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Backpack: way cool, way too much $$$

Update: (5/2/05) Backpack has upped it's limits since I originally wrote this entry. Free accounts now get 5 pages (up from 3) and the $5/month account get 20 pages (up from 15). They also increased the storage for the $5/month account from 25MB to 40MB. In the entry below I've indicated some of these changes, but it seems silly to have little "(update: )" or strike notations everywhere, especially when these changes don't really change the way I feel about their pricing. The most important limit to me is "20 pages." How useful would a Wiki that could only store 20 pages be? How useful would a blog with 20 entries be? The feature I like about Backpack is that it makes it easy to create content. Their pricing stands in opposition to these potential uses and only makes sense if they are targetting this at business users that can afford the extra $$$ for higher limits -- but why target business users when you already have Basecamp?

original entry follows...

I've been playing a bit more with Backpack -- it combines much of the free-flow composition of Wiki with the ease-of-use and power of structured data (e.g. todo lists). When they release it to the public it might become a very useful 'application' for me and my friends to plan events together, but...

...we're not going to be able to plan that many events with it because the free account only gives you 3 pages total (update: 5), and the non-free plans are way too friggin' expensive. And by 'way', I mean WAY.

As a pricing reference point, I would compare it to Flickr, which I use constantly and have a two-year Pro account for.

FlickrBackpack
$25/year$60/year*
2GB/month25MB total (now 50MB)
Unlimited photosets15 pages (now 20)

* This pricing is based on Backpack's basic account (cheapest non-free account).

It's just not even in the same ballpark. Even when Flickr cost $40/year (pre-Yahoo), it was still a bargain compared to Backpack.

The 15-page limit is especially egregious. I can begin to understand the 25MB cap on file and photo upload, but limiting me to having 15 pages that hardly take up any space and are the central feature of the service is just plain assinine. IMHO, $60/year is a terrible price to pay for 15 Web pages, even if they are super-snazzy and editable. I could delete an old page to make more room, but why force me to do that? With the advent of Gmail and Flickr I thought we had gotten past that whole notion of having to delete old information.

Comments (10)

Anonymous:

Hi kwc, backpack looks interesting, but I doubt I would ever use it, especially with the fee. Do you know any other good sites in this category?


I've been looking for a collaborative event-planning site, but nothing stands out. The pain points I'd like to avoid are things like the email scheduling craziness that happened for Sin City a while ago or just the usual obstacles in trying to host a movie night.

It takes more work that it should to try to coordinate events around people's schedules, gauge interest among different circles of friends, or even just reaching a consensus.

Evite was great at handling rsvps, but they never went further. Meetup was close, but they're now charging.

If there's nothing good out there, what do you think of a few of us getting together and building something like this (combination wiki/event calendar/group blog). This isn't a startup idea, but more of a common tool for friends, and if it proves useful, open it up for others.

Here are some use cases off the top of my head:

1) build an event

Say I want to host a movie night (or LAN party, tequila tasting, or check out a new restaurant),

I can throw the initial idea on a site (I want to gather folks for a movie premiere or hold a filet vs. ribeye vs. ny strip tasteoff). Others can mark themselves as "somewhat/very/not interested", and can block out certain dates they're busy in a calendar or add Preferred Dates/times/locations. As people add comments wiki-style, there's an ability for the original poster (or anyone else) to seize control and declare the event. It's basically a central planning area to avoid the out-of-order, multiple-email threads problem of scheduling.


2) gather folks for a specific event

Say I'm interested in attending a local talk or event (like this one I'm going to tonight). I know lots of people that might be somewhat interested, but don't want to spam everyone or blog about it.

Rather than coordinating meeting and dinner via IM, email, and SMS among different groups, I can just check the one central page for this event.


Anyway, if you know of something like this, let me know.

kwc:

There certainly is a split between tools for (a) planning the event, i.e. when should we have this event, what sort of events do we want, etc... and (b) organizing the event, i.e. the event is on Tuesday, please RSVP.

In the (b) category, there is upcoming.org, which is part of the new breed of rss/iCal/tagging-style tools, in addition to the clunky older players like eVite. upcoming.org might be close to what you're describing as your requirements for (2) -- with the additional advantage that you can have an RSS reader or your iCalendar pointed at it so that you don't have to keep checking the site.

In the (a) category, I was hoping that Backpack would suffice, but as my $$$ indicates, it certainly isn't worth the cash. Something like it or Wiki has the free-form versatility that's necessary for what I want (the RSS-subscription capability of Backpack is a big plus as well).

