37signals has released Writeboard. My first impressions? Meh. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with it, but overall, it is a great solution to collaborative writing. My expectation was to be something more along the lines of Writely or JotSpot Live, but let me go over Writeboard with you first before any conclusions have been made. As usual, the key element of the solutions that 37signals releases is always simplicity. To get going it takes less then five seconds. You fill in the name of the whiteboard, password, and your email address. Once you submit, you will be directed to the board. You will see your writeboard’s name on the top and then an empty text area. Very simple text area. No what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) editor for formatting, just a simple text area that allows you to do simple text formatting by their set formatting codes. For instance, _this text_ would be italic because of the under-dashes before and after the text. So, fill in some content and click, “Save this writeboard.”

You will now see something similar to the above. The page will see options on the top, your writeboard below, and on the right a link to invite people and some help text. The top options allow you to edit, mark or unmark the current writeboard version (will get to this later), export to a text file, or send the writeboard as an email. On the right, when clicking, “Invite people,” it will slide down a form that allows you to send an email to all the people that you want to collaboratively write with.

Make sure to read the first line as it is important! “If you’d like others to work on this writeboard with you, enter their email addresses below. They will receive a link to this writeboard along with the password” (Note: I added the emphasis to the quote). If you are like me, you would have completely skimmed this text and just sent it… which I did and thankfully only to myself. Why did I get worried? Well, I signed up using the password I usually use to protect sites, such as this. A password I do not give out to anyone. Writeboard will send the invite along with the password you used so the people you invite can login. If this is a password you do not want to share, go to the bottom and change the password before inviting anyone!

Now, lets talk about editing versions of the writeboard. Click on the “Edit” option and you will see a page like the above. You can change the title of your writeboard and obviously, the content. You get your basic bold, italic, list, and heading formatting codes. I do not know if I would have prefered this to be using code or a WYSIWYG editor. Either way, it works. So, I ran my tests through writeboard using all kinds of formatting, HTML, and even PHP for you! The results. Some HTML is accepted, such as bold, italic, and hyperlinks. PHP definitely did not show. When adding code, you notice that if it does ignore it on the writeboard page itself, it doesn’t when you go to edit it. So, my PHP did not show up on the writeboard, but still does in the edit area.

After submitting your changes, you will now see a list on the right hand side. It will list all of your writeboards past versions and the current version along with checkboxes, name of the person who changed it, how long ago the change was made, and also a circle that is supposed to show how big the change was in comparison to the others. When clicking on a version you will see the writeboard as it was at that time. It’s a great way to jump back and view differences.

Now, you will notice that I have a two versions checked and it says, “You’re comparing” above the versions. This is the cool part about writeboard. When you select the one new version and one old version and click on the “Compare” button, it will then show you a highlighted page with all the changes that have been made. Any change that has been made will be shown. You will see something like the following:

Any change that has been made between the two versions that you selected will be shown. This is extremely helpful for when it comes to writing with others. You will see new text in green highlights, removed text with a strike through it, and any text that looks normal had no changes made. This is very helpful and the best thing about writeboard, in my opinion. When you are done comparing, you can just click on, “I’m done comparing,” or just go back to the main page of your writeboard.

Now, some things that are worth mentioning. This is not a real-time collaborative environment like JotSpot Live. If you are working on a document at the same time as someone else and a change is made, you will not be notified about it and the page will not automatically update. You will need to be notified by someone with the project or just keep hitting that refresh button. Another thing is that you can mark any version that you wish. Marking it will highlight the version number black so you can easily spot the versions you feel are important. Also, when making a large change to a version, it is said that the sizes of the circles will change depending on the size of the change in comparison to the other versions. Well, for me, they all look the same still and I did some big changes. I even popped an essay in to see if that would do it, but they all still look the same.

You can have as many writeboard’s as you would like, but make note of them because you do not receive email notifications about the accounts. If you forget what boards you have, you can find your writeboard’s and get an email sent with each writeboard you have made along with their passwords. Also, when deleting a writeboard, you will have 7 days to restore it. After those 7 days, it will permanently be deleted.

Something else came to my attention when sending the writeboard as an email to myself. Remember when I said that I was trying to add PHP and HTML? Well, when sending it as an email, it will showup. Images will show, other HTML will show, and some of the PHP did show. I feel that if the writeboard does not show the images and other formatting, then the email shouldn’t either.

Conclusion. Writeboard is definitely useful for any kind of writing. But, it certainly is no JotSpot Live when it comes to collaboration. Say you are working on an essay, chapter of a book, a blog post, section of your site, a paper for work, anything that involves writing, this will come in handy. You know what would be great? The next essay I have to write for college, I will send it to my professor through writeboard. This way, instead of them scribbling on my paper, they can now do it nice and organized through the writeboard and I can easily see the changes my professor has made.

Writeboard is fast, effective, simple, and a good way to collaboratively write.

View 37signals Writeboard for collaborative writing.

Update: Dave, from 37signals, has commented and mentioned that they have added notifications for when creating a writeboard and also fixed the issue with the dots on the sides of each version. The sizes now show you how big a change was depending on its size. Thanks, Dave!

Update: More formatting is now available! You now can add images by using !http://yoursite.com/image.gif! and you can also add links using “37signals”:http://www.37signals.com

Brent has also pointed out the use of the at symbol (@) between code. I tried and it didn’t seem to work too well. But I found that using < pre>< /pre> (without the spacing) does work great. Even stands up fairly to comparison (which isn’t writeboards goal though, its for writing, not coding!)

Thanks everyone.


27 Comments on “37signals Writeboard for collaborative writing”

  1. TechCrunch » Writeboard Launches But Needs Feature Upgrades says:

    [...] will be adding functionality quickly. We are also looking forward to the launch of Chalk. SolutionWatch has posted a great review of Writeboard. chalk, [...]

