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Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Basecamp == amateur hour

Sorry if this gets a little incoherent but I am fuming!

Essentially Basecamp just lost me all the data for a project I was running over several weeks.

I ran a design project for UI redesign of an application I am developing and used Basecamp to host it. The project site ended up holding about two weeks of specs, discussions, design reviews and deliverables. Since I had use of the service I did not mind to pay for it as the trial period ended.

A few days ago I was charged with payment for the next month of project hosting. Fine, but since the project was over I really didn't need the service anymore. I didn't care about the charge for another month, but just so I wouldn't forget to cancel the subscription, I did that right away using their friendly cancellation page.

Big mistake.

Basecamp deleted my project site immediately even though it is paid for until the middle of November!

This in spite of clear wording on the cancellation page that paid accounts will run until the end of the paid period (of course, this is what anyone with half a brain would assume).

The cancellation page actually provides a link to export your data. I clicked it, which resulted in a mail a few hours later with a link to my export. Only when I click the link I get the message: "The account you were looking for doesn't exist. You may have mistyped the address. If you started the URL with "www" please try it without the "www"."

Their support has now confirmed that the account is deleted with everything in it (and don't seem to care one way or the other). Motherf..... do you expect to be evicted from your house the minute you give notice???

I have demanded a refund of for this months service (since they incomprehensibly shut me down six hours after paying for it) but frankly I don't give a rat's ass about the 20 bucks or whatever it is. I am shocked and apalled that a company whose core product is hosting other people's important business data can be so cavalier about it.
jz Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
"I am shocked and apalled that a company whose core product is hosting other people's important business data can be so cavalier about it."


Welcome to the cloud. What did you expect?

It's not their fault that their services operate the way _they_ designed them. It's your fault for offloading data that you deemed critical, and it's your fault for not having your own backups. Consider it lesson learned and be grateful that the cost of this lesson wasn't greater than it is.
The Original Henry
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
They must have backups. Try and elevate through support and speak to a manager. Tell them you want the data from the backups.
Nona
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
Restore from your last backup. If you cannot do this then it was your choice to host your business data entirely on their servers that was amaturish.

For me to lose all my data for a project, I have to delete it from my PC, delete it from the NAS, wait over a month for my backup media to complete a full cycle and destroy all periodic permanent archives that I've made.
Adrian
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
No offense, but it sounds like you got your $20 worth.
ian Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
Ouch.  The bigger lesson to the rest of us is: it's incredibly easy for a disgruntled customer to damage your company's reputation...
MB Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
I can't believe they don't have daily or twice daily backups that they could use to restore your files.  What kind of numskull company doesn't make any kind of effort to retain paying customers that cancel, and deletes everything immediately?  If Basecamp is really this broken, I can't imagine they will survive very long.
RGlasel Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
Welcome to SAAS.

Long live the desktop - and backups.




A.

(PS I DO feel sorry for you, for you're quite correct, such a service sux big time)
Adam Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
As a contrary, FreshBooks never deletes anything. I remember several customers complaining on their forum that after they finished the trial and decided to delete their account and recreate it, just to start from new, they were surprised to find that they can't create the account because the account already exists. So, I believe only after a manual intervention from the support the data is gone.
Goran Burcevski Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
Yeap.  Seen this before.  Sorry.

We've gone to great pains to follow the Freshbooks approach -- you can cancel your account, and come back in a year, and your data is still there.  I'm not sure how long we'll be able to do this (quite a bit of overhead doing this), but we're going to keep trying as long as we can.
Anthony Presley Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
OP, perhaps you were supposed to retrieve the data before completing the cancellation?

I'm sure Basecamp has backups, they just won't take the time to restore a backup if they think their system worked as designed (They handle hundreds of support request per day).
Cedric Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
There's a lesson here about giving business critical date to 3rd parties, but it's too obvious to point out.
Grown fat with decadence
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
I think you guys are missing the point. Sure, it's easy to say that you shouldn't trust 3rd parties with your important data. But let's face it, we all do it at some time or another. Hindsight is 20-20.

The point here is that Basecamp clearly did something that is considered abnormal in the world of SAS. And when that happens you point it out as the OP did to try and keep it from happening to other people.

He knows that he should have kept other backups. But there is a certain expectation of competence that you need to be able to make when working with any business. And Basecamp has not upheld their end of the bargain.

