Medium’s claps and Basecamp’s boosts. These are two items that feel like the creators have gone and ignored Steve Krug’s advice from his excellent book. Both features went from a very straightforward use case to one that caused me to pause and ponder.

I talked a little about Medium’s change from hearts to claps last summer (Vol IV Issue 23 to be exact), so I’ll focus on Basecamp this time.

In its latest version, Basecamp 3, there was an option to clap for someone’s post. Like Twitter or Facebook, these claps are clearly applause, but the true purpose of giving a clap can be ambiguous. All of the following are applicable:

  • I might clap to acknowledge a thought — like I’m saying, “Hey, I read this”
  • I could clap to show support for someone who had less than ideal news
  • And, of course, I may clap because I thought someone’s work or thinking was really good (truly, applause)

Recently, the Basecamp team changed this feature so that applause is now Boosts. When giving a Boost, you can use any emoji available as well as add up to 16 characters of text. I understand some of the sentiment and thinking of the Basecamp team. But I do feel like the added complexity is not worth the benefit you get from the change.

A good example of where this applies is a weekly automatic check-in we use at Wildbit. We have a Work from Home team where we talk about remote working. One of the practices the team has grown to love most is our weekly check-in asking “How was your weekend?” This is where we get to know our teammates better and to learn about our families. In a company where we call each other a family, we all welcome these glimpses into each other's lives.

This is where the old model of simple claps could fall short. When someone shared that they were sick and stayed in bed all weekend, or when their spouses grandfather had a stroke, a clap doesn’t quite feel appropriate.

But (and it’s a big but) in that scenario, you could leave a comment. “Get better soon” or “I hope your grandpa recovers fully” are easy to communicate using one of Basecamp’s main features. The combination of claps and comments gave you the tools you needed to quickly and easily express your thoughts to the team.

Boosts were intended to fill that gap, but I (and many on our team) have found ourselves sitting and wondering which emoji makes the most sense. And 16 characters isn’t enough to communicate your full thoughts, so you still turn to comments in these kinds of situations.

And the worst aspect is that Boosts have caused some people to stop giving “applause”. Some would give a clap for all answers to “How was your weekend?” to indicate their enjoyment of seeing everyone’s updates. Now, they’re not sure of the best response and, in the face of too many choices, they make none at all.

Claps were a very straightforward, easy to understand option that was easy to use. Boosts add friction. Enough so that the having to stop and think has caused the opposite effect that the Basecamp team was hoping for. Sometimes, design decisions that seem clever add complexity.

And no one needs that in their tools.