  2. David Heinemeier Hansson says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive and speedy review. As you might note by the fact that we haven’t really announced the launch yet, we’re still polishing the last bits.

    You now do get an email when creating a writeboard with password and URL. And the difference dots really work now.

  3. Brian Benzinger says:

    Excellent, thanks Dave for making those quick adjustments. Great work and thanks for the comment!

  4. Jason Fried says:

    Thanks for the detailed review. Pretty damn quick seeing we haven’t really officially released it (that happens Monday) ;)

    Anyhow, re: real-time live editing like JotSpot Live. We aren’t believers. Yes, it’s useful here and there, but we think it’s more a technology showcase than a practical solution to collaborative writing. Most collaborative writing doesn’t happen real-time (mostly because it’s really frustrating). Sure, for notes at a conference it can be useful, but we think real-time editing overall is a 10-20% solution. With Writeboard we wanted to provide the 80-90% solution.

  5. snook.ca - a collection of tips, tricks and bookmarks in web development says:

    Writeboard from 37signals

    Although just a soft-launch for now, I decided to take a look at the application; especially after a thorough review by Solution Watch. Writeboard is a web-based collaborative writing tool allowing multiple authors to go in and edit a single…

  6. Denken Über » Writeboard: otro lanzamiento de 37 Signals says:

    [...] able y agradable a la vista.. pero que esta vez tiene competencia en serio para comparar. Vía
    Autor: Mariano | Link Perman [...]

  7. Library clips :: More web-based collaborative editors :: October :: 2005 says:

    [...] Keep up with new features via their blog. Also check out Writeboard (just released), see Solutions Watch review…mentions that it doesn’t have [...]

  8. Paul D says:

    Whiteboard works, and works well. Jotspot Live doesn’t work (doesn’t save data 90% of the time). Enough said.

  9. Preoccupations says:

    Office on the web

    How long will it be before a full suite of platform-independent ajax-enabled office applications becomes available? If all you need is a browser to open and edit these documents, the huge network effect enjoyed by Microsoft Office could simply vanish.

  10. Tom Raftery’s I.T. views » Blog Archive » Online Ajax Word Processors compared says:

    [...] a lot of catching up to do before it becomes as cool an Ajax application as Writely. Via Brian Benzinger This entry was posted [...]

  11. Notes from Classy's Kitchen says:

    The month of the collaborative web editor

    37Signals’ Writeboard is trying to derive some buzz off the recent interest in collaborative web editing, e.g. JotSpot Live or…

  12. Matt Croydon::Postneo 2.0 » Blog Archive » Writeboard Backpack Integration says:

    [...] Writeboard Backpack Integration Writeboard went live over the weekend. Solution Watch has a nice review of it. While I was hoping that [...]

  13. Jason Fried says:

    “a lot of catching up to do before it becomes as cool an Ajax application as Writely”

    Writeboard isn’t about technology, it’s about quick, simple, and useful. That’s what’s cool.

  14. <CONTENT /> v.4 says:

    Interesting Take on Collaborative Writing

    Collaborative writing software online with Writeboard. Write, share, revise, compare.

    Picked this up via Ehub. From the folks who brought us Backpack comes a shared collaborative space. It looks like a basic text box, but contains some neat features…

  15. Phil says:

    “Writeboard isn’t about technology, it’s about quick, simple, and useful. That’s what’s cool.”

    If you just keep repeating something over and over, maybe it’ll come true.

  16. Brian Benzinger says:

    Now, lets not rip up on anyone. 37signals did a great job with the prime focus on content. Honestly, I feel we have ourselves to blame because of our high expectations. It is quick and simple and they way it shows comparisons is excellent. I say, give it some time :) This is only the first day.

    Thank you everyone for the comments and tackbacks, by the way.

  17. Brent Charbonneau says:

    It would seem you can embed code between @@ chars:

    @@

  18. Brent Charbonneau says:

    hmmm
    @@

  19. Brian Benzinger says:

    Thanks, Brent. Yes, it looks like they have added some more formatting now :)

    I couldn’t get the @ @ characters to work all that well… but just doing seems to do the trick!

    I’ll have to make an update on the extra formatting.

  20. Anecdote says:

    A couple of interesting collaboration tools

    If your group needs to co-create a document here are two web-based tools which you might find useful:  JotSpot Live by JotSpot and Writeboard by 37signals. We use 37signals’ Basecamp, which is a web-based project management tool that enables…

  21. Digital Sandbox » Blog Archive » Writeboard says:

    [...] roducts, including Backpack, are pretty cool so this should be worth checking out. Review here.  Another service in this space is Writely, which seems to [...]

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  25. ANDREAS’ BLOG OF JUST EVERYTHING » Blog Archive » Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0: Part 2 (rebloged) says:

    [...] Writeboard: Writeboard is a collaborative writing tool where users can write, share, revise, and compare their documents online with others. It is not an advanced system featuring a WYSIWYG editor, Ajax, and flashy effects, but that’s what I like about it. Writeboard is a personal favorite of mine and as a matter of fact I am using it right now for this very post. It includes version control with text comparing and is great for essays and writeups of any kind. More on Writeboard. [...]

  26. tobto says:

    Nice solution, but I guess in some time we will have more interesting decisions.

  27. web live :: Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0: Part 2 :: January :: 2007 says:

    [...] Writeboard: Writeboard is a collaborative writing tool where users can write, share, revise, and compare their documents online with others. It is not an advanced system featuring a WYSIWYG editor, Ajax, and flashy effects, but that’s what I like about it. Writeboard is a personal favorite of mine and as a matter of fact I am using it right now for this very post. It includes version control with text comparing and is great for essays and writeups of any kind. More on Writeboard. [...]