It would be nice to have a tool that could handle both. I've experimented with using MovableType as my own evite RSVP tool -- the comments served as both an RSVP and organization space. It was functional, but it still appoints the author of the entry as the central arbiter of content; one of the things I like in the potential of Backpack is that once I sent the link out, all of the content was mutable. MovableType could also be hacked to output iCal data, though there is a problem with privacy as everyone who has the URL can find out what you're planning, which can be embarassing if you're trying to organize for smaller groups.

Anonymous:

I'm thrilled with both Flickr and Backpack. I'll be using them both heavily.

But, how can you compare Flickr vs. Backpack? They are totally different products. Does Flickr send you reminders? No. Does Backpack have photo slideshows? No. Does Flickr let you make to-dos lists, upload files (that aren't images), or have any wiki-like space at all? No. In fact, Flickr only does photos. Backpack does text, to-do lists, reminders, files and photos. Backpack seems like the bargain to me.

Further, you're wrong about pricing and page count. Backpack just upped their limits today. They're now the same as Typepad (50, 100, and 200MB for the paying plans).

Anonymous:

Let me add one more thing to this discussion. $5/month is never "way too friggin' expensive." Further... with Flickr you have to pay everything up front. If you don't like it you are SOL. With Backpack you can cancel after a month or two and be out $5 or $10 total.

kwc:

I'm glad you're thrilled by Backpack and will be a paying customer. Other people, including myself, however, will not be joining you.

The Flickr and Backpack are both Web applications targetted at home consumers -- the comparison I make is not between features but between pricing for applications that would find a similar about of daily use -- Flickr's pricing demonstrates that it is possible to offer a service that requires a large amount of storage and offers a high level of interactivity for much, much cheaper than Backpack.

The fact that Backpack upped their limits (# of pages and #MB storage) only validates my original complaints: at the time I wrote my entry, they were charging far too much for far too little, even for a product that is useful. Clearly I was not alone or they wouldn't have upped the limits only days after previewing the technology.

As for comparing Backpack to TypePad: TypePad doesn't limit the number of pages you can create. How useful would TypePad be if you could only have 20 total blog entries? (probably about as useful as Backpack is to me with only 20 total pages)

I'm wondering if a pay-per-page feature would be best for this sort of product. The free plan gives you 5 slots for pages, and then each extra slot could cost a dollar (or whatever). If you found you were usually using 7 pages a month, that'd be your rate. Some months you might need more or less, and you could drop down or move up as needed. Paypal integration would make this pretty easy.

I agree that there shouldn't be limits on other things. You'd be stupid to use this service for large-scale file storage. Are the really worried about this?

kwc:

I have almost an opposite point of view: keep the upload limits, but remove the page limits. A product like Backpack has a wide range of uses that are killed off by having the page limits. Just think about all the uses of Wiki, and how Backpack could improve upon them: Backpack could be a great site for you and your friends to enter recipes, plan your weekly get togethers, write a choose-your-own adventure, keep a weekly log/todo list (using the copy page function), take notes at a talk, build up a repository of knowledge, etc... None of these uses, IMHO, fits the pricing scheme they have chosen, nor does the number of pages really create any significant cost for them -- it is text, after all. Possibly allowing users to store unlimited pages in "read only" mode might help, though that would feel a bit degenerate and create an unnecessary maintenance chore.

I imagine that their worry is that it would cannibalize sales of Basecamp within their business users demographic. I think keeping the storage limits in place might help this, but at some point they'll have to chose whether or not they are pricing this for personal or business use (their front page advertises Backpack "for personal and business").

Good call, I think I agree with you. I don't see the image-/file- hosting aspects of the service to be major features, though. Sure, you can upload maps or whatever, but the strength is in the flexibility of editing text and lists.

kwc:

I agree that the big strength isn't the file or image storage, but it would be interesting to find out from their business-oriented Basecamp clients whether or not the file-/image- hosting aspects are important features to them. If those are important features, then they would be a good way to get the necessary market segmentation that they want -- as you point out, I don't think they are critical functionality for the personal use market, though they are nice.

If the file-/image- hosting features aren't essential to the business market, then I guess I'm fresh out of ideas.

Alec:

Right on the money here.

Everyone else - Sixapart, Flickr - are offering large useful account. 37signals is busy price gouging.

I expect someone will come along very shortly with similar collaborative software and that will be the end of that.

Talk about a way to build up ill-will.

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