Basecamp, activeCollab, and Goplan compared

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]

Discuss - 149 Comments

  1. Samantha says:

    I evaluated Intervals when looking at options and was thrilled with it in almost every way. The two big killers for me were:
    * It doesn’t have any collaboration/communication aspect (like Messages in basecamp or whatever)
    * It doesn’t have a timer widget so that you can enter your time from one simple interface; instead it has little timers scattered all over the site. I can see that being nice for some people, but not for me and my contractors.

    Other than that I really liked it and was sad to not be able to use it. I settled on Central Desktop.

    -Samantha

  2. Paul McCann says:

    Hi guys,

    I just found this
    http://www.liquidplanner.com/

    Its free in Beta at the moment, but it seems to be for more complex project management.

    Anyone used it, any thoughts??

    Paul

  3. Roscoe says:

    Paul, any time you see the pricing in “per month per member”, you should understand that those are application oriented for enterprise users. So it’s a totally different category. Having just 5 users will cost about $125/month with LiquiPplanner!! I don’t think this application even fits in this section.

    Sure, they try to justify it by adding new feature, and still claim “easy to use”. In reality it’s not “easy to use”.

  4. Greg says:

    BTW, 5pm just added the 2-way email integration – now you can create Tasks, assign members, add attachments, comments, and even report progress – all through emails:

    http://www.5pmweb.com/feature_email_integration.php

    Looks like those guys are releasing new features pretty fast. I emailed them about iCal integration, and they replied that they are working on it right now.

    Definitely worth checking them (http://www.5pmweb.com).

  5. Rob says:

    Does anyone have experience/recommendations on using any of these in a construction business? I’m looking for an effective way to communicate with owners and architects during construction of a project, both from the ‘office’ regarding things such as change orders and questions, to allowing the guys in the field to post progress reports and the like.

  6. Tony Bianco says:

    Huddle.net is looking pretty polished these days. The only thing they do not do is time tracking. Other than that I think they are pretty good.

  7. Leah says:

    Projjex.com is a great new site that does a fabulous job of project management collaboration. It’s completely browser-based, really easy to use, and has a free version. Cool videos too – I love it!

  8. David says:

    I took a few minutes to look projjex.com over and signed up for the trial. I got as far as setting up a task when I discovered that it is missing one of the most basic features of a PM tool – task description.. You only have one line for a task (so can only really enter a title) . the only way to enter a description would be to upload a document to the task. Not my idea of user-friendly. I have not searched the project further, so I can’t comment on the rest of it other than I did like the idea of basically working with everything from one screen.. but you can’t have a PM tool without task descriptions (and they need to have rich text editors too). My first glance at this tool gets a thumbs down and wil not receive a further look unless and until at least such a basic feature as described above is implemented.

  9. David says:

    Rob,

    In answer to your question about a PM tool for a construction project, I should mention that though I have done much touting for teamworklive.com I wouldn’t suggest that tool for you as it doesn’t cater to mobile users. Just thought I’d let you know so you could cross them off your list.

    One that might work for you is attask.com

  10. Leah says:

    Projjex.com is a great new site that does a fabulous job of project management. It’s completely browser-based, really easy to use, and has a free version. Cool videos too – I love it!

  11. David says:

    Obviously, projjex has a spam operation going on here. Now, they’ve really shot themselves in the foot.

    David

  12. Godzhesas says:

    Wow this is some nice thread and discussions. I agree that there is still no best solution for a “project management tool” and i believe that hardly there will be a winner in the nearest future. But our company is trying this nich as well. Our tool is http://www.comindwork.com. I am not gona spam here waht features we offer and how cool we are 🙂 but if you are intrested in project management tools and innovation that comes with them, take a look and tell what you think.

  13. Sal says:

    looks like some of the sections are taking directly from basecamp..color combinations et all…

  14. Linda R. says:

    I went with 5pm trial (http://www.5pmweb.com). This tool just feels very good. And it looks like the new features are being added every week or so. Hopefully they will keep it simple.

    I’d like to see more integration with my other tools. 5pm supports RSS, iCalendar, integration with email. I’d like to see this trend going father.

    May be opening the API is one of the things apps like that should do first (I emailed 5pm about it, and they said they plan to release the API soon).

  15. Igi says:

    But price per month is wrong for activeCollab. It is $199+ / year for support. Because activeCollab is not web service it is a product. You can deploy it on your own server and get total control over your information.

  16. Sarah Wells says:

    The PM market seems to have a comprehensive list of tools out there and its hard to tell which are the industry leaders. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Project123. Has anyone had any experience with this tool? They just ran out of their free 12 months trial but I’m going to try it now for 4 months.

    I’ll send an update of how its going.

  17. Michael Tucker says:

    Great conversation!

    Can anyone comment on the client experience with any of these many options? There is some discussion about clients resistant to working too hard to interact with some of these.

    Ideal situation:

    1. Potential client visits web page, fills out project request form
    2. Form submits to PM app, notifies project manager(s)
    3. Project manager approves request as potential project, begins correspondence with potential client
    4. Client automatically sent login/password or link to new project/proposal’s home, to be accessed from then on

    At no point should the client have to create an account.

    I’m currently considering creating a custom form that simply submits its contents to something like “wrike@wrike.com” (or whatever).

  18. You could try Planzone to compare it with those tools. This online project management tool was launched commercially two months ago, and displays a really attractive interface.
    Let me know what you think about it.
    http://www.planzone.com

  19. SIngers says:

    I have tried almost all the above listed tools either as a trial member or as a free user. (If trial or free offer is not availabl then I just took the tour.)

    At the moment I am using ProjectPier which looks like BaseCamp. It is a fork of ActiveCollab. It has a long way to go in terms of Web 2 look and features. But it works and is a decent tool if you are looking for open source, free, self-hosted tools. I use it every day and it works fine for me.

    collabtive is also open souirce and free. But it does not have granular permission system.. But if you like colorful, simple tool to manage your projects, you can have a look at it. I think it is still beta and needs a lot of features.

    I really liked Copper Project. from the list. Very neat interface, powerful and had all the features I liked to have. BUt the Standard edition ($499) does not include many nice features from corporate editon which costs $1299. Too much for me. They could have included Ajax features in standard edition. I may buy it if they introduce a new package or add features to the standard edition. For now, I am not buying it.

    I will continue looking for a Project Management tool and continue using ProjectPier.

  20. Lucinda Portery says:

    Wow, this is a long thread with lots of useful information. It seems to be a PM tool to fit everyone needs. I read a post above about Collabtrak, http://www.collabtrak.com and I signed up for a free trial. My team members and my customers really like it because it’s made for us small web design firms. Does anyone else use them for tracking creative projects?