Highrise: Is 37signals Getting Lazy?

Posted on Mar 20, 2007

Highrise is a new contact-management web application from the ever-popular folks at 37signals. With it users can collaboratively store contacts, tag on information, and generally “keep track of things.” It’s another simple application from the simplicity specialists.

Now, I am certainly not the target customer of 37signals. Being a programmer, I’m comfortable with readily available tools that I’ve been using for years that newer computer users might find intimidating. I don’t find Campfire as useful as IRC or Jabber. Why Writeboard when I have subversion and vim? Backpack.. rsync. The list goes on. So I’m not going to rag on whether Highrise is a good product — there are people out there who find the 37signals line of applications perfectly suitable for themselves, and that’s more important than me.

However, I’m seriously underwhelmed by this application. They’ve reached a point in their development where it looks like they barely have to write any code. Highrise looks more like a mash-up than a new application. It feels like one too: the interface is exactly the same as every other 37signals product and now the functionality is too. While the software itself may be valuable to some people, it has the appearance of being cheap since it probably cost them next to nothing to develop and deploy.

Why doesn’t 37signals release its stock of application code as its own framework? Part of the allure is the hosted nature of their applications; but if all they’re going to come out with are domain-specific rehashes of the exact same functionality, I’m sure that the business world at large could develop them much faster. After all, it’s been a year between their last application Campfire and this one and I’d say the feature set is way less innovative.

I could see 37signals running out of hype and losing the growth they’ve enjoyed these past couple years. Their release cycle is slowing down and the things they are releasing could be developed by the community much faster. If they did release their application code-base as a framework unto itself, it could be possible for them to still maintain their business hosting the data generated by the applications built on it. But what do I know?

Either way… Highrise. Meh. I wonder if the 37signals hype-machine will see this one through.