livelihood, or harry executives, or because we imagine our subscription fee makes much of a difference. But just because we can. In this case, there are other productivity tools that can fill the space. In this case, we have options. And we’ve chosen to end our subscription with Basecamp.

80 thoughts on “Why We’re Dropping Basecamp”

  1. Why do you feel compelled to share this? This is an internal/team decision and should be left as such. This is the problem is that people and organization feel they need to share everything. Just go about your business and don’t stand on a soap box announcing your reasons.

    1. “When you detect that there is a problem with a vendor, don’t tell anybody else, keep it to yourself. Why would everyone else want to know about the concerns you’ve discovered. Sharing information with each other? Who does that?”
      That’s you that’s what you sound like Mark B.

    2. Why do you feel compelled to comment? They made an internal/team decision and it should be left as such. This is the problem is that people feel they need to share their thoughts on everything. Just go about your business and don’t stand on a soap box announcing your opinions.

    3. Why do you feel compelled to leave a comment? Just go about your business and don’t stand on a soap box complaining about a university library’s blog.

    4. It’s called a culture of transparency.

      They’re basically saying, we have a tool that has served us well enough that we’ve used it for a lot of things, but we actually care about the things that DHH is coming out and saying he dislikes and wants to see gone.

      So rather that giving their money to someone they fundamentally disagree with, they’re going to find another solution. This means that there’s possibly going to be an impact to patrons while they solve this, but that they value principles more than convenience.

      To exaggerate for clarity, suppose you were dating someone who casually said that they think some ethnic group is genetically inferior. They’re physically attractive to you, affectionate, and are nice to you…but this is what they think. Do you choose to overlook this because the sex is great, or do you say, “I really can’t do this” and break up?

      They’re not asking anyone to agree, or praise them. This isn’t “virtue signaling”. They’re just being straight up about why they’re making a decision, that it was difficult, that they avoided it previously, and that they now no longer can value their convenience over their principles.

    5. Sharing is encouraged to point out the persistent rhetoric against DEI and to show others that this is NOT OK. Soap boxes are needed if people still need to listen.

    6. I disagree. My non-profit organisation has tried and might have adopted Basecamp. Won’t be doing so now.

    7. Why do you feel compelled to share this? This is an internal/personal opinina and should be left as such. This is the problem is that people feel they need to comment on everything. Just go about your business and don’t stand on a soap box announcing your opinion.

    8. or you could shut up and let them worry about judgements on how to spend their time and use their space

    9. Why do you feel compelled to read it if you’re so convinced it should be internal?
      Their soap box, as you call it, is only maintained if people read and engage. Like you did.
      I suspect your issue is not with the sharing, which you haven’t actually explained an actual problem with, but rather that you disagree with the decision. You just can’t come up with a rational reason for doing so.

    10. I think you’ve answered your own question.
      This is a soapbox that needs to be stood upon.

    11. Why did DHH feel compelled to share his racist rants as if they were part of his company ethos?

      Why do you feel compelled to share this finger wagging if not to reinforce that type of thinking?

      Maybe you can take your own advice, just read this blog post and keep walking on by, not announcing your ill intentions on someone else’s internet website.

  2. This is a very intellectually dishonest post. It is claimed that you are leaving Basecamp due to the writings of DHH, yet dismiss addressing the actual claims that caused the redirection. Furthermore, it is dishonest to call the riots in 2020 as “peaceful”. Billions of dollars of property damage was caused by these “protests”. Ultimately the law prevailed in the George Floyd case but the does not excuse the barbary that took place in the name of “justice”. This post is what happens when a bunch of armchair do gooders decide that want attention and praise for their “righteous” actions. I do not particularly like DHH or use products he is affiliated with. Congratulations on patting yourselves on the back for doing nothing of importance that no one really cares about.

    1. Hit a little too close to home, perhaps?

      Time for a little self reflection on your own internalized racism.

    2. Casually dismissing the methods used by millions of Black people in response to the repeated extralegal murders of civilians as “Barbary” is precisely the racist lack of introspection this post is talking about.

      Also, libraries are about as far from “armchair” activism as you can get, but I’m doubting you participate in your community enough to know that.

    3. +1000. The post itself is racist and shows the typical extreme left tactics. You subscribe to my view point or I shall terminate interactions with you. Shame on this coming from a university.

  3. Multiple city blocks were taken over by protestors next to my apartment in Seattle following George Floyd’s death. A black man was shot and killed by the “protestors” in this area, who then covered up evidence. To portray the protests as “overwhelmingly peaceful” is absolutely dishonest. Was that man’s life worth less than George Floyd’s?

    Duke’s admissions policies have been blatantly racist against Asians for a very long time.

    You are the bad guys.

    1. 93% (actual stat; see Wikipedia) of the hundreds of George Floyd demonstrations were peaceful. Because you (and I) live in a city near where some of the demonstrations involved violence, it’s easy to substitute our lived experience for *all* other experiences.

      93% is pretty damned good, given just about any standard. I think that 93% counts as “overwhelming” in most books.