Let's put it this way... if you found out that Joel lost the entire forum because he wasn't backing up data or lost your "free account" because you happened to click a fairly innocuous looking link then you'd be screaming. Not because you lost some really important data or because your business was impacted. But because he should know better.
howdy
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
"They must have backups. "

ROFL. Reminds me of the time I had to restore a friends business site from the Google cache. Yes, his $8.95 hosting package did included nightly backups. When the server went south, the backups were ... euh ... nowhere to be found.
Vee
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
I'm pretty sure I read somewhere on their website that cancellations are effective immediately and you'll get a pro-rated refund. If it's so easy to lose all your data, I'd guess they'd get a lot more complaints.

Or maybe you're the first who ever canceled his account, in which case I guess they're doing something right.
Matt Winkelmann Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
Have you politely asked them for help?  Or did you just scream and demand a refund?  37 Signals has a pretty good reputation, I would be surprised if they wouldn't work with you to fix this.

However, if you're just screaming at them, that brings this story to mind:

http://consumerist.com/5062172/the-worst-tip-we-have-ever-received
Jason Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
I wonder how many people who say "you get what you pay for" would scream bloody murder if gmail/yahoo/msn lost all their email.

37signals clearly screwed up. As as a rule, you should have an easy way to revert a cancellation.

Standard operating procedure:
1. When a user cancels you just mark a field in the db disabling access to the account.
2. This step is optional. You have a script that runs periodically, and deletes/archives all canceled accounts.

There's little cost to keeping canceled accounts, mainly when they're paying accounts. It's different when you have free trials, and have an order of magnitude more free and canceled accounts than paid accounts.
Dror Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
+1 to escalating with 37signals.

If they really have *no* way to recover this data -- even if offline to an XML file that you can deal with, I'd be shocked.

Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
"This in spite of clear wording on the cancellation page that paid accounts will run until the end of the paid period (of course, this is what anyone with half a brain would assume)."

This is the part that interests me.

Do they explicitly state accounts would continue to exist and retain data until the end of the pay period?  The followup sentence seems to imply that people with half a brain would interpret it that way; possibly people using the other half of their brains would interpret it differently.

Flippancy aside, depending on how it's actually worded, this does constitute an implied contract and jz would be able to sue for damages. At the very least, a politely worded letter from his lawyer may get some satisfaction far quicker than a phone call to customer support.
TheDavid
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
'Howdy' has it right, it's not so much that I lost data, I am furious that their design makes it so easy to make this mistake, that they apparently can't revert it, and (most of all) that their response is basically "*shrug* that's how it works".

And I think most responses here missed the part that they canceled a service that I just paid for! I extended until November. Give me a single reason why they wouldn't keep my account around!
jz Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
TheDavid, they claim that the cancellation page is clear that everything is wiped immediately. I didn't read it that way so I'm sure that there is at least some ambiguity, maybe someone with a paid account can confirm the wording.

Regardless, I consider it a huge design flaw that they kill the account immediately, technically, business-wise and in terms of user interface design. Particularly given that the perceived safeness of my data == their business, and that I am a paying customer.
jz Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
I see a big opportunity in this.

When someone wants to cancel, ask them do they want you to keep their data for free, up to a year, just in case they change their mind later. I bet most will say yes if worded properly.

Then that gives you a permission to email them, say quarterly, to get them back as paying customers.
Stacy Murray
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
Here's the text that is on the account page:

"We'll be sorry to see you go. Once your account is cancelled, all your project information will be immediately and permanently deleted. If you have a paying account you won't be charged again after your official cancellation date. Please familiarize yourself with our refund policy. "

I assume there's a confirmation page once you click on the link, I haven't tried..
Cedric Savarese Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
"Give me a single reason why they wouldn't keep my account around!"

Because you clicked "cancel"?
MT Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
So, there's two options:

amateur hour: data is deleted quickly when you close your account, leading to data loss

amateur hour: data is never deleted even if you close your account, leading to data theft from an account that you don't think about any more because you cancelled it

And it's not that long since people were howling about Amazon's service outages and predicting the demise of "cloud computing". And I'm sure they did some bad terrible no-good "amateur hour" things.

There may or may not be a point here, but clearly, professional hour is going to be delayed some time. And in the meantime, we should all act as if storing our data on the web is an act of faith in people who may or may not be smart enough to get it 100% correct, regardless of how "professional" we think they are.

Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
It looks like they tried to make the cancellation wording explicit, but I can see how it would still leave doubt in some people's minds.

