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Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way to Build a Successful Web Application

The guys at 37 Signals have well earned their reputation for making great web applications. They’ve established a strong identity with a line of web tools for project management, to-do lists, and simple collaboration.

They’ve also published a short book called Getting Real about how to build web apps.

The book is short – 170 pages with lots of whitespace and heavy quoting. If you’ve used any of their apps you’ll feel right at home as they do a fine job of maintaining the same voice and style.

They are most effective when they boldly express their ideals, using them to slash trough common assumptions about features, big planning, organisation and customers. It’s a brisk and optimistic read. At times clever and confident, but occasionally nieve, this book will generate strong opinions and can spark healthy debate even if you don’t like or agree with what they say.

While I’m philosophically aligned with these guys, this book is more mantra than guidance or instruction. I imagine it working as a boost for people who believed some of these thing prior to reading the book who, now reaffirmed, can point others to it as an external and respected source. There are obvious counter examples to some of the mantras, but they’re beyond the point, as the questions raised are worthwhile.

But for this in old-school organisations or with dysfunctional teams, this book doesn’t give the tools needed to turn things around nor provide individual readers with ‘real’ practices they can employ on their own. Most of Getting Real is about approach and attitude, and it requirers your co-workers to share it with you to work.

The books strength and weakness is the experience of he authors; they started 37 Signals on their own, and advise largely from that context. While they don’t try to direct readers for how to convert older, lager, slower, less talented teams of people into ‘real’ teams, there is the vibe thought the book that the world would be a better place if everyone did.

It’s a fast and opinionated read. It’s most valuable to small self directed teams, as a reference for how one small, talented, self directed team has successfully built quality software or as a hand grenade for teams that have been doing thing the same way for too long. However it doesn’t quite justify the £15 price, there are tragically no references and no links to other sources, something I hope they’ll remedy in a 1.1 book update.

Available from: Amazon • Amazon US

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Reviewed by Matt on 20 February 2011

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