A painting of me

37signals are getting really real while doing less, which is more, which is actually less

   5 March 2006, early evening

A review of Getting Real by 37signals

37signals are a design firm turned web application studio that get on my nerves more often than not. (Saying they get on my nerves is infact an understatement.) Despite the more aggravating posts on their web site they remain to this day a good source for insight on modern web development and web design practices. I like reading about the entire software development process. This is one reason I enjoyed Joel on Software so much. Last week 37signals put out a book compiling their manifesto on web application development entitled Getting Real. If you read the 37signals blog Signal vs. Noise you will have heard the term countless times. (It can be grating to hear over and over again.) Still, a few days after the eBook came out I bought it. I’m not entirely sure why. I think the $19 price tag, just shy of $20, and the fact they make it very convenient to buy, were two contributing factors. I enjoyed the book. I am by no stretch a rabid 37signals fan-boy; I sincerely liked it.

Unlike Joel on Software, which is a loose colection of essays on software development, 37signals’ Getting Real reads very much like a manifesto, something you would pass out on the street corners to rally the masses to action. It is a very light read, easy to get through quickly. The information they present is terse and to the point. (This is very much in line with the way they do everything else. I don’t think a longer verbose book on application development would suit the group in the least.) If you are looking for a book more inline with Joel on Software, this isn’t it.

37signals essentially take you through their entire development process. The books initial chapters are on deciding what to build, and setting up a company or group to accomplish your goal. They then move on to their design and development process: what they do to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling. The book concludes with how they promote their work, and how they try to keep their customers happy. They pretty much cover everything they do.

The key to reading and enjoying the book, which they actually point out at the very beginning, is to realize this is a book about their processes. You should read it with this in mind. You can take from the book what you like, and leave behind what you disagree with. A lot of the criticisms I have read of the book thus far seem to be more about the book being preachy, which I don’t think makes much sense. That isn’t to say the book is flawless. I think at times they set-up contrived enemies to tackle due to the fact that they assume there can be no creativity in more traditional software development models. The chapters on the functional specs, meetings, and things along these lines could be better fleshed out in my opinion if they want to really make a valuable point.

If you like reading about software development, you may enjoy the book. Understand it is very light reading, the sort of thing meant to motivate more then educate.

Update: The book is now available online.



  1. Sounds interesting. How about you just lend it to me so I don’t have to buy it? haha

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