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The Great Campfire Experiment

Mike Skalnik

At Highgroove, we like using the right tool for the job, but we also don’t like getting too bogged down in thinking about what we should use. We recently switched our internal company chat from Skype to Campfire, but it wasn’t a just simple switch to flip.

We like to use Skype to talk to our customers, since it allows us to be in constant contact with our customers, and it makes it easy to have face to face conversations with them when we can. Since we were already using Skype to talk to customers, we also made a group chat for Highgroovers to talk to one another.

It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was an easy one. As we’ve been growing, the issues have started to bother us more and more, but it’s conveience was impossible to beat. So how do we switch? It’s hard to give up something that’s already so integrated in our day to day lives. We weren’t even sure if the benefits of switching outweighed the convienence of the current solution.

We decided the best way was to run an experiment. We had heard great things about Campfire, and it seemed nice, but would it fit our needs? Our null hypothesis was that Campfire was just as good as Skype, and our alternative hypothesis was that Campfire was better and would fit our needs better. To test this, we decided to use Campfire for 1 week and then evaluate it afterwards.

Starting on a Monday, we all opened up Campfire as well and didn’t talk at all in our old Skype group chat. We quickly found things we enjoyed, like inline images, flexible notifications via Propane, and Pivotal Tracker integration, along with things we missed, such as direct messages. Anytime we ran into something we liked or hated, we were vocal.

I collected these opinions, and at the end of the week, asked how they had changed or if they were still issues. As a team we saw that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks and switched. While we would have eventually switched to something better if we sat around longer, we’re already enjoying Campfire, and working to improve our experience (like setting up Hubot) with it now, something that would have had to wait for us to decide on the best chat system if we didn’t just bias towards action.

How does your organization make decisions? Do you try to decide on the best solution and then use it, or do you try to throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks?

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