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.
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!)