If I cancel phone, cable, a magazine subscription, and so on and so on, I still get the service through the end of the period that I have already paid. So Basecamp is going against people's preconceived notion of when a cancellation becomes effective.
Nicholas Hebb Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
Agreed.  It looks like they don't specify just what the cancellation date is.  Is it the date you press the cancel button?  Or is it the date that your paid subscription expires?

If you paid for a service and the original terms say you get the service until the subscription expires, then you have a case. If the original ToS doesn't include any language to the effect, then they could likewise argue that the service is canceled as soon as you actively cancel it, i.e., clicked the cancel button.

I know this doesn't help much after the fact, but the company might take your complaints more seriously when you point out exactly what's confusing and contradictory in their policy.
TheDavid
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
> Once your account is cancelled, all your project
> information will be immediately and permanently
> deleted

Seems pretty clear to me.
Jussi Jumppanen Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
While I admire many things about their business (Rails!), their customer service policies are not ones I would emulate.  On reading Getting Real and their other publications it seems that they're pretty focused on getting the average time handholding customers to zero, and if that discomfits you, they invite you to take your business elsewhere.  I wouldn't endorse that.

That said, their policies are pretty hard to misconstrue.

Refund policy: Your first charge will come 30 days after you originally sign up. If you cancel before this first charge, you won't be billed at all.

If you cancel after you are billed on day 30, no refund will be issued and you will be charged for the rest of that month. ... [N]o exceptions will be made.

Data retention:

See the picture here. 

The link you clicked was "Please cancel my account (I understand this is irreversible)".  You may have noticed it was under the language "Once your account is canceled, all of your project data will be immediately and permanently deleted".  That was the bit in bold typeface.

http://www.basecamphq.com/help/images/cancel_account.png
Patrick McKenzie (Bingo Card Creator) Send private email
Monday, October 13, 2008
 
 
"think you guys are missing the point. Sure, it's easy to say that you shouldn't trust 3rd parties with your important data. But let's face it, we all do it at some time or another."

No we don't.
Craig Welch Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
Do they have a backup possibility which is automated?
Shalin Jain Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
I really can't see any ambiguity in those explanations of how the cancellation process works...  Is there something we're missing, or might they have re-worded the rules since seeing this thread?
MB Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
The ambiguity is exactly what TheDavid states.

"It looks like they don't specify just what the cancellation date is. Is it the date you press the cancel button? Or is it the date that your paid subscription expires?"

I would have interpreted it as the former. But I can see how some people might have rendered it as the latter. I suggest asking 37Signals to make that distinction more clearly.
Mark Pearce Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
There are three things you should never trust to anybody: Your money, your car, and your wife.

We must now add data to that equation...
Rui Curado (Image.InfoCards) Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
> Try and elevate through support and speak to a manager.

Oh this made my morning! Elevate to where? Don't they have like 5 employees over there? Each guy is the equivalent of a cafegymatorium. "Please hold. Let me get my manager". You hear elevator music, and the same guy comes back: "Yes sir, how can I help you?"  :P

Sorry for your loss though. Now, you know why I can't stand webapps. You have no freakin' control. Yeah yeah, they shouldn't fail, but we are all human. Sooner or later, lightning strikes somewhere.
cynic
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
<<Give me a single reason why they wouldn't keep my account around! >>

Because you just read straightforward English in regular, boldface and color highlights that says you acknowledge that the data will be immediately deleted? Beacuse that's what you've asked to do, to the delete the account in the first place?

BC has always offered an XML export of everything in your account, daily if you want, right on the Accounts page. What else are they supposed to do? Web apps can be a double edged sword in lots of respects, but I don't see how this is an example.
DL
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
As I wrote, I did request an XML export. I was informed it would be sent to me by mail.

Well guess what, the mail came with a link to my export at http://myprojectsite/my-export.zip.

In the mean time I had cancelled the service and the account had been nuked, so it was "no soup for you" when I clicked the link to download my export.
jz Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
Instead of lambasting the poster, it might be helpful to talk about how the BaseCamp folks could have avoided this customer relations problem.

First, the "once you stop giving us money, we couldn't care less" attitude isn't doing them a bit of good.  They converted an ex-customer who would have told people that they were great, but he just didn't need the service anymore, into one who will go to his grave telling everyone how horribly they treat their customers once they they stop making a buck from them.