      “Absolute” would imply 100%, so maybe you’re a 100% or nothing kinda guy?

      1. I very much disagree with “93% is pretty damned good, given just about any standard.”

        If I said something like “police are overwhelmingly non-violent” and then cited a stat that said 98% of police interactions don’t end in police brutality, people would rightfully say “2% is an awful standard to hold people to! Unnecessary violence is really bad” – So maybe taken out of any context 93% is “overwhelmingly” more than 7%, but in the context of people getting subjected to violence, I think saying something is “overwhelmingly peaceful” at 93% is a bad standard, and in my opinion dishonest.

        For another example, if an anti-vaxer said Covid was “overwhelmingly safe” and cited 93% of people not dying or having long Covid, I would call BS and say that 93% is not a good standard for using “overwhelmingly safe”. (to be clear, IDK the real numbers, but just using 93% since its the number in this case)

        Regarding the use of “absolute”: If I told people “a coin flip yields heads 75% of the time”, I would allow anybody to call be “absolutely dishonest” even though I am only 25% off.

        Regarding lived experience: I agree that you can’t generalize from a single experience, but if people BS you, you can use personal experience to pick up on that. When I see one person killed by protestors and multiple other gang violence related deaths in the protest zone within four blocks of me, it then makes me ask my friends in NYC/DC/Chicago/LA about their protest experience and when there are other protest related deaths, and vandalized buildings and burning cars, etc, I can then pick up on the fact that some people are being untrustworthy and misusing statistics when they portray things as peaceful. This lets me call things “riots” with a clear conscience so I don’t minimize the violence or disrespect the people who lost their lives in them.

        If somebody wants to argue that the riot-related violence and deaths were a good trade to reduce future police-related violence and deaths, there might be a good argument to be had there (even though I likely disagree). But to pretend as though they didn’t exist is dishonest.

        1. George, countering the real statistics mjt provided with made-up stats is illogical and rhetorically unconvincing.

          1. I’m sorry I was unconvincing. The made up numbers were meant to illustrate situations in which you would clearly see that “93% is a good number, therefore we can overlook the 7%” is a bad argument. I appreciate the feedback on the rhetoric, and I agree that the hypotheticals can be hard to follow.

      2. i live in a city of 500,000…..93% of them don’t commit murder…that’s pretty good right?

    2. i simply divide the number of violent activities by the total number of activities to decide when to classify complex csocial movements as violent according to The Index of Statistical Interpretation

    1. This was my initial thought after applauding their decision to make a principled stand. Perhaps, like Musk, DHH will now accuse Duke and others of trying to blackmail 37 Signals and tell them GFY (I’ll spare you the repeated profanity Musk actually used).

      This would be a great time for Duke Library and other academic orgs to embrace open decentralized social media platforms and run their own Mastodon instance for all things Duke?

      Maybe they don’t see using Twitter as problematic because they didn’t pay Musk’s org anything to do so – but if Basecamp were free would they still have dropped it? I think they would, or rather should have.

      It’s actually worse with Twitter because they encourage others to keep using Twitter by their endorsement. A great deal of good could come from another public announcement around their joining the Twitter diaspora.

      Either way one step at a time right?

  4. I was actually contemplating adopting Basecamp; so glad this came up in my google feed. Thank you for a masterfully written piece, and for doing (and publicizing) the research.

  5. “Referring to the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd as “riots” is an offhand gesture as Hansson uses it, but it gets our attention because we know how false, ideological, and ugly it is.”

    “Peaceful protests” don’t set police stations on fire and damage 200 properties with their arson.


    Thanks, Will. I’ve made sure to pass this around.

    Next time I get a call from the alumni association, I’ll share your name and explain how you motivated me to stop donating with your “false, ideological and ugly” words.

    1. Individual library project teams can choose whatever university tool works for them. Duke is an Office365 shop, and at the institution level has a contract for Atlassian’s Confluence wiki product.

  6. Thank you for standing to principles that keep our voices and experiences represented on the archives of history and knowledge. You demonstrate that you respect your mission to preserve all academic and historical information gathered at Duke open and available to everyone. Good luck replacing Basecamp… we see you.

  7. Bravo. It is nice to see an organization put principles ahead of profit/cost or convenience.

  8. I love the reasoning, well written! Good luck with the migration to whatever you switch to, it won’t be painless.

  9. Didn’t get much from this article, besides “waaah waaaah waaah”, Hansson is right, cope.

    1. Your nickname says it all. Your opinion is worth about as much as my car, which is only banging on 2 of 4 cylinders and also has a hooped suspension.

      Don’t tell librarians, people at the coal face of social inequality, to “cope”. They have as their primary responsibility selecting good tools made by good people (who don’t willingly aid in the perpetuation of fascism). When they transparently declare that they are through with a supplier because a supplier willingly aids fascism, that is not being a crybaby and it isn’t “cope”. Your authority has no weight here.

      Go eat a shallot or something. I’m not your mom.

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  11. It’s a project management tool not a political weapon. Stop being ridiculous and caring about what happens in the political spectrum of the company and use the tool if it suits tour needs or drop it if it doesn’t . Simple as that.

