Basecamp, activeCollab, and Goplan compared

  • March 17th, 2007

UPDATE 11/18: activeCollab is no longer offered as a free project management collaboration download.

From the design, development, and product strategy company Webreakstuff comes a new contender in online project management and collaboration known as Goplan. In its newly released form, how does it stack-up against Basecamp & ActiveCollab?

Basic project packages compared

Service Price (per month)
Basecamp (Basic) $24
Goplan (Startup) $20
activeCollab $199+

All three services [at the basic level] provide support for unlimited users and a number of additional features provided to improve productivity.

Features Basecamp Goplan activeCollab
# Projects 15 30 unlimited
Ad-Free yes yes yes
Notes yes yes yes
Blog no yes no
Bug Tracking no yes no
Task Management yes yes yes
Security no 256/SSL n/a
Calendar yes yes yes
Real-time Chat yes yes no
Permissions yes yes yes
Storage 400MB 500MB unlimited

Registration & setup

Goplan registration, click for full-size

Goplan – Simple registration requirements for quick & easy project creation.

In order to leverage any one of these services for team projects, the usual registration hoops are required. Goplan and Basecamp both provide very simple registration interfaces while activeCollab requires a little more work. It is important to note that Basecamp & Goplan are paid-for hosted solutions. In comparison, activeCollab is a self-hosted solution requiring actual server setup and database creation.

Although the challenge of the activeCollab installation is on the same level of preparing WordPress, anyone hesitant to meddle with their own servers may want to discontinue the idea of utilizing activeCollab (PHP5 required).

Creating projects

Registration requirements varied from service-to-service, each addressed the task of creating your first project with even more variance.

Basecamp Create Thumb Goplan Create Thumb activeCollab Create Thumb

Basecamp, Goplan, and activeCollab – varying requirements for creating your first project.

Noticeable differences between each three:

  • Basecamp: Requires a Project Name and provides the additional option of adding an existing or creating a new company. By default, all of the default features offered by Basecamp are accessibly – Messages, To-do’s, Milestones, Writeboards, Chat, and File [management].
  • Goplan: Goplan addresses the task a little differently requiring a Project Name, Alias (goplan.org/alias), Description, and Timezone. Afterwards, specific features can be enabled or disabled – Notes, Task Management, Calendar, Public weblog (perfect for startups wishing to create a following), Tickets, File Management, and Chat. The option of adding Project users / members is available immediately after a project is created.
  • ActiveCollab: Very basic in comparison to the previous two. Requiring little else other than a Project Name, standard features are enabled by default – Messages, Tasks, Milestones, Files, Tags, Forms (polling users are project status), and People (managing users and permissions). The option of adding Project users / members is available immediately after a project is created by visiting People after a project is created.

Goplan’s option of enabling or disabling specific features is a fantastic option which allows project administrators to create less overwhelming interfaces for clients. Sometimes, less is more as I have noticed while using Basecamp. Very often, clients are only interested in the basics of Messages or Milestones. By eliminating some of the features during the initial setup, the end resulting interface can be a little easier to navigate (re-enable disabled Goplan features is available by visiting Project Settings).

Adding companies & users

Project Management solutions often serve double-time as an online Rolodex for clients & companies. Basecamp, Goplan, and activeCollab each provide the functionality to serve as contact managers. Each application treats contacts differently. Basecamp functions on the premise that every contact belongs to a specific "company" (global), Goplan operates on the idea of users / members on a per project basis (individual), and activeCollab somewhere in the middle.

Basecamp user Thumb Goplan user Thumb activeCollab user Thumb

Adding clients or team members should not require you to leave your current project.

Of the three services, the most logical and sensible method of maintaining a usable contact database is that foundn in Basecamp. Although the other two offer basic contact management on a per project basis, none allow contacts to be accessed from multiple projects without jumping through navigation hoops. For example, while activeCollab, administrators would need to leave the Project Dashboard and enter the Administrative Panel > Clients > Add Clients. Compare this to Basecamp or Goplan which allow for adding clients or members from within the Project Dashboard.

Client interaction

All three services provide the basic tools which promote developer & client interaction. Whether through forum style messages, focused to-do lists, milestones (coerced motivation to hit deadlines), or live messaging, none of these services leave any room for excuses.

Medium thumbnail of Goplan chat room

Goplan AJAX chat room provides log preview and room management but no file uploading like 37signals Basecamp Campfire.

One advantage of utilizing Basecamp or Goplan over activeCollab is the added benefit of live "chat" rooms. Basecamp relies on the powerful Campfire which not only provides a secure web based chat room, but also provides an archived view and file uploading integration associated with your Basecamp file manager. Goplan, while fairly new, provides similar functionality with their own web based chat room.

File management

Basecamp & Goplan rely on Amazon’s S3 (Scalable Storage Service) for their back-end with file upload limits governed by your current subscription. For the basic plans compared in this write-up, Basecamp offers 400MB and Goplan 500MB. Because activeCollab is a self-hosted alternative, file uploads are only limited by your server space.

Note that Basecamp does allow users to point their Basecamp file manager to a personal server which would essentially remove any limitation from uploads.

  • Basecamp: Files served by Amazon S3. Option to redirect uploads to a personal server removing the subscription governed file upload limitation. Support for updating (revisions) of uploaded files.
  • Goplan: Files served by Amazon S3. Subscription limited file uploads. No support for redirecting uploads to a personal server. No option to upload revisions [at this time].
  • ActiveCollab: Self-hosted translating into file upload limitations governed by your personal server space.

Subscription Costs

With the exception of activeCollab, Basecamp and Goplan require subscriptions billed monthly. Basecamp bills subscriptions on all major credit cards – Visa, Mastercard, American Express, etc – while Goplan bills accounts through PayPal Subscriptions.

Conclusion

For individuals looking to manage projects without spending a small amount on monthly subscription costs, the less polished activeCollab application does provides the basics for managing and interacting with clients.

On the flip-side, anyone who is willing to part with a small amount through a monthly subscription recouped in an hour or less of work, definitely give Basecamp or Goplan a try. With Goplan’s recent public launch with features sure to give Basecamp a solid run, users now have more options. Which service will work for you? Give each of them a solid run-through and decide for yourself. Will you side with the proverbial favorite from 37signals – Basecamp? Or, will your business be better served by Webreakstuff’s Goplan?

On a personal note concerning the three services, I’ve moved all currently open [and plan for future] projects to be managed by Webreakstuff’s Goplan. Was this helpful? [Digg it]