I don't see how any rational person in the business of hosting data wouldn't keep the data export around for a month.  Or a week.  Even a couple of days.  People make mistakes and (I know it's hard to believe) some won't read the giant bold notice above your cancellation button.  Why punish them?  Why on earth would you not let the export file sit there for a few days in case they, you know, still wanted to get all of their data back?
Craig B Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
>>
Why on earth would you not let the export file sit there for a few days in case they, you know, still wanted to get all of their data back?
>>

I imagine the decision was made after the 423rd time they answered a support request for "My client is very big on confidentiality.  Please make sure that their data is permanently deleted immediately.  [Optional but disturbingly likely]: If you don't do this in ten minutes, I'll sue you."
Patrick McKenzie (Bingo Card Creator) Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
> First, the "once you stop giving us money, we couldn't
> care less" attitude isn't doing them a bit of good.

That's business my friend! Very few people left on the planet who really like you for who you are. The rest are after your money! Some are much nicer about it though.
reality_check
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
Just to clarify, it is the "once your account is cancelled" wording that is the problem.

When I cancel a service that is paid for a certain period, cancellation of the service is normally effective from the end of the period which has already been paid for (see f.ex. web hosting).

Ambiguous wording combined with an unusual policy that goes against normal user expectations makes it too easy to make this mistake.

About data retention, why does Basecamp need to work differently than probably 99% of other web hosting businesses (where your account remains active for the period you have paid for)?
jz Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
Sorry JZ, I missed the part where you'd asked for the export. You're right about that for sure.

dave
DL
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
"I imagine the decision was made after the 423rd time they answered a support request for "My client is very big on confidentiality.  Please make sure that their data is permanently deleted immediately.  [Optional but disturbingly likely]: If you don't do this in ten minutes, I'll sue you."

Possibly. But, remember that we are talking about a case where the customer explicitly hit the "please export my data so I can download it" button. The BaseCamp folks made the process asynchronous (and insecure) by running it over email. I am not sure that deleting the export file *before it was ever downloaded* was a security decision.
Craig B Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
"That's business my friend! Very few people left on the planet who really like you for who you are."

It has nothing to do with liking you for who you are. It has everything to do with realizing that your currently paying customers aren't the only people whose opinion of you matters.
Craig B Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
>Possibly. But, remember that we are talking about a case where the customer explicitly hit the "please export my data so I can download it" button. The BaseCamp folks made the process asynchronous (and insecure) by running it over email.


Yes but let us also not forget that the user clicked the destroy everything now button as well.  Which was labeled as such by the user's own admission.  Now for some reason he claims that the big red destroy it now button did not lead him to believe that it would in fact destroy everything now.  Kind of like rm -rf on unix don't do it if you can't handle the consequences.
soup
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
In my opinion, Basecamp indeed sounds like amateur hour and I wouldn't use it after reading this thread. And yes, I see the points that address data security AKA wiping out "forgotten" project data once the subscriber cancels.

I think that a "soft" project deletion would make the most sense. Once an account is canceled, the project data could be backed up and left as an encrypted ZIP file, and left accessible to the subscriber for 30 days. It sounds like the way it is now structured, you have to "grok" that you are making a life-or-death decision at the point that you cancel the service.

There's so much self aggrandizing immaturity and faux "hardness" on this board at times - IE, the viewpoint that the original poster is being an ass, and especially the attitude of always blaming the victim. In reality it just shows that geeks tend to think that the other guy's problem is always inconsequential and petty. We're an occupation of asocial asses and no wonder normal "real" people (non programmers) don't like us. :(
Bored Bystander Send private email
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
> We're an occupation of asocial asses and no wonder normal "real" people (non programmers) don't like us.

I don't like us either.
Standing by, bored
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
I can't understand why the op wasn't paranoid enough to not delete until he had a copy of his data in his possession.
It's the same as not upgrading before making a backup of your data. The same as saving before compiling (well actually maybe I do understand ).
dog breath
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
I guess noone from 37Signals hangs around here. :)
Ed
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
If you're a business and you're dealing with data that is in anyway important, you should have a backup.  If 37 signals has the data *and* the backup, then you don't really have a backup.  If the data was important, i.e. strategic, you need to have control of the backup and not trust a third party to not be a bonehead with your data.

Yes, they should make it clearer, since it's obviously possible to do this by accident, but you should always have a backup that *you* control.
Anonymous
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
 
 
OP, you probably read Singals vs Noise blog every night and eat up every words. That's Getting Real for ya!
DIYer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
 
 
You get what you paid for.
publicus
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
 
 

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