    1. Yeah they tried that once as the article pointed out. Now things are different and there are far better tools out there than Basecamp that don’t have CTOs posting the garbage that Hansson does. Hansson is free to say whatever he wants but he is also one of the faces of the company. There can be consequences to mixing the two.

  12. Hi Duke librarians, I’m not a member of the Duke University community, but a friend shared this post with me.

    I applaud not only your stance, but also this extremely well-written & savvy post. Thanks for taking the time to share this with everyone.

    1. Every time this type of decision appears online, some comment comes along with the tired “perfect is the enemy of good” comment that argues, you can’t research every CEO opinion so why does it matter. This is already acknowledged in the article so read it first. Also while you are at it, read the links before you defend an asshole. The comments telling Duke Libraries to cope are likely the same type of people that won’t drink Bud Light because they support LGBTQ. Duke Libraries has the right to publish their decision and spend their money how they want.

  13. Bravo librarians! You’re an inspiration. Looks like the thin-skinned reactionaries have already appeared to defend DHH’s wretched and retrograde opinions. Feel free to ignore them, as the rest of the world does.

  14. Bravo. There is immense respect here for the Duke Libraries team’s choice and this excellently written explanation. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  15. I am very impressed with the leadership and everyone involved to take the time to explicate everything that went into make this decision. Well worth the read!

    Does anyone know if the Library has made any similar decisions in the wake of the Palestinian crisis? Many tech companies stem from the support of the current Nation State (Israel) that has already killed thousands of innocent civilians and we see the ramifications locally in the US through the murder of young child in Chicago and 3 young men in VA.

    I would assume that the same moral imperative for this messaging has a common denominator with the other.

  16. “Peaceful protests” don’t set police stations on fire and damage 200 properties with their arson.

    It doesn’t take protests to do this. Insert (Favorite sports team losing) does the same property damage. And it has the same affect on the property holders.

    1. Your mistake is privileging property. Property can be replaced. People can’t. When property is used to destroy people and their lives.. ya get the drill.

  17. My small photo coöp made the same choice in 2021 for the same reasons. After a brief period of reorganizing our work, we have not been hindered in our work in anyway. Glad to be rid of bad rubbish.

  18. This came at an opportune time. I was strongly considering investing in the Hey email platform for my company, and I most assuredly will not.

  19. So yeah, about that Xitter link… The co. FKA “Twitter” spent the better part of a decade becoming a default link embedded on websites world wide. It’s going to take awhile before everyone can move to Mastodon, after all.

    Using it as a way to somehow downplay the incredibly well thought out (imagine that, from LIBRARIANS /s) post regarding why they’re dropping a well used and intrenched platform is both disingenuous and tells more about the poster than this article.

    Kudos. I mean, yeah, work on the Xitter thing, but right now? Good job.

  20. “In a playbook for the ages, those in power failed to acknowledge the complicated interconnectedness and nuance of the issues under discussion, and set policies that shut down discussions challenging the company culture.”

    – Call it a “discussion” when it’s really a lecture and a demand, with only one acceptable outcome for you.
    – Use projection and fake indignation, dressed up in meaningless ideological word salad and virtue markers.
    – Pretend you’re doing this to safeguard knowledge through the ages, when you’re torching the basic principles of the enlightenment.

    You really have no idea what the counter-argument is, and you have no interest in understanding it. Take a hike.

  21. I completely support the Duke Librarians for announcing their planned switch from Basecamp.

    As a consumer, I regularly make such decisions when I decide on which products to buy. Here’s an example. In my family, I learned at an early age that Henry Ford was a strong supporter of Adolf Hitler (this is well documented). Now that my grandson has a car, we are in our fourth generation without owning or even considering a Ford product. We simply don’t want to support a business with that kind of history, even more because the CEO is a Ford.

    I’m not saying that anyone should follow me on this decision, only stating what our family has done, much as the Duke Librarians have done here. I think that it’s common for people to make this type of decision, and we have seen that with Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and Facebook.

  22. I applaud the Library’s decision here and encourage other universities and their departments to look more closely at the corporate culture of the vendors they use.

    With libraries in particular, this issue is important since some corporate actions can directly or indirectly feed into movements for book banning on certain topics – information about DEIA, even something as simple as promotion of tolerance and empathy, have been a target of book banning efforts around the country.

    The company and its management are free to hold these views. But free speech also comes with consequences for that speech. And one consequence is that the views outweigh the benefits that the company offers for their customers.

  23. Interesting stuff. We also use Basecamp in a university setting, and it’s worth assessing our budget choices not only by convenience and productivity, but also values. Thanks.

  24. Thank you for this insightful post. It’s well written. I read the comments on this in Hackernews. There a lot of opinions there. Some agree with Duke uni and the other defend DHH. I think the best way to resolve this is that Duke uni invite DHH in a panel or conference and just talk. DHH is also a honest, well educated and sophisticated man and you are too. So let’s educate the people by organizing a cultural session between you too and publish it on the universal library: the internet.

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